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An Introductory Course in Christian Spirituality

What is spirituality?
Christian Spirituality...
What are spiritual disciplines?
Contemplative disciplines
Reflection and Discernment
Prayer and Worship
Moral Action
Course Instructor
The spirituality one attempts to embody must be sensitive to its contexts.

As we have seen, Adrian Van Kaam views spirituality in terms of a fundamental dynamic, common to all persons, which is shaped by a person's biology, social context, life experience, and a drive to self-transcendence. This dynamic is played out within the life circumstances of a person. Life circumstances can be understood as a context within which one functions. Culture, profession, beliefs, education, state of life, physical condition, economic status and geographical location are elements of one’s context. Different circumstances exert different influences upon people. For example, the context of the monk is voluntary community life in relative isolation from society and lived under the guidance of a set of rules. The context for the married man is commitment to and responsibility for a wife and children, in relative engagement with society and seeking the good of the couple by means of the covenantal vows of permanence, fidelity, and openness to children.


The influence of context can be seen in a comparison of two different spiritual traditions. Franciscan spirituality was shaped during a time when the feudal political and economic structure of the Middle Ages was disintegrating. There was great disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Uprisings of the poor were relatively common and often had a religious veneer, as the institutional church seemed to be associated with the wealthy and powerful. Arising in the midst of this historical, social, political and economic context, evangelical poverty became characteristic of Franciscan spirituality. It provided a means for the Church to align itself with the poor, while respecting the political and social reality of the era. When the Jesuits came into being several centuries later, it was the age of discovery and great missionary ventures. This social context stressed evangelisation, scholarship and practicality, which became characteristic of the Jesuits and their spirituality.


As noted earlier, Christian spirituality is both Trinitarian and Incarnational.  Being an incarnated reality it is realized within a particular cultural, historical and ecclesiological context that shapes its expression.[1]


The spirituality one attempts to embody must be sensitive to its contexts. This involves sensitivity to the social, historic, economic and political reality in which one finds oneself but also an harmonious integration with one’s state in life.


At the root of every spirituality there is a particular experience that is had by concrete persons living at a particular time. The experience is both proper to them and yet communicable to others...St. Bernard of Clairvaux...says that in these matters all people should drink from their own well. The great spiritualities in the life of the church continue to exist because they keep sending their followers back to the sources. (3)


Obviously such spirituality must integrate itself harmoniously, in each case, with the spirituality related to the state of life. Accordingly, the same Christian spirituality acquires diverse connotations according to whether it is lived by a married person, a widower, a single person, a religious, or anyone else. Spiritual formation must take account of these variations and offer differentiated spiritual paths.[2]


[1] Cardinal Stafford, The Ideal Family of the Permanent Deacon, 2000.

[2] Ratio Fundamentalis, 1998, no. 11-12.

[3] Gustavo Gutierrez, We drink from our own wells: The spiritual journey of a people, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988) p.37.


Transcendent Formation : Transcendent Formation (Formative Spirituality)
Adrian Van Kaam

We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People
Henri Nouwen

Fundamental Formation (Formative Spirituality)
Adrian Van Kaam

The transcendent self: Formative spirituality of the middle, early, and later years of life
Adrian L Van Kaam

Click here to visit Along the Way, a site of reflections, homilies and stories by the author of this website.

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