Spirituality, these days, tends to mean ways of finding God in our lives and in the world.
Prayer is the basis of Spirituality, but prayer comes in many forms, and not all kinds suit all people. Some may be comfortable with praying for people, petitionary prayer, others in imaginative prayer, meditating on memory, experiences or on scripture. Others may find that practical or physical prayers are best for them – creativity, pilgrimage, walking, working. Prayer can be disciplined, based on monastic offices or a lectionary, it can be lengthy and intense. Some prayers may be sudden and short.What matters is that it comes from, or happens in, the depths of our being – and we are different. Another viewpoint, as Delia Smith once said, is that “prayer is something God does”with us not something we do on our own.
There are two main themes in Spirituality, common to many religious traditions- Affirmative and Negative. Affirmative Spirituality focuses on finding God in the world and in our lives. Negative Spirituality tries to detach the mind from everything but God. The two are closely connected. If we become more aware of God in the world we may be led to contemplate God. If we contemplate God we may see the world around us in a different way. Neither way is easy – particularly as people have a habit of only seeing what they want see. They pray about only the things they like in the world or they try to see an idea of God that suits themselves.
There are many different traditions within Christianity, often focusing on ways of finding God in the world. Many use the life of Jesus as a pattern, either by imaginatively praying on the gospel story or by trying to be “Christ-like”, through love or humility or detachment. Some traditions give a structure or discipline to prayer, by using prayers or readings for particular days, or series of meditations to help us understand what’s going on in our lives.
It’s probably worth noting that in Christian tradition “Meditation” usually means praying or thinking about something (memories, scripture, experience) while “Contemplation” usually means a state of static adoration without conscious thought. Mediation can lead to contemplation, when conscious thought about something leads to a more abstract state. (It’s not supposed to be easy!)
Another important aspect of Christian Spirituality is that it isn’t a form of “Self-help”. Christian life is never individual and separate – so Affirmative prayer may make us aware of how we are part of the world around us and how our lives are shared with others – and Negative prayer may lead to an awareness of how everything is unified with God. The liturgy of the Church is a form of shared Spirituality – and the Book of Common Prayer was designed to give everyone a shared, common, experience.
Obviously our prayer lives may be largely private and everyone has different experiences and a unique relationship with the divine. In many churches individuals, particularly ministers or clergy,may wish to have a Spiritual Director or Spiritual Companion, an experienced listener who they can talk to in complete confidence. One aspect of this is to affirm that everyone’s own life and search has a individual value though they may be part of a praying and worshiping community.
Here are some links to material on the Spirituality of different traditions which may be useful if you want to explore further:
Spirituality in the Lichfield Diocese
There is a Spirituality Team in the diocese which facilitates a variety of activities including regular “Radiance” days, spirituality fairs where you can find out about different traditions.
If you are interested in finding a Spiritual Director (or Spiritual Companion), an experienced and confidential person who may help support you in your spiritual journey there are contacts on this page:
St Benedict of Nursia (c480- c547) established the first monastic order with his Rule. Benedictine Spirituality focusses on the monastic way of life. An important feature is Lectio Divina, praying with scripture.
An introduction to Lectio Divina: http://www.valyermo.com/ld-art.html
Worth Abbey: http://www.worthabbey.net/flash_index.html(Featured on the TV series “The Monastery”. With information about St Benedictine and the monastic life.
Alton Abbey (Anglican): http://www.altonabbey.org.uk/ebp/alton.nsf
Turvey Abbey, near Bedford, which runs retreats including Enneagram and Christian/Buddhist retreats: http://www.turveyabbey.org.uk/
St Francis Assisi (1181/2 – 1226) founded his order of Friars (wandering preachers rather than monks confined to a monastery) as an attempt to live more Christ-like lives, devoted to poverty and humility. Franciscan Spirituality sees everything in creation as brother or sister and in the 13th century this inspired a more positive view of nature – though there is nothing soppy about this, unlike some popular views of this popular saint. His friend St Clare is equally important, emphasising finding Christ in each other, and his follower St Bonaventure wrote more intellectual visionary interpretations of Francis’s ideas.
There is a very popular book on Franciscan Spirituality by Brother Ramon, an Anglican Franciscan, available on Amazon here.
http://www.ofm-canada.org/eng/spirituality/spirituality01.htm gives a good summary of Franciscan Spirituality.
http://www.tssf.org.uk/ is the website of the Anglican Third Order, a religious order created by St Francis allowing lay people to be part of the Franciscan community
St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). His greatest contribution to Spirituality is his “Spiritual Exercises”. These are by no means a method of indoctrinating people, as false ideas of the Jesuits might suggest, but a series of prayers and meditations to help individuals find out how God is working in their own lives through imaginative prayer based on the life of Christ. The exercises are used as the basis for spiritual development by people from all churches.
St Beuno’s, a Jesuit house in Wales and popular centre for retreats for people from all churches: http://www.beunos.com/
Celtic Spirituality and Iona
In the 20th century there has been a revival of spirituality inspired by the early church of Britain and Ireland (misleadingly referred to as “Celtic” only in recent times):
The Iona Community, based on the ancient pilgrimage site of Iona, has developed modern liturgies this “celtic” spirit: http://www.iona.org.uk/
The Book of Common Prayer
From the 16th century Reformation the Anglican church produced a simple prayer book, with selected readings, that everyone could use, based on older office books.The idea behind this was that everyone would have a shared spiritual tradition and language. The Book of Common Prayer is still the official prayer book of the Anglican Church even though the Church often uses complicated alternatives these days.
http://www.cofe.anglican.org/worship/liturgy/bcp/ is the CofE website page about the BCP.
http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1549/BCP_1549.htm gives the first version of the Prayer Book from 1549.
The Prayer Book Society: http://www.pbs.org.uk/
Prayer is something more than an exterior act performed out of a sense of duty, an act in which we tell God various things he already knows, a kind of daily attendance in the presence of the Sovereign who awaits, morning and evening, the submission of his subjects. Even though Christians find, to their pain and sorrow, that their prayer never rises above this level, they know well enough that it should be something more. Somewhere, here, there is hidden treasure, if only I could find it and dig it up – a seed that has the power to grow into a mighty tree bearing abundant flowers and fruits, if only I had the will to plant and cultivate it. Yet this duty of mine, though dry and bitter, is pregnant with a life of the fullest freedom, could I once open and give myself up to it. We know all this or, at least, have some inkling of it, through what we have occasionally experienced, but it is another matter to venture further on the road which leads to the promised land.