Breathing to God's breath: transforming our inner lives to act in a world of violence and injustice.
In his classic A History of Christian Spirituality, Urban T. Holmes writes "to be spiritual means more than to be capable of receiving God into our lives. It means that we are called to know God... God communicates ... and we can receive that communication. How we receive that communication is another question." In Christ Wisdom: Spiritual Practice in the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer, Christopher Page delves into those deep questions about how we know God, and how we are known by God and transformed.
It is sometimes the case that the simplest and most familiar texts contain the greatest depths. Christopher Page leads us to meditate on the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer a few words at a time. In some cases he approaches the same few words more than once, teasing out meaning and transformation each time. Page writes, "As spiritual seekers we do not need more information about our faith. We need the tools of living transformed and transforming lives." The words of Jesus "exist to open us to a deeper dimension of reality in order that we may be empowered to live the lives for which we were created." The results are often surprising insights and experiences of being in the presence of God, and of our own true selves. This is not prayer where we talk to God, so much as it is where we learn to listen, to adjust our breathing to God's breath.
For Page, the Beatitudes, "set out for us the attitudes and practices of the Christian life" while the Lord's Prayer, "builds upon those principles and guides us in living in communion with God"
The first half of the book deals with the series of aphorisms that constitute the beginning of the Sermon On The Mount in Matthew 5, aphorisms that are at times puzzling and even trite. Happy are the poor in spirit; those who mourn; who hunger and thirst; who are persecuted; reviled. Really?
Page leads us to reflect on the dominance of external circumstances on contemporary life, as opposed to the cultivation of the inner life that is our true self, where God dwells. He shows how the Beatitudes provide us with direction for spiritual practices that release us from ever changing and disappointing external circumstances. And, he roots us in a deepening of our inner life with God. At times this can sound almost Buddhist in tone (though it is an authentic reflection of the early Christian mystics), such as when Page says, "To find what you long for you need only look within. What you seek abides with you and is in you," and later, "Stay with your struggle. Sit with the difficulties, doubts, and confusion ... The deepest conundrums of the human condition are chisels working on the granite block of our lives."
In the second half of the book the Lord's Prayer is profoundly grounded in the real world and its stark political, economic and social realities. As a result, Page's language around familiar phrases such as 'your kingdom come', 'daily bread', 'forgive debts', and 'deliver us from evil', is reflective of a world filled with violence, injustice, suffering and hunger. Page points out that the transformed life Jesus asks of us will not seem to the world either practical or popular. In a timely comment about being peacemakers, for example, Page says "This may not be a popular message. It may not fill churches or sell lots of books. But Jesus was more committed to truth than to making people feel good or encouraging them to live a life of illusion and lies ... In the ordinary realm of human affairs, the teachings of Jesus are not reasonable, practical, or even sensible"
However it may fit into a culture hungry for relationship and spirituality, at first blush this book is not very Presbyterian. And no wonder. Christopher Page is an Anglican priest living in B.C. who is trained in centering prayer. However, at a time when spiritual practices of many kinds are being recovered and shared across traditional denominational and religious lines, when best-selling authors such as Thomas Moore, Matthew Fox, Henri Nouwen, and Joan Chittister popularize integrated approaches to spirituality and wholeness, Presbyterians do well to open ourselves to alternative spiritual disciplines and practices as Page offers.
Calvin himself sought to re-connect theology and spirituality, or piety, which certain spiritual movements, such as the devotio moderna, had separated. He felt that the renewal of the church required a deep spiritual awakening, and that could only come about through relation of thinking combined with the inner life.
So maybe there is more in common between the spiritual legacy Page draws upon and the spiritual roots of the Presbyterian tradition, especially as that tradition enters the post-modern context of the 21st century, and as the church desperately seeks renewal, and as people search for meaningful ways to be in relationship with the holy, to be known by God.
Rev. Douglas DuCharme is an interim minister in the Presbytery of East Toronto.
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|Title Annotation:||Christ Wisdom--Spiritual Practice in the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2005|
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