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An Introductory Course in Christian Spirituality

Reflection and Discernment
What is spirituality?
Christian Spirituality...
What are spiritual disciplines?
Contemplative disciplines
Reflection and Discernment
Prayer and Worship
Moral Action
Course Instructor
Our life experience shapes us into the persons we become.

As noted earlier, the traditional spiritual disciplines can be grouped into the mental and practical disciplines. We looked at the first of the mental disciplines, which was described as paying attention. This discipline was essentially a matter of letting go of some of the filters that we impose on our senses and allowing a richer and deeper awareness of ourselves and the world around us as a result. Other terms that are often used when speaking of paying attention are contemplation and mindfulness.


The other mental discipline among the spiritual disciplines is often called by different names. It is described as the discipline of insight. Others describe it as discernment or reflection. What ever name is given to it, the discipline rests upon the practiced awareness that is the fruit of mindfulness. The disciplines of insight-discernment-reflection offer the opportunity to study the stream of our experience without assuming a specific conceptual framework that limits our experience. These disciplines lead to “knowledge” of God that is intuitive and not conceptual, it is an experiential awareness. We see our pettiness and virtue in the light of the Holy Spirit, without self-created illusions to hide behind.


Pilgrimage is a classic image for describing spirituality. It is seen as a sacred journey with a beginning and an end. The end of our journey is communion with God for all eternity. We set our eyes on the glorious horizon toward which we journey but we are people with a history; and knowledge of that history is an important means of moving effectively toward our goal.


The Scriptures contain both an old and New Testament. A large part of both Testaments describes the history of the People of God; both the Hebrew and Christian communities. Part of the wisdom to be gained from reading and studying scripture is the lessons to be learned from the experience of these people on their faith journey. Not only is there wisdom to be gained but the experiences recorded in Scripture shaped these people as a community into the Jewish and Christian communities we know today.


Roman mythology describes Venus as arising from the mind of Jupiter fully formed. This image is captured in the painting by Botacelli, Venus on the Half Shell. This archetypal woman came into being in the full bloom of her physical beauty with no history. In a very real sense she was crippled. While the goddess of beauty and sexual desire, she was not a person. There was no substance to her because she lacked the life experience, with its joys and sorrows that shape us into the persons we have become.


Sadly, it is not uncommon for people to have very poor memories of their past. It has been my experience working on a Diocesan marriage tribunal to encounter people who have almost no memory of their life prior to age 11 or 12. Others may have only the vaguest memory of large chunks of their adult life, usually in relationship to a poor marriage. These gaps in a person’s memory often reflect the memory of experiences that were traumatic and repressed by the subconscious as a psychological defense mechanism. The person whose memories begin with age 11 or 12 came from a home in which there was a violent and alcoholic father. Childhood was robbed from this person both in the trauma endured and quite literally in the lack of memories of childhood. The women who couldn’t remember much about marriages that occurred only a few years ago are often victims of emotional and physical abuse as well.


Imagine that you wake up one morning to discover that you are on a journey. This journey obviously has been underway for some time, given the wear and tear of your traveling equipment and the conversation of your traveling companions. However, you have no memory of why you began the journey, of the distance traveled, or of the challenges overcome to bring you to this point in the journey. From your traveling companions you can figure out the destination. As you face even the most rudimentary obstacles on the journey you seem to flounder, to the surprise of your companions who speak of you easily overcoming similar obstacles in the past.


We find ourselves in a similar situation as the forgetful pilgrim if we are unable to draw upon the vast resources of experience that are part of who we are. The lack of significant memories suggests that we have been wounded and that the wound is still in need of healing. Certainly we rely on God’s grace to bring about the needed healing but there are things that can be done to facilitate that healing. If the loss of memories is significant, psychological counseling and treatment may be appropriate. If our memories are there but do not speak to us clearly, the practices of journaling and autobiography may be helpful. We will consider these practices later in the course.

Behold Your Life; A Pilgrimage Through Your Memories
Macrina Weiderkehr

Father Joe : The Man Who Saved My Soul
Tony Hendra

A Year with Thomas Merton : Daily Meditations from His Journals
Thomas Merton

Contemplative Prayer
Thomas Merton

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

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