One of the underlying questions of my research is how the inner life of spirituality relates to the outer life in community. Which comes first? Do we relate to God through an inner life of prayer and meditation that then overflows to others? Or, do we connect to God by our interaction with others in the Church?
This question is expanded even further when we talk about the relationship between spirituality and evangelism. We usually think about these as two separate activities. We commonly think that there is one part of your life in which you practice your spiritual disciplines to “get right with God” and there is another part of your life where you “share your faith” with non believers.
One proposal that I am seeking to make in my research is that these two things are actually intertwined. When we imagine God in the metaphor of the social or entangled Trinity and understand that being itself is relationally interdependent rather than substantively divided it helps to connect spirituality with evangelism.
Edith Humphrey says it beautifully:
Since God uses different means to transform us, then it must be the case that there is no locked and barred door today where those outside the Church are concerned. It may well be that our own thirst to know God, something we thought was only a matter of our personal growth, or of the corporate strengthening of the Church, can be turned to the help of others who do not yet believe. Indeed, the very disciplines connected with spiritual ecstasy and intimacy, commended to us by those who have become intimate with God, are ‘transferable’: that is, to be in the process of becoming friends of God places us in a situation of potential friendship with the others that he loves, who do not yet name him. Concentration upon God’s word, attentiveness in prayer towards him, diligence as we discipline the unruly body and passions, the cultivation of hope as an informed decision when we are tempted to despair, delight in the stories and strengths of others who know him, concerted effort in worship even when our imaginations will not cooperate, working through the problems and wonders of the creeds as we have ability and time, bearing with the irritations that come our way within the Church, returning good for evil, learning the proper and timely use of words and silence–all these practices, enjoined by the Scriptures and the Church’s teaching, will be honored by the One who has practiced them perfectly. In following this route, we will come more and more to share in him and to see him.
In seeing him, we find ourselves in a place where we can see others. (God is revising the great tragedy outlined in Romans 1:21-32, where the primal refusal by humans to honor and give thanks to God issued in blindness concerning the cosmos and the general disruption of human nature). Such godly practices (worship, correction, watchfulness, love, restraint, and delight in the other) all lead to the cultivation of honest hearts. We have forged within us centers of integrity, by which we have the strength to truly understand another’s problem in understanding, or seeing, or trusting. Out of that still place of security, we can offer a response that is matched to the day, and to the specific person whom we are learning to love. If we find ourselves questioned by someone who is not interested in complex theology, we have, after all, a Person to offer, and a story about the Person that has beckoned to human beings for centuries. We need not, in the beginning, even attempt to argue that this is a ‘meta-story’–the Person has the wherewithal to speak through his very own story, even as we tell it! We can rest assured that his purpose with whom we are engaged is to make them whole on every level, including the level of the intellect. It is not necessarily our job to do everything. If, however, we know that we are loved, then it is that Person whom we will put in the center of our action, or conversation: other things will fall into place. If we are worshipers, and have caught even a glimpse of the One who is both seated on the throne and standing among us, it will change us, and folks will be asking why.1
Compare this to Philip Sheldrake’s discussion of the public nature of interiority.
- Humphrey, Edith McEwan. Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2006. 273-274 [↩]