I took this photo of Howard Rice leading a retreat
for the Lazarus Project and West Hollywood Presbyterian Church
at Mt. Calvary Retreat House in Santa Barbara in the 1980's.
At the risk of copyright infringement, I cannot resist quoting an entire passage from Howard Rice’s book, Reformed Spirituality: An Introduction for Believers. It summarizes everything to be said for the spiritual life in Christian terms, and I am quick to add that Howard practiced what he preached:
God is love, and the experience of God’s love is one that meets our basic need for love so that we can be free to love others. Without receiving love, we cannot love others, no matter how hard we try. That is why spiritual experience is so linked with self-giving love for others. The heart of the experience of God is an inner knowing that “I am loved, loved beyond comprehension, beyond my earning or deserving.”
This deep knowing of the soul is the shattering of the otherwise inexhaustible need for love, which drives us to keep ourselves in the very center of the universe and to evaluate everything on the basis of how much it meets our needs. The person who knows love is able to love; the person who has been in the presence of the Divine Lover is filled to the brim with a sense of satisfaction of that need and can let go and share love. That is why truly great mystics are always such powerful figures and are often revolutionary.
They have a vision of how things might be that is not blurred by fear of what might happen to them. They are powerful because their vision has broken down their need for being loved. They have been liberated from their own inner needs, and they are empowered to go out and challenge the powers of evil in the world. They know, from their own experience, that the power of evil within them has been broken by the power of God’s love [p 166].
Rice goes on to explain the two-fold range of such love. One is to care for those closest to us, neighbor and family. The other is to care more “long-range,” to be involved in transforming structures so that those structures may care for others, what John Calvin would call “the most remote person” and what Jesus called “the least of these.” The first is personal. The second is political.
You can see how this echoes the early monastic movement, the Desert Mothers and Fathers who went out into the wilderness of the Middle East in the third and fourth centuries to pray. They pursued their spiritual disciplines not simply to save themselves from being corrupted by collaboration with the empire, but to be able to reach out to save others from the “shipwreck” they saw as civilization.
What Christians from the Reformed tradition often overlook is that the history of Christian spiritual practices from the centuries since Jesus is our history too, as the split between Catholic and Protestant only just occurred in the 16th century, long after the spiritual contributions of such figures as Arsenius, Benedict, Catherine of Siena, Claire, Francis, Hildegard, Ignatius, Julian of Norwich, and Syncletica, to name a few in alphabetical rather than chronological order. And the split between Eastern and Western Christianity occurred in the 11th century. So we share with Catholic and Orthodox traditions more combined history than separate histories.
Howard Rice’s book reminded me of this when he surprised me with the notion that John Calvin actually used the Benedictine spiritual practice of lectio divina, contemplating a sacred text meditatively.
In an appendix to Monk Habits for Everyday People, Dennis Okholm explains Protestant resistance to monasticism:
+ It implied a two-tiered or class system of Christian community that was believed schismatic.
+ Monastic vows seemed to contradict justification by faith alone.
+ “Idleness,” a mistaken belief that monks were not doing their part as Christian ministers.
Howard Rice notes a central distinction of Reformed spirituality: a desire for union with Christ as the way to union with God. He notes that what we call spirituality Reformers called piety, a word that today carries self-righteous connotations.
Rice writes of Reformed congregations, “The familiar vow once used when people united with the church was the promise to make diligent use of the means of grace,” the use of spiritual practices to be receptive to, not to earn, God’s grace.
And the endgame was still the same. In the words of Richard Baxter, “to prevent a shyness between God and thy soul…”
I am pleased to announce that my friend Connie Tuttle has had her delightful book published, A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet. I wrote about it in a post five years ago, Nativity Stories. My blurb describes it as “containing extraordinary stories extraordinarily well told.”
Your donations are this blog’s only means of support. Please follow this link to make your gift:
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!
Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.