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January 2013 Vol 52 No 1

Becoming Human

The Personal and Spiritual Life: All Too Human, All Too Divine

Spirituality can appear to many to be something abstract, impractical and other-worldly. In an attempt to combat this view, Terry Veling argues that ‘the duty of religious faith is to humanise our world’, and thus ‘it is our spiritual duty to become human’. Far from separating us from the holy, this approach leads to a fuller recognition of the divine all around us.

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Metanoia and Transformation I: Godly Organisation with Servant Leaders

At the heart of the Christian message is a call to metanoia—not simply repentance, but a change in one’s whole outlook on the world. This change is required not only of individuals, but of the organizations that we create, including the Church. In the first of two articles Norman Todd here offers some guidelines for such a process of change.

Ignatian Spirituality: A Bridge between Postmodernity and Christian Institutional Structures

James Bowler takes as his starting-point a study project that looks at images of humanity at different stages in its history. He concludes that a new image is currently emerging, one that may heal the perceived rift between spirituality and religion. Ignatian spirituality has, he believes, an important part to play in helping this new image to establish itself.

A Dialogue with God: Family Life and the Sacramental Imagination

Much of the literature on spirituality has been, and continues to be, written by and for celibates. Wendy Wright is a wife and mother, as well as a spiritual director and teacher of Christian spirituality. Here she considers how family life is called upon to nurture a sacramental imagination, an important aspect of the life of faith.

The Apocalyptic with a Difference

The apocalyptic is that aspect of scripture that deals with the end of the world, and the events that precede it. It is sometimes overlooked, or left as the preserve of fanatical fringe sects. By contrast Paul Dominic makes a biblical case for a proper understanding of apocalyptic having a profound influence on the pattern of everyday Christian living.

Learning How to See: Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Mass on the World’

Christians are familiar with the idea of appropriating the divine message by listening—hearing the word of God. Chad Thralls suggests that it is also possible to recognise God all around us through our sight. He draws on the writing of the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to demonstrate how vision can make the presence of God in the world more explicit.

Topping Up the Wells: A Return To Rural Victoria

In a 2009 article in The Way, Richard Shortall described his experience of running daily-life retreats in rural Australia. In this follow-up article, he looks at the methods that he and those who work alongside him have devised to help the participants remain faithful to the desires that emerged in the course of their original retreats.

The Global Experience of Gift, and Some Philosophy

Many people recognise life, or at least aspects of it, as gift, and respond with an appropriate gratitude. To others, such concepts are foreign. Robert Doud draws on sources as diverse as Friedrich Nietzsche and Ignatius Loyola to argue that gift exchange can be a useful paradigm for our orientation towards action in the world.

From the Foreword

T HE WOODEN PUPPET Pinocchio, the tragic monster created by Dr Frankenstein and Lieutenant Commander Data, the robotic chief operations officer in Star Trek: The Next Generation: all yearn to be human, to share experiences that most of us take completely for granted. At times, though, Christianity has been presented as a way to escape from being human, to avoid the confusion and pain involved in a life shaped by passion and desire. So what should the relationship be between faith and the human condition; how should believers respond to the challenge of becoming human? These are the questions addressed in different ways by the articles in the current edition of The Way.

Robert E. Doud makes a case for gratitude being a fundamental response to the gift of being human. To react in this way, though, is already, in his view, to have taken a big step on the road to making an act of faith. He traces this perspective back to ancient Roman and Greek ideas of sacrifice. The starting point for James Bowler’s piece is the changing images of humanity that can be perceived throughout its history. He claims that we are in the middle of the emergence of such a new image, describes its significance and offers Ignatian spirituality as a tool for its realisation.

According to Terry Veling, religious faith has at times tended to sidestep humanity. By contrast he portrays a Christianity whose precise aim is to ‘humanise our world’. This task is not, as it may appear, the opposite of the Orthodox idea of divinisation—the uniting of all things in God—as the goal of faith: rather the two processes are complementary. Norman Todd describes metanoia (a concept broader than its traditional English translation as ‘repentance’ suggests) in similar terms, and applies it not simply to individuals but to human organizations such as the Church.

Three articles approach these questions by proposing particular approaches within Christian faith that have the potential radically to transform the believer’s reactions to the experience of human living. For Wendy M. Wright, there is need for a sacramental imagination that can recognise the presence of God in everyday life, especially in the life of the family, her principal focus. A. Paul Dominic employs a concept derived from biblical studies, the apocalyptic, and shows how thinking in apocalyptic terms can challenge self-centred approaches to living. In the essay by Chad Thralls what makes the difference is a renewed understanding of how vision works. He draws on the thought of the French Jesuit palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin on seeing God’s presence in the world.

The experience of a retreat—stepping aside for a time from our mundane concerns—can be useful in this process of reassessing what it is to become human. The challenge then, though, is to continue to live out of the renewed view that the retreat offered and not simply lapse back into more familiar ways. Returning to his 2009 account of retreat-giving in rural Australia, Richard Shortall gives a practical description of techniques his team have devised to help those with whom he has worked in the past do just this.

Paul Nicholson SJ

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