My spiritual and theological evolution and wanderings have taken me through Catholicism, Anglicanism, Reform Judaism, Buddhism, and Nature-based spirituality. I’ve been blessed by my engagement with each of these traditions.
Through my wanderings I never lost respect for and fascination with the teachings of Jesus. My attraction wasn’t the miracles or the healings, or even the resurrection. Rather, I found the practical teachings of Jesus compelling – love your neighbor, break bread and share table with those different than you, embrace forgiveness as a path of healing and sanity, show deep concern for social justice and those on the margins, and care for the poor, the vulnerable, and the needy. This – the finding of meaning through kenotic love – to me, was wisdom and truth.
Jesus was compelling. Christianity wasn’t. I reject much of what passes for mainstream Christianity today. I can’t affirm traditional notions of original sin, sacrificial-substitutionary atonement, miracles, Santa-God, and so on. At the same time, I strongly affirm evolution, science, and adopt a measured, skeptical stance toward most supernatural claims, favoring an epistemological realism-naturalism.
If you ask me if Jesus is God incarnate, I’ll answer with a question – what is God? How do you understand divinity. Did he work miracles? They are likely metaphors, allegories, and mythic attempts to convey the essentials of Jesus’ teaching. The Resurrection? My reasoning and reflection on common experience leans toward the claim being more of a powerful metaphor rather than a physical reality, but I admit I wasn’t there, can’t say for sure, and it’s a profound mystery either way.
All of this obviously leads to the question, am I a Christian? Again, my response likely won’t please most orthodox believers. I don’t really invest that much in labels. I find Jesus’ teaching and example compelling and convincing enough that I seek to model much of my life on such.
My expression of Christianity is unorthodox, progressive, yet Anglo-Catholic in form and Anglo-Celtic in flavor. It revolves around the convictions that there is tremendous value in the teaching and witness of Jesus, wisdom to be gleaned from the Christian tradition, but that both must be revisioned according to evidential theology, methodological naturalism, and modern sensibilities.
MY THEOLOGICAL & INTELLECTUAL FORMATION
Anglo-Catholicism – my formal education and formation occurred in Catholic and Anglican contexts as did the bulk of my religious life. I maintain a deep, critical respect for these compatible traditions and have found much benefit and. wisdom from how Anglicanism has led me to be understand a form of Catholic Christianity. As an Anglican (Episcopalian), my spiritual practice is deeply sacramental, eucharist-centered, and ritually rich, in a reverent yet casual manner.
Nouvelle Theologie – a manner of philosophical theology, mostly Catholic in nature, that arose in the mid-20th century, most notably among certain circles of European Continental philosophers and theologians. The shared objective of these theologians was a fundamental reform of the dominance of Catholic theology by neo-scholasticism using personalist, existential, and phenomenological-realist methods. Noted thinkers include John Paul II, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, Avery Dulles, Yves Congar, Edward Schillebeeckx, Jean Daniellou, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Roman Ingarden, Edith Stein, Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Mounier, Maurice Blondel, John Henry Newman, Bernard Haring, Karl Rahner, John Caputo, Josef Ratzinger, and Rowan Williams.
Celtic Spirituality – the deeply layered sacramental spirituality of the Celtic people’s rooted in the land and nature, with a pivotal awareness of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things, a commitment to radical hospitality, and the affirmation of the preciousness of all life. Noted thinkers include J. Philip Newell, Ray Simpson, Mara Freeman, Jason Kirkey, John O’Donohue, and Ian Bradley.
Personalism – a philosophical anthropology that recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of all human persons (including the dignity and worth of all living things) rooted in the Judeo-Christian teaching that humankind reflects the divine image. Noted thinkers include Emmanuel Mounier, Karol Wojtyla, Max Scheler, Edith Stein, John Crosby, Josef Siefert, and Rocco Buttiglione.
Virtue & Natural Law Ethics – an ethical tradition that understands morality as an integral part of our natural identity. Our moral responsibilities and rights arise from our nature (a reasoned teleological reflection on such) and our relationship to others. Our motivation for virtue is a matter of our own integrity, following the logic of our very being as we strive for our own flourishing while others obtain the same. Noted thinkers include John Finnis, Alasdair MacIntyre, Elizabeth Anscombe, Robbie George, Oliver O’Donovan, and Henry Veatch.
Catholic Social Thought & Liberalism – an incarnational, Christian liberalism infused by Catholic social thought. An extension of Personalism into the social, economic, political, and cultural sphere. Rooted in human dignity, human rights, social justice, solidarity, subsidiarity, preferential option for the poor, democracy, and free markets guided toward the common good. Noted thinkers include Leo XIII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, John Courtney Murray, John Milbank, Michael and Kenneth Himes, Alister McGrath, and Dorothy Day.
Historical Jesus Scholarship – the systematic, scholarly application of historical, cultural and religious analysis, various hermeneutical methods and textual analysis to explore the teachings and actions of Jesus of Nazareth and the understanding and practices of the early Christian communities. Noted thinkers include John Dominic Crossan, N.T. Wright, Stephen Patterson, and John Meier.
Religious Naturalism – working from within the framework of a modest methodological naturalism to foster a spirituality informed by science and reason, theological realism, rooted in nature, affirming of human dignity, and dedicated to social justice and sustainability.
MY SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
Availability – much of authentic living is rooted in availability to others, to live in such a way as to embody hospitality. This availability implies a willingness to give others of our time, attention, affirmation, and resources – to be available to others to participate in their lives and hold genuine concern for them.
Availability accepts the challenge to live without walls, living openly in a way that our convictions can be seen, challenged, and questioned. Integrity implies that who we are religiously, is who we are simply and fully. This involves building friendships and authentic community outside our comfort zones and is motivated by authentic care and friendship.
Availability is a form of kenotic love, and therefore should promote the concrete welfare of others and never be simply something self-serving. We can be tempted to think that we are making ourselves available and doing good, when in actuality we are imposing our own agenda on others, rather than respecting their radical otherness and particularity. For availability to be authentic, we must avoid turning kenosis into a self-indulgent imposition of the self onto the other, in what Catherine Keller calls, “narcissistic projection.”
Meditation, Reflection, & Prayer – prayer is an expression of the heart and human intention. Prayer provides inspiration and orientation for the human spirit, focusing our highest hopes and desires.
Yet prayer is not magic. To quote Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Prayer may not bring water to parched fields, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city. But prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.”
Much of my own prayer is akin to meditation or centering prayer – silent worship, reflection, a quiet communion with the world and the sacred presence we find within it.
Sabbath – beginning on Saturday evening and lasting through all of Sunday, I attempt to focus on leisure, creative activity, art, getting out in nature, socializing, and reflection. I often mark the start of this time of renewal with the lighting of candles, and sometimes a reading of poetry or scripture. If I’m with friends who are interested in such things, this can include a leisurely meal and discussion on the reading.
I strive to make weekly Mass a part of my usual routine, and when possible, I try to gather afterwards with friends for a slow, Sunday dinner or other gathering.
I do my best to avoid shopping, work, cleaning, mundane chores, and seek to limit my exposure to advertising and the popular culture on the Sabbath. Instead, I try to fill the time with simple pleasures, slow living, and unplug from the grind of the typical daily routine.
Practicing the Sabbath is urgently needed in our society, because it offers us a real way to resist the consumerist, commodity-propelled society that specializes in control and entertainment, bread and circuses, along with anxiety and violence.
Sabbath is not only resistance. It is an alternative to the demanding, pervasive pressure of corporate advertising and the cult of corporate-professional sports that demand our “rest time.” Sabbath offers the time to taste and see an alternative way of living.
The celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible reminder that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods. Our practice of it can offer us a glimpse of the New Order of Love made real on a weekly basis.
An Open Table – a significant part of Jesus’ ministry involved food – feeding people, communal meals, gatherings, and table ministry. Therefore, practicing an open table (and door, and heart, and hand, and mind) is a living symbol of the new order of love.
Sharing a meal at table together is an innately human act. Something sacred happens at the table – people are encouraged to share food, ideas, and open their hearts. There’s an intimacy of the table. Being at table with others is different than being in a living room together, or standing around – it’s a face to face, measured encounter.
The Liturgy of the Seasons – developing heightened awareness of nature, our local ecology, the sources and production of our food, its agricultural connections, and ecological implications – and blending this awareness into the Christian narrative and calendar – can play a role in deepening our spirituality.
Christians have historically marked the seasons with festivals that reinforced and celebrated their central myths, conjoining the meaning of significant religious events with the agricultural calendar. In Christian holy day celebration, the seasons provide a rich context for spiritual reflection, melding the deeper meaning of the mythic event with the inherent existential meaning of the natural cycle. This sense of participation in nature must be restored.
As theologian Thomas Berry explains, the entire order of the universe can be experienced in the seasonal turnings and renewals. Seasonal patterns contain a fundamental dynamics of human life – desire, fulfillment, loss, change, growth, decline, and much more.
Each season and each holiday provides opportunity for reflection, personal accounting, and marking off significant times and events in our life. We live each day with the symbolism and metaphor of the constant progression/changing of the seasons – and food, meals, and sharing at table can be a concrete place for this to all take place and come together.
The unfolding of the seasons was an overarching template for the Celtic imagination. In the pre-Christian tradition there are significant feast days aligned with the equinoxes and solstices. And then there are the cross-quarter days, which are the midway points between them and part of the harvest cycle. Most of these celebrations are blended with Christian narrative and ritual to provide a meaningful liturgy of the turning of the seasons.
All content copyrighted with all rights reserved. Gregory Gronbacher, 2021. (C)