Daring Greatly through spirituality ... with the courage to be real

Barbara Carpenter writes:

The courage to be real… about spirituality… about my spirituality, or at least how I understand spirituality… in public…?  

Well, dare I?  For the question is, how real can I be? 

That question may be a contradiction in terms – surely something is either real or it isn’t - but I suspect that so often we are much less than real or honest about our spiritual life than we could be.  So part of this encouragement to ‘dare greatly’ during this year is to dare to be real and honest with those around us about our walk with God.  I suspect this is true for all of us, but maybe especially true for those of us who find ourselves in church leadership; we’re the professionally spiritual people, so to be real about the struggles of our day to day lives is hard and takes a degree of trust for us to do so.

Perhaps too we need the courage to be real in living as spiritual people.  To truly dare to let our spirituality inform our day to day living; to not dress our faith up in jargon and live it out in a holy clique, but to get real in the mess of our lives and the lives of those with whom we journey.
I’ve led courses on spirituality on and off over recent years – I was going to say ‘taught’, but I’m not sure spirituality is something you can teach, its explored or caught and lived, but becomes something else when we teach it.  So this is my definition of what I think I’m doing!

Spirituality is to do with things that touch us at the deepest level of our beings.  For us as Christians, therefore, spirituality is about the presence and the work of the three-in-one-God in our lives; recognising our createdness by God the Father, seeking to live in the pattern of Jesus Christ the Son and being shaped and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  There is no ‘one size fits all’, but there are traditions and patterns in which we are shaped and formed and by which we can be helped and which, in different ways, unite us.

This, of course, is not the only, or even the best, definition of spirituality but it’s where I’m working from at this point in my life.  Because I think one of the things I need to be real about when I reflect on my own spirituality, and that of others with whom I’m privileged to walk, is the fact that it changes… what once fed and nurtured is maybe not what feeds now.  That, in many ways is obvious really; Paul writes of it and the writer to the Hebrews addresses it too; we know in human terms our taste and need for different physical food changes over time; so why should we believe that our spiritual appetite and need should stay the same? 

What does need to stay the same is the commitment to spend regular time God, with no agenda but his; but it’s how that time is facilitated that varies.  For me sometimes it’s been by being led in a time of prayer via a podcast, by reading Scripture using traditional Bible notes, or by using the lectionary, Bible in a year, a daily liturgy etc, etc. 

When I first found myself in the place where what I’d been brought up to do wasn’t ‘working’ any more, I felt decidedly anxious – from the time of my conversion in my teens a daily quiet time with ‘Every Day with Jesus’ was part of my life; but somehow God seemed to be silent and I couldn’t seem to find him.  A conversation with a wise friend led to the suggestion of trying something new – using my imagination to engage with Scripture rather than simply engaging with it in my head.  It felt like a very strange thing to do – dare I step outside the structure that had been handed to me, rather like the Holy Grail?  I did, and my relationship with God moved to a new place.  And so it has been over the years – every now and then I’ve hit a brick wall and had to re-evaluate my spiritual practice, sometimes trying something completely new, sometimes returning to a previously loved routine – and each time God has opened up new horizons.

So why have I spent a few hours of my day writing this?  Because it matters.  It matters that we dare to have the courage to be real about our spirituality.  If we’re honest we know that we can’t be anything but real about it with God, try though we might – for he knows everything – but we need to be real with ourselves and with those around us; for then the transforming power of God’s Spirit is released, not just in our own lives, but also into the life of the world.

BarbaraCarpenterBarbara Carpenter is minister of Stoke St Gregory Baptist Church in rural Somerset, where she is also Chair of Governors at the local school.  She has just begun her second term of office as a Baptist Union Trustee.  She is a trained spiritual director and retreat leader and is an Associate Member of the Iona Community.  Barbara is married to Bill and together they have three scarily grown-up children and three grandchildren – she is still slightly bemused as to how she is old enough for this to be the case!  Spending time with family, reading and knitting are ways of relaxing and she is currently in rehearsal for a local production of ‘Oliver!’, which is different, though at the moment, not entirely relaxing!

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