The History of Spirituality I

The Theology and Ministry building at Boston College

The Theology and Ministry building at Boston College

I attended a two-week session at the Theology and Ministry School at Boston College. I’ll write a short series telling about the events.

Boston College is not in Boston, but Brighton, Massachusetts. The campus is stunning marked with grandiose chapels and buildings. I stayed in Voute Hall, sharing my dorm room with Anna, a wonderful woman from the Midwest. Anna and I were not in the same class and we studied so often that we didn’t really get to know one another.

I signed up for and attended the class Spirituality & the Christian Life: Historic Traditions & Contemporary Practice. The professor did an excellent job of keeping the class interactive and awake. We attended class from 8:30 a.m. until 11:45 a.m. Homework amounted to a lot of reading, thinking, and writing.

We studied four different approaches to increasing spirituality. The types span almost 2000 years. First, we went back to the 4th century and covered lives of solitude. The book, The Desert Fathers, focused our discussion. The desert fathers and mothers got their name because they left the city to live quietly in the desert. While they sought redemption from their sins, the people in the city saw them as holy people and would come seeking answers from them. Their answers became “sayings” which were listed in the book.

Volunteers were asked for to introduce the sayings. I shot my arm up and became the first presenter. My logic: the sooner I plunge into this class the more I will learn. Here is an excerpt from my 10 minute presentation: “The ascetic approach to spirituality seemed a conscious choice, probably, an inner drive. Nevertheless, it resulted in a migration into the desert where these seekers lived in cells. The cells apparently symbolized ‘staying with the struggle,’ or stability. But, wouldn’t it be more stable ot stay put in the first place? Why not face up to the struggles in society?”

Although most of us in the class had families and weren’t feeling led to live in solitude, many of us do take time to go on retreats. One Australian said she has been out in the Australian desert and has genuinely felt, “When I look out over the horizon, it feels like there was nothing between me and infinity.” Pretty cool.

As far as the desert fathers and mothers sayings, in this particular book, they mainly referred to morality. Lust, self-control, fortitude, etc. There was minuscule doctrine or dogma preached. There were no church rules to follow. Instructions were aimed at how to purify the emotions and reactions. Their quest was spirituality.

The second series brings in a mystic.


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One thought on “The History of Spirituality I

  1. […] Continuing my Boston College experience, our class went on to study Julian of Norwich. A 12th century figure, Julian gave images of hidden things and expressed the inexpressible through language. In the book, Julian of Norwich, we read what can be classified as “revelatory texts” rather than “illuminating text.” Often referred to as a mystic, Julian tells about her 16 visions and because truth can’t be pinned down, her prose meanders. Personally, I had to laugh because it reminded me of Mary Baker Eddy’s writing which can also meander. […]

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