The second approach to the spiritual life worked best in the pre-modern, largely illiterate, pagan world of the past…and works best today in the postmodern, image-based, pagan world of the present. This is the world of story, mentoring relationship, irrational experience, and risk-taking entrepreneurship. This approach assumes that people start the spiritual life with non-rational, passionate experiences of the Holy. These experiences may be joyous and/or fearful, and they alter both identity and lifestyle. That these alterations are for the good may in fact only be revealed at a later time. This experience of radical humility drives people to thoughtful reflection in order to sort out the meaning and implication of that confusion of agape and eros that has changed their lives. The compassion that follows completes the process of being swept away by the Holy, as people focus love beyond themselves. In the course of compassion, they meet the incognito Christ among the public again and encounter the Holy.
This unending cycle of experience-thoughtfulness-compassion is the alternate expression of the spiritual life that has lingered at the margins of Christendom and is now once again coming into its own.
Which cycle is a truer description of your spiritual life? Forgive me the history lesson. Let’s make this personal. If you want to assess the authenticity of your calling in Christian ministry, then you must see that calling as emerging from your true spiritual life and not just as a vocational choice.
I know you. We have had a long association. Although you are ‘modern’ enough to be swayed by the bias to higher education, in fact your spiritual life has never depended on it. [After years of confusion and mismanagement of your life] the more you surrendered to God, the more you thought about your destiny; and the more you thought about the fulfilment of life, the more you recognised that fulfilment in loving people beyond yourself and even more than yourself.
Ultimately, your compassionate immersion into the life and well-being of others led you to encounter God all over again. Whether it hurt you or helped you, it swept you off balance and precipitated humility that at times felt more like humiliation. There was no ‘reflection’ here, no intellectual pondering. Instead you felt that original sense of awe all over again. The experience of the Holy left you speechless, helpless and, what is more, thoughtless. Ideas just ran out, like a paved road vanishing into the primordial jungle. Then the brooding thoughtfulness began to kick in, and the compassion, and the cycle repeated itself.
In other words, the core of your spiritual life has been the gospel, not theology. Certainly, you valued expert advice and professional coaching to help you live that spiritual life. My point is that it did not replace that spiritual life. Don’t let your bias for modernity divert you from the spiritual life that you have.