Classical Spirituality

The Internet Monk published a piece a few days ago which is worth thinking about:

So….imagine that a Baptist (or other evangelical)- like my dear wife used to be, for example- were to decide that he or she wanted to deepen their spiritual life; to grow spiritually and in spiritual disciplines; to seek out spiritual direction and pursue spiritual formation.

Where would they go within their own evangelical, Protestant tradition to find resources, guidance or direction?

OK. I can hear the Catholics and Orthodox giggling already. Cut it out.

Before I leave the open thread to you readers, let me say that this is a REAL PROBLEM.

No one knows how many Protestants and Evangelicals develop a hunger for holiness and spiritual growth, then discover that what awaits them in their own tradition is paltry, often shallow and frequently almost completely unaware of what that hunger needs to be satisfied.

Is it any wonder that it is at the point of seeking out spiritual growth and formation that so many evangelicals are first introduced to the riches of the Catholic tradition, and soon conclude that the greatest resources for the spiritual journey are on the other side of great denominational divide?

When I moved back into the Anglican Church after three years with the Vineyard and New Frontiers (which, especially NF, I didn’t regret for a moment), it was because something about the link to a wider catholicity in the Church of England that spoke to me of a depth to one’s relationship with Jesus that some Protestants never explored. As I grew in the ministry of wholeness, I realised that the key insights in this area, and in general in the field of classical spirituality, were mainly Roman Catholic authors. St John of the Cross, Ignatius and their ilk were the people who had real insight into purgation and rising in Christ.

What do other people here think? For those who are "non-conformists", does the thought of engaging with Roman Catholic writers fill you with dread or charge you with excitement? What about those with a more "catholic" perspective – what were your key moments in developing spirituality?

By the way, this thread is officially subtitled the "Peter is NOT obsessed with Jeffrey John" Thread. Just so you know.

31 Comments on “Classical Spirituality

  1. Robert

    Thank you for your “testimony” as our Mormon friends might say. It is a terrific conversion account and I thank God for the thoughtfulness of it all. Even after all these years I still find a degree of dogmatism hanging around my neck like an albatross. I am tickled by the idea of going where its convenient but…

    My own experience of Mormonism wasa blessing in the way you describe but the blessings are mxed. You are right in describing their services as dull. I sometimes describe them as Methodism with the exciting bits taken out (sorry to any Methodists). I have learned to value the person standing before me whatever their religious affiliations and that is a blessing that has come with time. Perhaps one of the reasons for my searching further is because I wish to experience a Christianity that is true to the fundamentals without being bound to empty dogma.

    I was delighted to read about the influence of C S Lewis and Tolkein in your spiritual development. Whatever else is going on, I find myself out of place where I am because out of step with a church that would rather not think. I have a friend in America who became an Episcopalian priest from a pentecostal background many years ago because he found in Lewis and others Christians who actually think about what they believe. He recently left the Episcopalian communion because of recent controversies.

    Thanks again for your encouragement. I hope the pending work load isn’t too heavy and we get to talk again.

  2. Mike: Yes, I was thinking it’s ironic that having fidgeted through all those testimonies on an empty stomach once a month I should finally be giving mine once I’m no longer a Mormon!
    As for the convenience: well, I don’t see why one should make life more difficult than it has to be, without good reason.  But it wasn’t *just* that: I knew Lewis had been an Anglican, and besides I felt a bit more at home with the idea of the CofE because I was used to visiting mostly Anglican churches as a tourist. (My parents were interested in historic buildings etc. and used to take me to a lot when I was young.) I know it all sounds very unmethodical but sometimes you just have to go by what little experience you have and see what happens, I think.
    As for thinking, I have some sympathy for those who don’t like the idea (although I don’t agree with them).  It can get you into trouble, or at least into places you never thought you’d end up in, and that can be unsettling.  And a lot of people in our society are brought up with the idea that they are no good at thinking, so are afraid of it, which is tragic.  But not thinking can be at least as bad for you …

  3. Robert

    I find “unmethodical” quite attractive right now. Having been steeped in Mormonism – albeit a long time ago now – and having spent a lot of years witnessing to Mormons I have had to deal with the “one true church” syndrome that is typical o the cults. I have dealt with it theologically and intellectually of course but it does leave you with a sometimes too critical view of the way others go about things. It is good to remember that not every hill is worth dying for and some might even be worth climbing for the view from the top.

    On the subject of thinking I came across the following a few years ago and it has always made me smile.

    “It started out innocently enough.

    I began to think at parties now and then to loosen up. Inevitably though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker. I began to think alone – “to relax,” I told myself – but I knew it wasn’t true.

    Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time. I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don’t mix, but I couldn’t stop myself. I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Kafka. I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, “What is it exactly we are doing here?”

    Things weren’t going so great at home either. One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She spent that night at her mother’s.

    I soon had a reputation as a heavy thinker. One day the boss called me in. He said, “I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don’t stop thinking on the job, you’ll have to find another job.” This gave me a lot to think about.

    I came home early after my conversation with the boss. “Honey,” I confessed, “I’ve been thinking…”
    “I know you’ve been thinking,” she said, “and I want a divorce!”
    “But Honey, surely it’s not that serious.”
    “It is serious,” she said, lower lip aquiver.
    “You think as much as college professors and college professors don’t make any money, so if you keep on thinking we won’t have any money!”
    “That’s a faulty syllogism,” I said impatiently, and she began to cry.

    I’d had enough. “I’m going to the library,” I snarled as I stomped out the door. I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche. I roared into the parking lot and ran up to the big glass doors… they didn’t open. The library was closed. As I sank to the ground clawing at the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye. “Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?”

    You probably recognise that line. It comes from the standard Thinkers Anonymous (TA ) poster.

    Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker. I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was “Rambo”.

    Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.

    I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home. Life just seemed… easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking.”

  4. Yes, very funny – although also slightly too close to reality for complete comfort! Especially the bit about university professors …        :-)

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