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Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004
416 pp., $65.00
The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality
Westminster John Knox Press, 2005
704 pp., $55.00
The Wild West
I like double entendres and so it was the clever title of a recent collection of essays on Christian spirituality that first caught my eye—Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality. The play on "paying attention to the Spirit" and "thinking critically about the Spirit" is not just clever, though. It goes to the heart of one of the central issues involved in the study of spirituality, namely, that such study is self-implicating. Studying spirituality disturbs the typical subject–object relation often presumed in studying something formally. I put on my white lab coat and under controlled conditions I look at object x under my microscope. I probe it in various ways and make observations on what it does. That is perhaps what some of us think is the normal way of studying things. My cousin is a scientist who does spinal cord research, and he used to work directly across the street from me at the University of British Columbia. I remember thinking about how different his job was from mine when I saw a Post-It note on his bulletin board that simply said "Rats" with a phone number written underneath—the equivalent of 1-800-GET-RATS, I suppose. But I teach spiritual theology at a graduate school of Christian studies. So who are my "lab rats"?
As it happens, most scientists these days, especially physicists looking at the very small and the very big, acknowledge that they are implicated in their own research, a part of the system they study. How much more so when we are studying Christian spirituality. The paradigm of the neutral observer in the white coat looking at the lab rat falls apart quickly. And the sooner the better, I say.
That's why I think the title of this book is so clever: Minding the Spirit. There are echoes here of a deep Christian tradition of religious epistemology, the doctrine of double knowledge that we find all but universally in the history of Christianity from Augustine's Soliloquies to Anselm's Proslogion to the opening ...