Speaking spiritually is not simply speaking about spiritual matters. It also involves speaking from your own unique relationship with the Spirit about what matters most to you. This is the most crucial form of speaking if we are to cultivate a flourishing future. And there is not enough of this kind of speaking happening. You can change that with your next conversation.
Regular readers of this column know and value the rich range of understandings of Spirit in our contemporary culture. The communications revolution over the past 25 years, especially with the emergence of the internet, means that we are exposed to vastly more options in the supermarket of spirituality than ever before.
Here’s where you will find me in that supermarket. I’m over in the Christian aisle, under the Presbyterian section, on the reforming shelf. The directions on my package talk about reforming the tradition continually under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to cultivate blessing in the creation as we find it today. I don’t fit into any of the simplistic categories people use to label Christians these days – mainline, evangelical, conservative, liberal, progressive, traditional, charismatic, liturgical, etc. As Soren Kierkegaard said, “If you label me, you dismiss me.” I have a strong aversion to being dismissed. I consider that aversion a gift from God. If you are willing to accept my own understanding of myself, I’m a ‘learning soul, walking humbly with Jesus Christ.’
When I was teaching at Vancouver School of Theology, I was blessed to have David Lochhead as a colleague. David was a passionate advocate of interfaith dialogue. His approach to that adventure can be found in The Dialogical Imperative: A Christian Reflection on Interfaith Encounter. At the centre of David’s thinking on this matter is the conviction that we need to speak spiritually with integrity and humility from our current faith convictions and hold the space for others to do the same. Genuine dialogue leaves room at the centre of such conversations for the Spirit to work its own unique wonders that none of the dialogue participants could have imagined and that none of them can manipulate for their own purposes.
In the dynamics of this kind of spiritual speaking, 3 benefits emerge:
· We are given an opportunity to put into words the source and shape of the convictions that give our lives significance. The best way of stepping into this opportunity, as I currently understand it, is to ask yourself what you value most in your life. Find within yourself the five words that capture the inspiration of that value for you. Then begin with curiosity about what values inspire those with whom you are in dialogue. Open the conversation with this kind of curiosity, inviting others into the space, respecting their views first, then put your reflections on the table for consideration. If you begin by contending for your position as the only right way, you’ve sabotaged the conversation and subverted any semblance of dialogue.
· We are given an opportunity to hear others, from within our own spiritual tradition or from another (including secularism, which I consider to be a spiritual tradition), lay out their convictions. The best way of stepping into this opportunity, as I currently understand it, is to cultivate a teachable spirit. The Spirit, however you may understand that energy, has much more to teach us in this life. Openness to learning, at every level of our beings – instincts, emotions, and intellect – is an attitude that we desperately need in our contentious and callous culture. If compassion informs that listening and learning, we can hope for a better future in a more collaborative community.
· We are given an opportunity to reconsider and reform our perspectives and practices as we grow into the community of compassionate collaboration we were all created for. The best way of stepping into this opportunity, as I currently understand it, is to listen to our instincts and our emotions more than we are taught to do in our culture. A callous and crass individualism, rooted in fearful thinking, may make selfish sense on a base level for many. It may drive political positions and movements for a time. But there is something instinctively communal about human beings. There is also something emotionally compassionate about human beings. When intellects are formed to pay attention to these kinds of instincts and emotions, a different, far more dialogical space is cultivated. That’s what happens when we speak spiritually in the ways I’m suggesting.
Let me reiterate that I am coming at this set of opportunities from a Presbyterian Christian perspective. In my appropriation of that heritage, I am urged to have a teachable spirit. That’s how John Calvin, a key founding father of Presbyterianism, once talked about his conversion. That spirit is what makes me a ‘learning soul walking humbly with Jesus Christ.’ Within the confidence I have in the conviction that Jesus Christ is the ultimate power that shapes the universe, I pay careful attention to sustaining a profound humility about the fullness of my understanding of the power that energizes the creation to flouish. As Paul, another founding father of the Christian tradition, said in his letter to the crabby and conflicted Corinthian church some 2000 years ago, we all see through a glass darkly.
So, cultivate spaces where a broad range of our human species can engage in respectful, stimulating dialogue about the core values that will provoke all life to flourish in this universe. That is the best way of speaking spiritually.
Brian Fraser is lead provocateur of Jazzthink and minister with Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Burnaby, BC. He works primarily with not-for-profit staffs and boards convening COOL conversations for SMARTer leadership. You can find out more at www.jazzthink.com and www.brentwoodpc.ca.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, The Spiritual VIew, HERE