What is the core of our spirituality? It is the warm and vital relationship between a father and a son, in this case, the father is the Holy God and the son is us (those brought from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light – meaning, not all of us, just those who have with strong evidence, seen this salvation take place personally in their lives).
This wonderful relationship is most intimately expressed in prayer. Prayer is all about a sinner talking to a holy God and a holy God talking to a sinner, sometimes, as a dialogue (meaning, they are talking to each other). This talking partakes of a form of intimacy and relationship that is divine. It is made more remarkable because it is a holy God vis a vis a sinner.
The immediate response of being born again is prayer and the bible says, the words uttered are first, the words of intimacy, “papa,” “abba, “daddy,” or “tatay.” This is very important because prayer is grounded actually on a legal relationship that is more than just of that between casual acquaintances or friends. In the Roman law, which is the context of most of the New Testament epistles, being adopted is equal not just in law but also in emotion, as that of a legitimate child. The two are the same. We have been adopted legally as sons or daughters when the Holy Spirit indwelt us.
Why is this important to spirituality? Today, spirituality is more an intellectual exercise than a real experience. Prayer is more cognitive or cerebral than a loving gaze, to a caring Father. If we put this at the center of our spirituality, two things will change immediately.
(There are three forms of prayer and evangelicals know only two of them. The first is the prayer of listening, the second, the prayer of asking and the third, the prayer of obedience and sacrifice. We need to learn to listen so we can ask better and obey more.)
First, we will base our spirituality on our awareness of God’s presence.
Second, spirituality becomes a journey.
Spirituality does not belong to us. It belongs to the Father. We do not take credit for it and say we are more righteous or more spiritual because we have attended to God’s presence. It is as we attend to His presence that we know of this spirituality and at that moment that we move away or cease to attend to His presence, that spirituality also begins to disappear.
This is not about being self-conscious or being introspective, which usually makes a person very self-centered or egoistic. Love is always outward, and unselfconscious. There is a strong element always of otherness (so the person loved is not just an extension of our ego). Self-awareness is the opposite of self-consciousness. Being self-aware actually makes us more present and aware of others. We are less self-protective and defensive. We can be vulnerable because we do not let our defensiveness control us.
We cannot love if we are self-conscious. We also cannot become humble (and as well with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit). Once we know we are humble, we stop being humble. Once we know we are loving someone, it becomes suddenly a script or a performance.
At the center thus of our spirituality is a love relationship, an infatuation and a desire for God. The Song of Solomon portrays this, with us as the woman (malandi, because she is always pining and looking for the man) and God as the man.
This presence is not a permanent one. We can as brother Lawrence wrote, practice the presence of God to make it a whole day and lifelong experience (I think those who have succeeded have all died already). it really comes and goes. It is the same as the experience of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. First, they saw Jesus but did not recognize Him. Then suddenly they recognize Jesus on the breaking of the bread and then suddenly also, Jesus disappears. This is our journey, consisting of the appearing and disappearing of Jesus.
I think it is partly because we are sinners. And it is also partly because the Kingdom is yet to come (it has already come also but in many ways, it is yet to come still – see Eldon Ladd’s The Presence of the Future). In a way, Christ is hidden and so is the church.
Many people oppose this need for an experiential spirituality, insisting that spirituality is more objective and more textual. The fear of relying on subjective human experience seem to be the source of the objection but what they do not realize is that spirituality is not about theology or becoming an exact science. Spirituality is all about relationship and it is about our relationship with a loving Father.
There are strong ramifications to this too. When the Bible says, how can you say you love God whom you cannot see and not love your neighbor whom you can see – introduces us to a dimension of this prayer life which requires not just honesty within, but authenticity in the outward life. The interior life must harmonize always with the exterior life.
God is mocked when we say we love him and yet live contrary to His character. We cannot saw we pray and yet violate His character at every turn. That is why 1 John 3.17 says, if someone with a surplus of the world’s goods, finds a brother in need and does not provide for him, does the love of Christ abide in him? This is a rhetorical statement, and the answer is obviously, “No.” this is not about our salvation but about our spirituality. We cannot claim or pretend to have a wonderful relationship with God our loving Father if we dishonor him with the way we live in our outward life.
Spirituality therefore is both interior and exterior. It is about a loving relationship, on a day to day basis (which is why it is a journey of finding Jesus, like the woman in the Song of Solomon, always pining and desiring for the Man) which reflects God’s character in our outward being. The Jesuits I think got the closes to this in the way they expressed their ministry – contemplation in action (mindfulness and attentiveness to God’s presence while serving the world).