… with the courage to follow Jesus
Geoff Colmer writes:
It’s been said that ‘spirituality defines our era’ and one of the phrases we hear often is ‘I’m not into religion but I am into spirituality’. But in our era ‘spirituality’ is rarely defined and more often simply assumed. Kim Fabricius says, “‘Spirituality’ is a word suffering from runaway inflation.”
So, what does ‘spirituality’ mean to those who seek to follow Jesus? And more specifically ‘courageous spirituality’, which in the contemporary usage of the word seems like a contradiction?
Rather than attempt to define spirituality, I wonder if it’s more helpful to speak in terms of a number of characteristics:
Spirituality will be about God, and more specifically the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Anne Wilkinson-Hayes spoke at the BUGB Assembly in 2010 and drew on ‘The Wind in the Willows’:
‘I beg your pardon,’ said the Mole, pulling himself together with an? effort. `You must think me very rude; but all this is so new to me.? So–this–is–a–River!’
‘The River,’ corrected the Rat.
‘And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!’
‘By it and with it and on it and in it,’ said the Rat. ‘It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing. Lord! the times we’ve had together!’
Anne’s encouragement was not to stand on the banks of the river but to enter its flow.
Following from this it will be substantial. It’s been said that ‘theology without spirituality is empty, spirituality without theology is blind.’ We’re to be seekers after depth and insight.
It will be authentic. It will be true to the story of God in Jesus Christ that I have come to inhabit. It will embrace my own story, and be rooted in the real human being that I am. In ‘Answering God’, Eugene Peterson speaks of ‘earthy spirituality’. ‘Earthy: down-to-earth, dealing with everydayness, praying while doing the laundry, singing in the snarl of traffic. Spiritual: moved and animated by the Spirit of God and therefore alive to God.’
It will be intentional. As a person who made a living as a musician for a number of years, there are no short-cuts without practice. I know of few gifted musicians, only gifted, disciplined, hard-working musicians. And while we may not want to apply ‘work’ to spirituality, there is no escape from some kind of focus and discipline.
It will be creative. We follow a God of inexhaustible creativity and imagination. And God has made us creative and imaginative human beings. So there is no right way, though many helpful guides. And we are created with difference. Some of us are extroverts, some introverts, and many not so straightforwardly defined. Spirituality should give life, provide nourishment, and result in the flowering of our relationship with God.
It will be passionate. We all express our passion in different ways, and while even the most demonstrably passionate of us will not be completely passionate all the time, there will be that whole-heartedness. The Northumbria Community speaks of ‘the one thing’, Psalm 27.
And here’s the crunch – it will be courageous, or vulnerable.
These words by Mike Riddell, speaking of spirituality, found a resonance with me. ‘Seeing we have a cross at the heart of our faith, it is stupid to ignore the reality of suffering, or pretend there is some escape from it. We need a faith that will stand strong in the presence of pain, and not run from it.’ We recognise that the shape of our discipleship is cruciform, and therefore will be ‘acquainted with grief’.
The Baptist Order for Ministry, of which I’m a part, uses this prayer every day, expressing something of our spirituality and the need for courage to follow Jesus.
Living God, enable us this day
to be pilgrims and companions:
committed to the way of Christ,
faithful to the call of Christ,
discerning the mind of Christ,
offering the welcome of Christ,
growing in the likeness of Christ,
engaging in the mission of Christ,
in the world that belongs to Christ.