Book Review: Spirituality

spiritualityThe posting of this review makes me a viral blogger. It’s not that I would do anything for a free book, but when the opportunity arose to receive an occasional book of my choice if I would merely read and review it online within 30 days, What’s not to like?

I chose Carl McColman’s Spirituality. This is a second printing of a book originally published in 1997.  McColman explains the seed that brought forth the original:

Spirituality came from an idea that I had one day while sitting in the parking lot of a large music store in Atlanta. Listening to the radio, I thought about how popular music often conveys “spiritual” and “mystical” themes. Then the thought occurred to me: “What would a book look like, that attempted to explain the spiritual life by relying on culture, rather than religion, as its starting point?”

I was hooked because I’ve been heading in the direction lately of Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity,” and thought Spirituality might be helpful in that direction.

It was more helpful than it wasn’t.

Overall, I appreciate McColman’s ability to communicate practices and concepts from within his experience as a Christian in ways that are, generally, accessible to people from other perspectives.

The book’s subtitle is “A Postmodern and Interfaith Approach to Cultivating a Relationship with God.”   As McColman identifies postmodern, this works.  Postmodern, according to this book, and to much of the rest of our society, is:

  • an age of skepticism
  • an age of pluralism and diversity
  • an age marking the triumph of technology
  • an age of crisis and promise.

But he falls at least one short on categories.  Postmodernity, as I have come to understand it, is at its most basic a realization that modernity’s assumption that we really can all get along because beneath or behind all our differences there really is some idenity, some story, some way of explaining and understanding it all that works for all of us is a flawed theory.

F0r 98%+ of the book, McColman presents his own undersatnding of spirituality in ways that, I think, engender dialogue and interaction with the reader.  That much is postmodern: trying to communicate not from some common point of understanding but from one’s own place in ways that welcome others from theirs.

Yet, on p. 193, vestiges of modernity appear when he writes: “A basic truth of spirituality is that the Divine is ever-faithful to us. In other words, God loves us without fail and unconditionally.” This statement presumes that, in some sense or another, all the various world “religions” or “systems of spirituality” really are talking about the same thing.  There are no more modern assumptions than this!

It would be nice (I suppose) to be able to assume that all the “religions” of the world really are aiming the same direction, really are diverse accounts of and paths toward the same “god.”  It would be nice.  I believe, however, this assumption requires to large a leap across cultural particularities and the huge variance in contexts in which humanity exists.

That said, having read the book, I am convinced that this point of contention is one over which I could sit with Carl and, over a cup or a pint, discuss our differences and our agreements.  I sense in him perhaps even more eagerness to understand the other than I hope to possess myself.  In that eagerness is the hope of postmodernity.

Thank you for your thoughts, Carl McColman.  They have furthered my own, and led me to underline enough of your words to want to refer back to them over and over.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Spirituality

  1. I may be totally off-base here (I’m going by memory), but I think the original edition of Spirituality was written before McColman was a Christian. He re-edited it after his conversion to Catholicism. Prior to that he identified himself with Wicca.

    He’s a very interesting guy. His website (for those who may not know) is here: http://anamchara.com/

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