The Quest for Christian Spirituality:
Invitation to workshops of eco-spirituality, satsang groups, mediation lessons including yoga organized by the new age religious gurus, electronic churches beckoning people for spirit-filled life and miracle crusades led by Christian leaders are some of the signs and avenues of Spirituality in the present day. In all these, there are truths and errors. One may notice an intense search for a grasp of the Ultimate and appropriation of energy pools for the cleansing of the soul and social structures.

The English word “factor” as a noun means “circumstance, fact or influence that helps to bring about a result”. Result could be either positive or negative. For a better result, we need to have a goal, good instruments and good method in our search. We come across negative results due to our defective understanding of the Word of God, the concept of mission, our attitude to God’s gift of creation and above all the meaning of human existence in the wider context of Asia. For a proper understanding of Christian Spirituality, St.Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian Church be regarded as the key text “Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”(Eph.5:1).As someone has rightly said, “every problem in the world is a relationship problem”.Realationship with God, with ourselves and with God’s creation are the contributing factors to the emergence of authentic spirituality. In other words, the biblical understanding of “loving one another, caring for one another, serving one another, being kind to one another, admonishing one another, washing one another’s feet, encouraging one another the name of God ,following the teaching of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit make Christian spirituality authentic and set its framework within the plan of Salvation. “The One Religion of Love”(Mar Osthathios) as revealed in Jesus Christ is indeed a call to celebrate the era of convergence in the third millennium. The Christian spirituality is action-oriented and could be set within the ambit of Heb.10:24: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works”. It is this perspective that helps us to realize God’s Kingdom “on earth, as it is in heaven”(Matt.6:11) and sets the goal of Christian spirituality in the cultural slogan of India,satyam(truth),sivam(order ) and,sunderam.(beauty).

Less of religion, more of spirituality:
In religion the accent falls on God whereas in spirituality it falls on relationship among the people. Christian spirituality has vertical and horizontal dimensions. They are two sides of the same coin. The three pillars of religion are creed, code and cult where as spirituality comprehends the tenets of religion in personal and social relationship. “It is indeed the outbreak of truth”(Swami Agnivesh).I would call spirituality as the technology of Christian life. Technology is applied science. The word technology is derived from the Greek word technikon which means “that which belongs to the techne” .Techne signifies the activities and skills of the craftsman. Techne reveals or unfolds whatever does not bring forth by itself (Aristotle).For example, a house is potential reality, but it does not come into being on its own, unlike a rose flower that blossoms on its stem. One has to bring forth things by conscious action using approprite skills and methods. This happens through the dicipline of the body, mind and spirit. To quote S.J.Samartha, “without discipling the body, focusing the mind, purifying the emotions and controlling the will no one can hear the sound of Truth or see the vision of God.”In his book Imitation of Christ, Thomas a’ Kempis speaks of the component elements for the formation of Christian spirituality. It is indeed the prophetic call to enlarge the place of our tent, to lengthen our cords and strengthen our stakes”(Is.54:2). This is the challenge of Christian spirituality in the pluralistic context of India. The miracle- net crusade context will not help us much to contribute the emergence of New Humanity in Asia. I would say that the philosophy of life as propounded by Albert Schweitzer will serve a better purpose for us. In his understanding of Christian spirituality, he summits everything to the doing of God’s will in personal and social life. To quote, “To know the will of God is the greatest knowledge; To suffer the will of God is the greatest heroism, To do the will of God is the greatest acheievement; To have the approval of God on your work is the greatest happiness”. The challenge is to imitate, initiate and innovate such models.

The prophetic all of Dr.A.P.J.Abdulkalam, the former president of India, to move from the sphere of religion to its spirituality is to be considered seriously in the context of the ACISCA Centres. In our search for true spirituality in the multicultural context of Asia, our prayer should have a theocentric output as seen in the theme of the Harare Assembly, 9th Assembly of the WCC: “God in your grace transform the world”. For a proper understanding of spirituality, the inclusive character of God as seen in the Lord’s prayer be upheld. A call to transcend the boundaries of religion represents the true nature of New humanity in Christ. The New humanity in Christ is not the gift of Christians to others, but it is the gift of God given freely to all across any religious or cultural boundaries. The prompting of the Spirit will thus make us fellow- heirs of the gift of the Kingdom of God which affirms God’s grace in human relationships. To affirm life in all its fullness- life in the midst of Death –dealing forces at work and plural situations- the challenge is “to weave communities of hope”. The task before us is to search for “the other” in the spirit of love. Authentic love teaches us to look outward together rather than looking at each other. The words of the celebrated Malayalam poet G.Sankar Kurup are worth recalling: “Once I lived near the temple, and woke up to the bells of the temple. Now I live close to a church and woke up to the bells of the Church. Bells are different, but the tunes and the music is the same”.

Spirituality - its inter-religious dimensions:
Spirituality has an inter-religious dimension. Truth, goodness and, sanctity are not the monopoly of one religion(see Phil.4:8). In Hindusim, spirituality is related to the four stages of one’s spiritual pilgrimage in life. Prayer, meditation, contemplation, silence, worship, service, pilgrimage to holy places and giving gifts of charity are means of spiritual formation in one’s life and in relationships. The five pillars of Islam also speak of spiritual growth in one’s life. The Sufi tradition in Islam also gives its stress on personal purification. The noble traits of Buddhism well stated in terms of wisdom and compassion and their bearing on the Four Noble Truths speak of spiritual ethos. As Christian spirituality is concerned with the empowerment of the self and the community, we need to seek for a common platform and see whether there is a point of convergence in the affirmation of moral and ethical principles in the name of God. In inter-religious dialogue, it is well stated that if we focus on the larger truth of symbols, then most of the conflict in the world could be stelled. We could list out the following timeless values, which bind people as members of God’s larger family on earth. They are: a deep caring for all forms of life; adherence to values such as non-violence, compassion, justice, love and generosity , integrity and honesty and contenentment.(Sri Sri Ravisanker on the Art of Living) The Christian task is to affirm shared values including ecological values for the transformation of human community.

Comodification of Spirituality:
Having followed the Market philosophy of profit, spirituality has become an industry for a profit(Prof.Nian Koshy).Marketization of spirituality through the media has become a new factor which diminishes the very natrure of the passion of Christ.In an era of Ecumenical catholicity of religion, one should seek for the comprehension of religion rather than its consolidation. In an attempt to give a right perspective of Christian spirituality Archbishop William Temple, speaks of the concept of God in a challenging manner: He is quite critical of a theology oriented to success and prosperity. The concept of an insurance theology diminishes the mission of the Church in Christ’s way. Archbishop writes: “If you have a false idea of God, the more religious you are, the worse it is for you. It is better for you to be an atheist”. What is required today is to seek, to discern and to articulate a theological understanding of God, the Word of God(Scriptures), church traditions and above all a concept of mission according to the guidance of the Spirit(cf.Jn.16:13).In theologizing our understanding of spirituality, there are three stages: They are learning and unlearning, knowing and experiencing , and affirming. An unbiblical theology- a theology unrelated to the Word of God and the world of man can do a lot of harm. “Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” ought to be the spirtual slogan for an authentic spirituality.

The Lord’s prayer sets the norms before us. What happens on earth brings about joy in heaven. If any doctrinal affirmation short of God’s oikounomia, could be branded as “Christian fundamentalism” which decontexualizes the fundamentals of religion. “Religious fundamentalism whether it is in Christianity or elsewhere is a sign of moral decay. When cross is the pivotal point of Christian faith, God’s promise will be with us in and through all the joys and sorrows of life(Rom.8:38-39).The era of crusading theology is partially rooted in the mission charge of Edinburgh 1910,the philosophy of which is no more valid today. A theological understanding of the “other” rather than a missiological approach be promoted by the Churches for social harmony. The goal of mission should be that “the whole world be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”.(Is.11:9) In translating religious language into a culture aiming at a common legacy, there should be tremendous sense of accommodation, flexibility and sensitiveness in our relationship. The metaphor of a river flowing carries a better sense .A river that flows assimilates and absorbs everything with a high sense of comprehension. A movement from a Euro-centricism to a contextual appraisal of realities both religious and secular make the liberation of the poor and the sub-altern groups particularly the Dalits, the Tribals and the Indigenous folks a possibility .Their liberation is intrinsically related to our spiritual formation. If this is achieved, “following Jesus” becomes a possibility for all across religious divide. This is the end product of Christian spirituality.

Compassion to the poor becomes the basis of Christian spirituality. In such an attitude, “streams of awareness” emerge from the depth of togetherness as the fulfillment of Agape in action. The concept of “neo- ecumenism” has much to contribute to our common well-being and for God’s glory revealed in Christ. The very understanding of Christ in relation to others will make a difference in our spiritual formation. The Vedic dictum “Let noble truths come to us from all quarters” be on our lips. The bold imitative to get closed to a crusading mentality and opened to a crucified mind make our spirituality authentic. An understanding of the Kingdom of God in our midst and its consummation makes better sense for an authentic search for an action oriented spirituality. The teaching of the Kingdom provides us with an inclusive and comprehensive understanding of spirituality. They are:1) Understanding Church as the prophetic and eucharistic sign of Kingdom on earth.2) Recognizing the unitive presence of Christ in the world 3) Affirming cosmic ecumenism which takes into account the truth of creation and redemption 4)Remembering that the frontiner of the Church is not between Christianity and other religions,but between righteousness and unrighteousness, justice and injustice, truth and falsehood. 5) Ministry to the marginalized is not an option item in the agenda of Church’s mission and its spirituality. It is a gospel mandate.

One Word and other versions:
God’s inclusive nature provides scope for many versions of His Word. We need to affirm that “the compassion of the Lord is for every living beings”.(Sirah 18.13)We understand God in terms of different attributes. He is all powerful (omnipotent), all-wise(omniscient), all-good(benevolent) and everywhere present(omnipresent). “The immeasurable riches of God’s grace towards all human beings in Jesus Christ”(Eph.2.7) help us to affirm both the rational and the revelatory character of divine wisdom. What is needed today is to speak, to act and live for a cosmic healing and global sanctification in the name of religion and its spirituality. The basic question is the role of sacred Scriptures of the world in helping us to do the will of God. We need to remove the barriers of prejudice from our midst. In this quest for truth as the basic ingredient of Spirituality, plurality in God’s order of creation is integral to Reality. The harmony that we discover in the religious Scriptures of the world challenges us to opt for a unitive presence of the Ultimate in the plural world “The one and many “will then become two sides of the same coin. In such a search, green spirituality provides the impetus for a holistic living in God’s world. Living with an eco-centric attitude to life makes us humble. A caring attitude to all living beings helps us to contribute a large measure to Christian spirituality. A worship order to promote the concerns of eco-spirituality will certainly contribute to the formation of spiritual ethos and values among the faithful. In a triangular relationship-God and nature, man and nature, God- man and nature, the eco-vision takes us to the points of convergence in the religions of Asia. If Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, lived in close relationship with every living creature, the birds of the air and the beasts of the field in an environment of natural beauty and splendor unspoiled by ecological degradation, humans are called upon to maintain the integrity of creation at its best with love and compassion. Our understanding and praxis of Christian spirituality will be at very low ebb without a firm grasp of the meaning of Divine governance in nature.

[Author: Rev.Dr.M.J.Joseph is formerly professor and principal of the Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam. He is the former director of the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Bangalore and Secretary of the Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore University,West.Bengal.He was also a member of the Faith & Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. He is currently the Convener of the Ecological Commission of the Mar Thoma Church and the author of the book, The Eco-vision of the Earth Community, Published by BTESSC/SATHRI, Bangalore in 2008.]
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