My heart still pounds when I relive this event.
Here’s what I read to my male colleagues, lightly edited for clarity.
I want to let you know why I’ve chosen not to attend these faculty fellowship gatherings. It’s about me. In particular, it’s about my almost intolerable level of personal discomfort, accompanied by my sense of a being in a highly charged atmosphere in which I am now supposed to be ‘spiritual.’
- I don’t know when to laugh. The sign of this is that I sometimes want to cry when others are laughing.
- I want to lament when others are praising.
- I feel strange when those around me give every sign of feeling at home.
At my university, there was virtually no community spirituality. This was uncomfortable and strange to me. Here at the seminary, there’s much excitement and fervor about community spirituality. This, too, I find strange and uncomfortable.
- I want to name and give voice to my spirituality. It’s deeply rooted in my Christian feminism and history with my sisters [other women]. It’s also rooted in my theology, and has the capacity for being as disturbing and controversial as any theological position might be.
- I need to name this spirituality because of what seems to be an unspoken assumption that if my spirituality is different from the reigning spirituality, then I have no spirituality.
- I must name this spirituality because I can no longer keep silent.
First, two statements about what spirituality is not:
- Spirituality is not a human capacity whereby we ‘get in touch’ with God by means of various so-called spiritual disciplines.
- Spirituality is not something we do—except insofar as we respond to something.
- Spirituality is the event of the Holy Spirit in our midst. It’s a happening in which God comes to us not in familiar, comfortable ways, but as a disturbing reality that challenges us at the point of our concrete need.
Here’s a more descriptive statement. For me, spirituality is about the following:
- Being awakened, coming to life, and purposefully incorporating all of human life into a shared vision of God and the world
- Having my eyes open to human life, to what’s going on around me
- Being awakened by God who comes to me in the form of my least favorite neighbor
- Being introduced to a world of pain and suffering to which I cannot close my eyes
- Striving with God, giving vocal expression to my outrage, my frustration, my despair
- Being willing to give this vocal expression not just in the presence of God, but in the presence of my sisters and my brothers
- Allowing the pain and anger to be there, without quick and easy resolutions
- Being willing to live for a long time out of a vision of reality that is daily called into question
Spirituality is more than the event of the Holy Spirit opening our eyes. It’s also a language that we speak. However, I find myself surrounded by language that doesn’t reflect my spirituality. This is what I hear:
- Language about retreat from the world
- Language that suggests life is a distraction – something we need to shut out
- Language that denies expression to feelings of pain and suffering, but calls instead for talk of joy and unity that I don’t always see
- Language that suggests our academic work could ever be anything but an expression who we are before God and before each other
- Language that sets ‘us’ apart from ‘them’— from people out there in the real world
- Language preoccupied with the inner self, in seeming isolation from concrete relationships
This language disturbs me, largely because I feel no freedom to challenge it openly.
When we’re dealing with theological positions, we seem to do better at inviting dialogue. But when we’re dealing with spirituality, I sense that the shape of spirituality has been precut. Those who don’t fit the garment are at best misfits, at worst not ‘in the Spirit.’
In the end, my spirituality has to do with becoming acutely aware of the humanity of others and of myself—and of God in all of this. It’s an awareness born of involvement in life, not an awareness that leads to involvement.
My goal, then, is to stay exactly what I already am–human, within the real world like everyone else, not separated out into a ‘more spiritual’ world.
In a last post, I’ll comment about what happened next and what I’ve learned from this experience. Stay tuned!
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 January 2015