Domestic Spirituality

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1 DomesticSpirituality SimonCareyHolt FirstpublishedinTheology,NewsandNotes,vol.46,no.1:13 15,23,1999

2 2 DOMESTICSPIRITUALITY 2 Sittingalonefor30 yearsinthedesertatop a60ftpoleisnotmy preferredpathto godliness.yetthatis preciselythecourse chosenbysimeon Stylites,the4thcentury asceticandpresent day saintofthechurch. Forthreedecades,thiswilySyrianlived boundbyaropetothetopofhistowering column.hisperch,3feetindiameter, includedacrossbartokeephimfrom topplingoffinhissleep.fromtimetotime hisdisciplescamewithaladdertobringhim foodorremovehiswaste,butthere,in splendidisolation,simeonpursuedhis obsession:uninterruptedcommunionwith God. ThiswasnotthebeginningofSimeon s pilgrimage.infact,for6yearspriortothishe livedatopapillarjust6feethigh. Embarrassedatthesmallnessofhisperch andwhatitreflectedabouthisintentions, Simeonmovedtoamoreworthyabode. Asyouwanderthroughthepagesof churchhistory,youdiscovercountless individuals bothwomenandmen who wenttostrangelengthsinsearchofintimacy withthedivine.therearethosewholivedin caves;thosewhochainedthemselvesto crossesandcircledthedesert;manywho confinedthemselvestosecludedmonasteries, livingbyvowsofsilenceandseparation;still otherswhopassedtheiryearsisolatedon ruggedpinnaclesofgraniteinthemiddleof theatlanticocean.whatevercoursethey chose,thesespiritualeccentricslivedwitha passionforthepresenceofgod.inthegripof thisdesire,theyfeltcompelledtorelinquish allresponsibilities,ambitions,relationships, possessionsandcommitmentswhichthey perceivedasperipheraltotheirpursuit. AsIreadthesestories,Ifeelconflicting responses.atonemomentifeelinspired. Thesetestimoniesarecompelling,stirring, evenconvicting.theycapturesomethingof theintensityofdavid sprayerinpsalm27.4: OnethingIaskoftheLordandthatis whatiseek:thatimaydwellinthehouse ofthelordallthedaysofmylife,togaze uponthebeautyofthelordandtoseek himinhistemple. Personally,Icannothelpbutbeimpressedby theintentoftheirheartsandthefocused natureoftheirpursuit. Atthesametime,Iamfrustrated deeply frustrated.thespiritualityofthesedevotees hingesalmostentirelyupontheactof withdrawal;topursuethepresenceofgod, onemustleavebehindthepursuitsof ordinarylife.asamodelofspirituality,it centersuponsolitude,isolation,quietness andretreat,andhasalmostnothingtodo withtheconstantandbusyebbandflowof myeverydaylife. Iamnotanasceticoradesertrecluse.I amahusbandandafather.ihavemade certainlife choicesthatmeanactsof withdrawalwillalwaysbetheexceptionand nevertherule.icannotrunofftothedesert orclimbanisolatedpeakinthemiddleofthe Atlantic.Icertainlycannotliveperchedona poleforthenext30years.ihaveamarriage tonurture,afamilytoprovidefor,children whowakeinthemiddleofthenightinneed ofcomfort.ihaveresponsibilitiesinthe workplace,friendshipstomaintain, neighbourstorelateto,andstudy commitmentstofulfill.becauseofthis,the spiritualityofthedesertwillalwaysdrawmy attentionasadistant,evenadmiring observer,butneverasafullparticipant. Imaywellbrushthisfrustrationoffasan asideifthisspiritualityofwithdrawaldidnot havethepervasiveinfluenceithastoday uponthechristiancommunity.almost everywhereilook,iseespiritualitydefined byimagesofretreat.inmyevangelical tradition,theultimatemeasureofone s spiritualityisthedaily quiettime aperiod ofpersonalsolitudeforbiblereading, meditationandprayer.dependingonthe

3 DOMESTICSPIRITUALITY 3 tradition,thismaybebroadenedtoinclude experiencessuchasliturgy,eucharistic celebration,charismaticworshipordaysof spiritualretreat.wemayaffirmmission, socialactionandwitnessasactivities importanttothechristianlife,butwhenwe speakofspiritualitywereverttoimagesof personalpiety,innerreflectionandsolitude. Itwouldbefoolishtosuggestthat spiritualityandwithdrawalhaveno connection.ofcoursetheydo!youneedonly scanthegospelaccountsofjesustoseethis exemplified.furthermore,evenacursory awarenessoftherichtraditionsofchristian spiritualityremindsusoftheimmeasurable valueofsolitude,silenceandretreat.thisis partlywhythetestimoniesofpole sitterslike Simeonattractus.Mycontention,however,is this:iftheactofwithdrawalisdefinitiveof ourunderstandingofspirituality,thenweare soldshortwhenitcomestoourexperienceof God.Thoseofusforwhocanonlywithdraw momentarilyendupfeelingside lined,having tocontentourselveswithbeingobservers whileotherstakecenter stagewithgod. Sharingmyfrustrationwiththis desert obsessed spirituality,ernestboyerjr.inhis bookfindinggodathomeasksatelling question: Istherechildcareinthedesert? 1 Theanswerisobvious.Ifmanyofusfindour primarycallingnottothedesertbuttothe routinesandresponsibilitiesofdomesticlife, thenweneedmodelsofspiritualitythat embracethoseelementsofourlives. Helpfully,Boyerdrawsaconstructive contrastbetweentwocontextsfor spirituality,eachoneasvalidastheother. Thefirsthecalls lifeattheedge. Thisisthe contextforthemoretraditionaldesert spirituality,onecharacterizedby relinquishmentandseparation.thesecond hecalls lifeatthecenter. Itishere,atthe verycentreofeverydaylife,wediscoverthe possibilityforanequallyformative spiritualityofthehome,neighborhoodand workplace. TheologianRayS.Andersonhasdescribed spiritualityasa domesticskill. 2 Atfirstsight thisseemsanunlikelyterm,butaswebegin todiscovertheroutinecentersoflifeasrich contextsforspiritualpursuit,wemayfind thatspiritualityhasasmuchtodowiththe domesticsettings theordinary,mundane andimmediateplacesoflife asithastodo withmountaintops,desertsand60foot poles. 1.GodintheOrdinary Iamintriguedwiththedomesticnatureof Jesus spirituality.timeandtimeagaininthe Gospels,Jesusembracesthemostordinary circumstancesandplaces,findingwithin themrichsourcesofspiritualmeaning.while momentsofwithdrawalareanimportant aspectofjesus relationshipwiththefather, theyaretheexception.jesusspendsthe largestpartofhistimeinthemosteveryday settings homes,neighborhoodsand marketplaces identifyingandrespondingto thepresenceofgod.jesusdoesnotcall followersouttothedesert.ratherhefleshes outthenatureofthespiritualjourneyrightat thecenterofdailylife. Furthermore,inthemidstoftheordinary, JesusdescribesthemysteriesoftheKingdom ofgod.bypassingimagesofangelicchoirs, palaces,andcentersofpower,jesusdescribes thekingdominthemosteverydayterms.he tellsstoriesofvineyardworkers,fishing, familymeals,homemakers,householdchores, seedsowingandneighborhoodparties. Moreoftenthannot,itiswhileseatedata dinnertablethatjesusexpoundsthenature ofgrace,discipleshipandchristianhope. Routinely,Jesuspaintsaverydomesticand accessiblepictureofthekingdomofheaven bybringingtruthintothedomainofordinary life. Mywifeloveshergarden.Shehasspent thelastyearcultivatingathrivingvegetable patchinourbackyard.gardeningisa domestictask.kneesarescuffedand fingernailsgetcakedwithgrit.butinthe midstofturningthedirt,pullingtheweeds andrunningthehose,mywifeoftennotices thevoiceandpresenceofgod.parablesof herowncometomind,picturesformand allegoriesbecomeclear.spiritualtruthsare tangibleandtransformationhappenswithout everhavingtoleavetheordinarybehind.

4 4 DOMESTICSPIRITUALITY 4 2.GodintheMundane Whatimagescometomindforyouwhen youthinkofdiscipleship?inmytradition, oneofthemostdominantnewtestament imagesisthesoldier.it samilitarypicture, onethatconveysasenseofrelinquishment, leavingandtransience.withjesusasour captainwearesummonedtogiveupcivilian pursuits(2tim.2:4),relinquishties, responsibilitiesandpossessions(mt.19:21), putonthearmorforbattle(eph.6:10 18), andbepackedandreadytomoveata moment snotice(mt.9:9;10:1 42).Itisa discipleshipofsurrender,readinessand movement. Itisthisimageofdiscipleshipthathas movedsomanyintomissionaryserviceand otherformsof full time Christianministry, foritofteninvolvesasurrenderingoffamily ties,careerandfinancialsecurity.itisalso thiscallthatbeckonssomanyintomonastictypeorderswherespiritualitytakesona prescribedform.moreoftenthannot,itis thisimageofdiscipleshipthatcarrieswithita strongsenseofpersonal call, forthesoldier alwaysawaitsthecommander sorders.thus, theclergy,themissionaryandthosein religiousorderswilloftenspeakcomfortably ofgod scallasapersonalexperience. Thereis,however,anotherimageof discipleshipinthenewtestament:the farmer.whiletheimageofthesoldierinfers relinquishment,leavingandtransience,the imageofthefarmerspeaksmuchmoreofthe mundane ofroots,routinesandthe repetitiverhythmsofordinarylife.in essence,itisamuchmoredomesticimage. Traditionally,thefarmeristheonewho givesalifetime sinvestmentinonepieceof land,workingthatsamegroundyearinand yearout.it stheworkofsowing,weeding, nurturingandharvesting.theannualcycles ofthelandareroutineandpredictable. Nodoubt,theimageofthefarmeristhe lessglamorousandexcitingofthetwo,andin itthesenseofgod scallishardertodefine. Regardless,itencompassessomuchofwhat everydayspiritualityisabout,andformany wholiveouttheirfaithinthemundane environmentsofhome,neighborhoodand workplacespeaksmoreimmediately. Ofcourse,thesetwoimagesarenot mutuallyexclusive,asifweliveoutaneitherorspirituality.bothspeaktoeverydiscipleat differentpointsalongtheway.thefarmer mustrelinquishandsurrenderjustasthe soldiermustenduretheroutineand repetitive.itisonlyhowtheseexperiences areappliedandembracedthatdiffers. Thetragedyliesinthefactthatthecalling ofthesoldierisoftenheldupasthe higher of thetwo morereflectiveofgenuine surrendertochrist.theaveragechristian wholivesouthisorherfaithinsuburbia, employedinthemarketplaceandpayingthe mortgage,canbelefttogazelonginglyatthe pastor,missionaryormonkastheonewho haschosenthehigherpath.thisiswrong! Howeverweliveoutourdiscipleship,andin whatevercontextwediscoverimplications forgod scall,weareassuredofgod s presence,evenamidstthemostmundane tasks. 3.GodintheImmediate AustralianJohnWilliamson scaptivating song CootamundraWattle describesan interactionbetweenanelderlymanandhis wife.surroundedbytokensandobjectsof thepast,thewomanisseatedinsidelonging forthehappinessoftimesgoneby.her husband sresponseistoinviteheroutside withthesewords: There sallthecolorsoftherainbowinthe garden,woman, Andsymphoniesofmusicintheskies. Heaven sallaroundusifyou relooking. Howcanyouseeitifyoucry? Heaven sallaroundusifyou relooking: thatsimplelinecapturessomuchthe mysteryandwonderoftheincarnational faithwechristiansprofess:godwithus! Heavenisnotonlyafuturehopebuta presentreality.throughthebirthofjesus Christ,Godhasenteredintotheordinariness ofourearthlyexistence.heisnotonlythe Godenthronedonhigh,butGodofthe

5 DOMESTICSPIRITUALITY 5 immediate.aseugenepetersontranslates John1:14, TheWordbecamefleshandblood, andmovedintotheneighborhood. Itis God spresenceintheneighborhoodthat foreversealsthedomesticsettingsofour livesasplacesfordivineencounter.through Godwithus wetouchtheeternalthrough theimmediate. InhisbookHallowedBeThisHouse, ThomasHowardgrievesthefactthatour modernscientificworld viewhasrendered dailylifedevoidofmystery.everythingcan beexplainedapartfromreligiousfaith. Consequently,eventhechurchhasembraced theresultingandtragicdivisionbetweenthe sacredandthesecular.expressionof religiousfaithisremovedfromtheordinary contextsoflife,relegatedtotheimagination, placesofwithdrawalandretreat,andthe ritualofsundayworship. Incontrasttothisde hallowingofthe immediate,howardcallsusbacktoan awarenessthat wedo,infact,walkdaily amongthehallows. 3 NotonlyisGodpresent inalltheplacesoflife,butgod seternal purposesfindrootinthemostimmediate settings.asthegospelstoryandthestoryof theearlychurchweavesinandoutthrough thehouses,neighborhoodsandlivesof ordinarypeople,theseordinaryplacesare forevervalidatedaslegitimatecontextsfor responsetothetransformingpresenceof God. Aspiritualityoftheimmediatedoesnot makelightofthefuturehopeofthekingdom yettocome.itdoes,however,takeseriously thekingdomofgodthatishereandnow;a Kingdomfoundwithinusandpotentially withinalltheplacesofdailylife.god s KingdomispresentwhenIsitdowntothe eveningmealwithmyfamily,whenimeetmy neighborsaroundourmailboxesandwechat togetheraboutourday,andwhenisitmy daughteronmykneeandreadastorybefore shegoestosleep. Conclusion Spiritualityisapopulartermtoday. Bookstoreshelvesareweigheddownwith titlesaddressingthepopularlongingfor personalmeaning,self fulfillmentand transcendence.christiansbelievethis reconnectionismadeavailabletousthrough JesusChrist.Thetaskremainsoursto promoteandnurturethisconnection,to deepenandstrengthenit.thepurposeofthis paperistosuggestthatthereismorethan onewaytodothat. Certainlyweneedtowithdrawfromthe hustleandbustleofordinarylife,tofind momentsofstillnessandsolitudethrough whichtoreestablishperspectiveandfocuson ourrelationshipwithgod.butwithdrawalis notouronlypath.wecanalsofindrich sourcesforspiritualityinthemidstofthe dailyandroutine. Iwillalwaysbeadistantadmirerofpeople likethepole sittersimeonstylites,andthe manydisciplesofhistorywhohavegiven themselvessounreservedlytothepursuitof God.ButIcanneverbeafullparticipantin theirspiritualityofwithdrawal.ineedhelp toidentifyothermodelsofspirituality, modelsthatembracethepresenceofgodat thecenteroflife.momentsofwithdrawalwill alwaysbetheexceptionforme.aspirituality thatdoesnotembracetheordinary,the mundaneandtheimmediateasfertile contextsfordivineencountersimplyplaces meonthespiritualsidelines. EachafternoonItakemylittlegirlfora walkaroundourneighborhood.sheisjust3 yearsold,andiamconstantlyfascinatedby whatsheseesaswewalk.sheistransfixed bytheraysoflightcomingthroughthetrees, ortheshapeand crunch ofthefallenleaves. Shewatchesasthewatertricklesthroughthe drainsanddelightsintouchingthehedgesas wewalkby.hereyeswillfollowthepathofa smallblackbeetlecrossingfromonesideof thefootpathtotheotherandshegiggles whenweseeourneighborsquirtingthecat withthehose. Andthenwhenwearehome,andshe standsonakitchenchairnexttomeasi preparethedinner,shelovestorunher handsoverthechickenfilletsandsplashher palminthelittlepuddlesofwateronthe bench.mydaughterobservesandnotices thingsthatihavelongsincebrushedasideas

6 6 DOMESTICSPIRITUALITY insignificant.withherhelp,iamlearningto seeagain.foricannothelpbutfeelgod s pleasureasthislittleperson,inhersimple way,acknowledgesthewonderandthe mysteryofthemostordinarystuffoflife. AswemoveintoanewMillennium,Jürgen Moltmanncallsustoanewspiritualitywhich hedefinesasanewlifestyle: Thewholeof lifeasitislivedisseizedbygod svitalpower andislived beforegod,becauseitislived outofgod. 4 Moltmann sspiritualityis distinctivelyinclusiveforitfindsexpression in thewholeoflife, notjustsomeaspectof religiousexperiencesetapartfromthe routinesofliving.itisadomesticspirituality, foritdiscoversandnurturesthepresenceof Godrightwhereweare.Itdoesnotlivefrom retreattoretreat,butfindsrichsourcesoflife inthenowofeverymomentandeverytask. Itisthespiritualitythatmydaughterlivesout sonaturally. Timesofwithdrawalwillalwaysbea necessarypartofthespiritualjourney. However,aswenurtureallofourspiritual sensesinthemidstoftheordinary,the mundaneandtheimmediate,wemaywell findgodbreathingnewlifeandpurposeinto allthecrevicesofourlives.spiritualityis aboutalloflifeandallofwhoweare.ithas todowithmomentsofretreatandpeak hour traffic,withperiodsofsilenceandthenoiseof littlechildren,withthecommuniontableand theworkbench,withhushedsundayworship andfranticfamilydinners.thepromiseof Godwithus isnotconfinedtothe mountaintop.itis,infact,aninvitationto knowchristandthepowerofhis resurrection rightwhereweare.itisa journeynotjustforpolesittersinthesyrian Desert,butforallofus! 4 JürgenMoltmann,TheSourceofLife:TheHolySpirit andthetheologyoflife(london:scm,1997),81. 1 ErnestBoyer,Jr.,FindingGodatHome:FamilyLifeas aspiritualdiscipline(sanfrancisco: HarperSanFrancisco,1991). 2 RayS.AndersonandDennisB.Guernsey,OnBeing Family:ASocialTheologyoftheFamily(GrandRapids: Eerdmans,1985),chapter9. 3 ThomasHoward,HallowedBeThisHouse(San Francisco:Ignatius,1979),13. 6