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January 2005 Vol 44 no 1


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Etty Hillesum: For God and With God

Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who was murdered in Auschwitz, left behind diaries and letters which are coming to be recognised as one of the twentieth century’s most significant spiritual documents. Alexandra Pleshoyano, who is exploring Etty’s significance for contemporary theology, introduces us to Etty’s remarkable understanding of God.

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Christmas and the Confrontation of Empire

A scriptural meditation for the Christmas season. Christ’s birth inaugurates not a new religion, but God’s liberation of the poor and humiliated—a liberation that thwarts Empires both then and now.

Women Beginning a Spiritual Quest

An account of how women, from many different countries and religious traditions, experience the call to a deeper spiritual commitment.

The Spirit in Contemporary Culture:
‘Just Tell Them Stories’: The Liberation Spirituality of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

Though Philip Pullman’s acclaimed trilogy is sharply critical of conventional religion, it writes of the imagination and of spirituality in ways that are profoundly liberative.

Theological Trends:
Embracing Life, Embracing the Cross: Edward Schillebeeckx and Suffering

It is only through the experience of suffering that we are fully open to the touch of God, the grace of Christ. Kathleen McManus explores this theme in the theology of Edward Schillebeeckx OP, one of the greatest of contemporary theologians.

‘A Sight of Happiness’: Thomas Traherne’s Felicity in a Fleeting World

The seventeenth-century poet and mystic Thomas Traherne provides us with remarkably striking and topical insights on the world as God’s body, on the presence of God in nature, on happiness and on resurrection.

Postmodern Spirituality and the Ignatian Fundamentum

Christian experience in postmodernity is vastly different from what it was even two generations ago. Timothy Muldoon tries to name how the changes are shaping the religious experience of young adults today, and suggests some new ways in which the Ignatian Fundamentum provides openings for spiritual growth.

The ‘Accommodated Texts’ and the Interpretation of the Spiritual Exercises

The text of the Spiritual Exercises which we generally follow is but one of several. The oldest manuscripts we have, the so-called ‘accommodated texts’, are full of rich material, giving important indications of the order in which Ignatius put together the different parts of his work, and also showing the scriptural roots of Ignatius’ method.

From the Ignatian Tradition:
The Exercises of Master John

Some extracts from one of the ‘accommodated texts’ of the Spiritual Exercises, illustrating the bold rhetorical style and biblical spirituality of at least one early Jesuit.

Recent Books

on the myth of Cornelia Connelly
on theology and spiritual direction
on Diarmaid MacCulloch’s magisterial study of the Reformation
on just wars
on Rowan Williams and desert monasticism
on one Jesuit’s engagement with the Trinity

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From the Foreword

The stark interior of the Jewish memorial in Dachau refrains from making any theological statement. In this respect, it is quite unlike the adjacent Carmel of the Precious Blood, or the Protestant Church of Reconciliation. Massive but mute, it symbolizes what cannot be named, what must remain with us as a wounding question: the significance of a belief in God, of traditions of faith, when set against the Shoah.

The enormity of the Shoah is unparalleled—one that the psyche can only reduce or cut off. But the kind of radical questioning that it provokes is prompted also by many other changes in our culture since World War II. This first issue of The Way for 2005, God Nowadays, looks at a range of new ways in which people are currently experiencing and expressing what Christians may, with due tentativeness, identify as the touch of God. Some of these arise from human suffering: the extraordinarily self-possessed, original witness of the Jewish woman Etty Hillesum in wartime Amsterdam and Westerbork; the form of liberation theology developed by the Flemish theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx. But liberation can also be cultural and imaginative. Thus we have Sue Delaney writing on the spiritual awakening that women can experience in mid-life as they assert themselves against the models of womanhood sanctioned by their society. Tim Muldoon suggests that the spiritual needs of today’s young adults are somewhat different from those of their parents, the baby-boomers, whose voice is nevertheless the prevalent one in journals such as this. And John Pridmore finds an impressive vision of imaginative liberation in the ostensibly anti-religious trilogy by Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials.

Other pieces in this issue foster our contemporary quest for God by giving us new perspectives on our past. To mark the Christmas season, André Myre offers a provocative new reading of the biblical infancy narratives; and Denise Inge retrieves the remarkable work of the seventeenth-century nature mystic Thomas Traherne in the light of modern physics. We also look again at the origins of the Ignatian Exercises, in particular at some of the early texts that, while not definitive, nevertheless give us some important insights into how the first generation of Ignatian retreat-givers understood what they were doing. In best postmodern fashion, we are finding the past’s lost voices.

It is often thought that our questioning about God is somehow a purely contemporary phenomenon: up to some comparatively recent date, ‘we always thought’ that things were just so; now the Shoah, or feminism, or postmodernism, or some form of deconstructive human science, has thrown everything into confusion. Such thinking oversimplifies the truth. Long ago Job, or rather the author of the book that bears his name, was thoroughly baffled by God, and the prophets and psalmists were often perplexed at God’s ways. Great Christian theologians, such as Schleiermacher in Enlightenment modernity, or Aquinas in the middle ages, or Denys in antiquity, have regularly taught that God’s reality is beyond definition, beyond our capacity to know.

When we describe God as almighty or omniscient, we are not describing God; rather, we are naming some of the respects in which God’s power and knowledge are different from ours, limited as we inevitably are. The protest that an almighty God could never have permitted Auschwitz only has force if we construe ‘almightiness’ as the observable property of a very powerful being. But matters are different if we see that term as a pointer towards divine mystery. To follow Christ is to be taken on a journey that educates us out of our preconceptions and projections, and opens us to a God who has always been greater than what eye has seen or what ear has heard. Our age is certainly one that raises awkward questions about God, and scrutinises critically the orthodoxies, whether traditionalist or trendy, that it has inherited. But perhaps matters have ever been thus when the quest for God has been alive and honest.

Philip Endean SJ

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