Saturday, July 17, 2010

An understanding of Christian spirituality

I don't find attending church services necessarily draw me nearer to God. Not that I don't attend church. To be sure, I have been a weekly pew warmer. Go to the church to warm the pew for about one and a half hour.

A Christian spirituality has, first and foremost, to do with the Christian's theology of God. The Trinity that we know is one that is ever presently engaging in the creation, behind the creation and from beyond the creation. Therefore Christian's theism is not pantheism or deism. The Trinity transcends then and there, and here and now.

Our spirituality is best understood through this notion of God. Hence a Christian spirituality is not pantheistic in the sense that God is merely in all of our experiences. There are some experiences that we know that God is involved, there are some which we know that God is not involved, and there are much that we simply don't know whether is God involve or not.

It is likely the latter is the commonest experience. And it is in our uncertainty that we often attribute God's involvement by faith. Many times, we implicate God into situations where he is not involved. And when the situations turn bad, we doubt God. Or worse, we blame God for that.

Neither is Christian spirituality deistic. We don't relate to a once-present and once-active God. It is the ever-present and ever-active God who relates with us. The nature of the Trinity defies the idea that what we do now or what is happening in our current world is divorced entirely from the divine reality.
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5.8)

"For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him... For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1.16-20)
Between these two poles of non-pantheistic and non-deistic spiritualities, lies the situatedness of our lives, hence our spirituality, in the economy of the Trinity. It is therefore the primary cultivation of a Christian spirituality is in the livingness of this reality; being encountered by the Trinity at every corner we turn.

Cultivating a livingness is nothing short of a conscious attachment to a life being lived. There is no single activity or a spectrum of activities that can define livingness. Being alive is simply being alive. And no amount of activity can make it more so.

Being alive in the economy of the Trinity is a spirituality. The proper response is not thence passive defeatism, doing nothing but to wait for epiphany all the time. To affirm this is denying the current eschatological reality, the 'already but not yet', and so negating the economy of the Trinity of which our lives are situated.

If the state of our spirituality is situated within the economy of the Trinity, which I think it is, then our spirituality involves, and not confined, by constant discernment of the economic activity of the Trinity without denying the reality of our current 'already but not yet' time.

Our extension within this current time ranges from the act of praying, warming the pew, participating the Holy Communion, baptism, fellowshipping with other Christians, doing dishes, commenting on a nation's political issues, painting a picture, feeding the poor, marveling at the awesomeness of the human anatomy, doing time in the prison, dialogging with a Buddhist, and various other activities under the sun.

These activities which are discerned with the consciousness of the economy of the Trinity. Yet this does not mean that a person who does all these is necessarily cultivating spirituality. One may do all these without any consciousness of one's situatedness within the Trinitarian economy. Therefore to accord spirituality even to these explicit activities does not reflect the reality of the state of being spiritually alive.

Since spirituality is not reflected through activities but through constant divine encounter, we cannot deny the spirituality of those who are cognitively disabled. The spirituality of those with down syndrome and Alzheimer's disease are not affected by their inability. They are no less in a constant encounter by the Trinity than anyone of us. The difference is perhaps simply their lack of the consciousness of their situatedness.

The question 'Which activities better help us to grow spiritually?' applies only to those who think that spirituality is defined by activity. To adopt such definition of spirituality is to think that a person is not alive unless he/she is doing something. But as we know, being alive is just being alive. The state of our spirituality is not defined by what we do but by the situatedness of our lives, or simply, the meaning of the air that drives us to wake up every morning.

In sum, for a Christian to be spiritual is simply for him or her to live a life within the economy of the Trinity. Such livingness enables and obliges one to constantly discern one's state of livingness. To peg spirituality with an activity is defining the former in a wrong way. To be conscious of our situatedness is an spiritual act. To be driven by this consciousness is to be spiritually growing.

As Alister McGrath summarizes:
"Christian spirituality concerns the quest for a fulfilled and authentic Christian existence, involving the bringing together of the fundamental ideas of Christianity and the whole experience of living on the basis of and within the scope of the Christian faith."
(Alister McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (UK: Blackwell, 1999), p.2. Emphasis added)
Warming pew every Sunday is as spiritual as reading a news portal on the internet as long as the divine encounter is there.


Israel Lee said...

Josh, do not forget the church as community/people of God dimension in your discussion on Christian spirituality.

Then perhaps you will do more than just warm the seat. ;-)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Israel,

Yes, the community. I take that for granted and assume it in the post. Hence all the first person plural in the post :-)

"we know..."

"Our spirituality..."

"our uncertainty..."

"Our extensions..." etc

rk said...

just want to understand better.

can u explain in simple layman's language what do you mean by "economy of the Trinity"?

by "divine encounter", do you mean having an awareness of God's presence?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi rk,

Thank you for your question.

The economy of the Trinity is relationship between the roles played by each person of the Godhead.

By "divine encounter" I mean God's encountering us regardless of whether we are conscious or not conscious about it.

rk said...

thanks for the clarification sze zeng. it's helpful, though i must confess i still don't quite get it.

oh sweat.

maybe 3am tonight. :-P