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Thomas Finger

Overwhelmed by God

True spirituality means being swept away by God's desire for us.

Few areas of interest are expanding as rapidly to day as spirituality. Do-it-yourself versions abound, scrambling themes from world religions, New Age fads, and psychology in wildly eclectic variations. Christian offerings are also proliferating, stretching from the "Five Easy Steps" variety to scholarly retrievals of classic Catholic saints (perhaps most appreciated by Protestants). Across the board, however, spirituality is often promoted by contrasting it sharply with words like intellect, theology, and doctrine. Spirituality, one repeatedly hears, concerns the right brain, not the left; you must get out of your head and into your heart.

In such a climate, it is significant that The Shape of Living comes from a distinguished academic theologian (David Ford is Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge). Yet it is also significant that many readers may not recognize this. David Ford's image-laden prose, interspersed with Michael O'Siadhail's poetry, renders the spiritual significance of everyday joys and struggles, and of those processes and powers that shape them, recognizable to everyone. Yet barely visible beneath this highly accessible word stream runs a current of profound theological depth.

To probe at today's heart-head opposition, I want to sound that current at several points, yet not to reduce spirituality's overflow to some underlying structure. My intent is the reverse: to indicate how contemporary theological themes need not be intellectual abstractions, but can help us discern the swiftly shifting contours of our lives. Without question, spiritual reality ceaselessly surpasses all rational description. This reality is hardly amorphous, devoid of all shape. Its shaping, however, is not best conveyed by images like structure or foundation. It is more like the themes, counter themes, and their expositions that pattern a symphony whose beauty and exuberance far exceed understanding.

Ford's book "is about coping with multiple over-whelmings, ...

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