1 John 4:18 Love contains no fear—indeed fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. This means that the man who lives in fear has not yet had his love perfected. (PHILLIPS)
[J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins]
An Emergent Spirituality
Traditionally, theology has been the task of defining appropriate parameters for the beliefs, understandings, and practices of the Christian faith. Whatever falls outside those parameters is either bad theology or heresy. A radical theology, consonant with an emergent spirituality, is more the process of reflecting upon and describing “religious” experience in terms of its contribution to compassion, peace, and justice. Traditional theology is for caterpillars; radical theology, for butterflies.
In describing the process of on-going spiritual formation, Henri Nouwen writes:
“You can look at your life as a large cone that become narrower the deeper you go. … You know that Jesus is waiting for you at the end, just as you know that he is guiding you as you move in that direction.” The Inner Voice of Love (1996), page 51.
But, is spiritual formation really a narrowing process? Walter Wink writes:
“When we turn this image of Jesus, as the criterion of humanness, into the yardstick by which we are judged, we open the door to perfectionist attempts to emulate Jesus rather than efforts to become our true selves.” The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man (2002), page 167.
Going deep can become a narrowing and constricting process which is subject to distraction, diversion, and (as Wink suggests) perfectionism. Consider, as an alternative, a spirituality of expansiveness. The narrowing process may well be a pre-cursor to expansiveness. The caterpillar’s journey to chrysalis is the narrowing; the butterfly’s emergence and taking flight, the expansiveness.
The life of the spirit is ever expanding – testing new venues, experimenting with new practices, exploring new relationships, and connecting with that which we name as God. Like the universe of which we are a part, we are ever expanding toward compassion, peace, and justice.
An expansive spirituality is a gift that is visited upon us. The motto of such an emergent spirituality is “Fear not!” Don’t be afraid to loose your spirit; allow it to breathe and take flight. Perhaps Luther’s dictum, “Sin boldly,” is fitting here – although I prefer C. G. Berkouwer’s translation of the Latin (pecca fortiter), “Sin bravely, but be even braver in the faith…” (Faith and Sanctification,1952, page 34) This emergent spirituality must be brave because it is often moving outside (beyond) the parameters defined by traditional theological inquiry, beyond the expectations of much religious practice.
To emulate Yeshua truly is to grow beyond the narrowing and constricting dynamics of an ego that wants to be in control, to integrate an existential trust that moves us into compassion, peace, and justice. That existential trust infuses the marrow of our beings and draws us intimately toward that which bears the name of God.
John Caputo quotes from a poem by Angelus Silesius:
The rose is without why;
it blossoms because it blossoms
It cares not for itself,
asks not if it’s seen.
Then Caputo suggests, “We too should live “without why,” allowing life to blossom without weighing it down with our why’s and wherefore’s.” [Hoping Against Hope (2015), pages 27 & 28] An emergent spirituality, an expansive spirituality is “without why.”
[This understanding if spirituality as expansiveness is a new concept for me. It arose in conversations with a friend. We are attempting to think it through. Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to elaborate upon my growing understanding, as well as attempting to describe some practices that would support an emergent, expansive spirituality.]