Authors: Walter Stratford & Linda McWilliam
Published by: Morning Star Publishing
Linda is an Anglican priest and the Director for Mission for Anglicare, southern Queensland who holds a Bachelor of Theology (honours) and a Master of Counselling from ACU.
Walter is a retired Uniting Church minister who has a number of degrees and completed a PhD in 2012.
How I wish this book had been available to me twenty years ago!
The authors demonstrate how ‘meaning’ is found when philosophy meets history, culture, ethnography and religion. It is also about a human search for truth and justice that is a both analytical and practical. It is a useful analysis of ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ concepts illustrating how spirit and soul have captured the minds of many over millennia. The authors manage to separate these from long standing claims of the church and its teachings on eternity. They place the many notions of ‘being’ and ‘life’ in the lived experience drawing on Martin Heidegger’s sociological interpretation of ‘being-in-the-world’.
The authors have obviously experienced life at close quarters, both professionally and privately. This shows in the way they mesh spirituality with our complex social values as a counter to all the conflicting values of secular society and in a way that honours all life within creation. This is done against a context of claims on the ‘right’ faith perspective and the destructive path of fundamentalism and the way the latter has dismembered societies and produced a great movement of refugees across the world.
Our woeful history of religion that inevitably attempts to create God in the image of the practitioner is a persistent problem for authentic spirituality. But “making spirituality visible can be considered as contained in compassion, justice, kindness, honesty, and a commitment to peace”.
This is very much a commentary on today’s world of religion, politics and social mores. It is not about a spirituality that hides from the realities of a world in trouble – it is responsible spirituality finding value in self rather than in soul-less and mechanistic structures, and liberated from all restraints.
Meaning is found in covenants in all walks of life – marriage, community capacity building, with the environment and those sourced from Abrahamic traditions. These are all vulnerable and subject to human frailty, greed and power seeking. We are at a time in earth’s history when religious and political claims that assert value over each other are futile. The imperative of the future of humanity obviously depends on a universal covenant with the earth. This is a spiritual exercise.
Central to the human condition and influencing everyone is suffering in the world. This is not simply physical but existential as it challenges our search for meaning in events that affect us daily. For many, it goes beyond physical to impacting psychological and spiritual trauma. Guilt, depression, loss of hope, failure to discern any moral compass, loneliness, disconnection and hardening of hearts call for acknowledgement that all of this needs to be addressed spiritually. Sadly, for many ‘suffering’ is where they know ‘meaning’.
Attachment, Solitude and Community are closely examined as remarkable sources of spiritual energy. Grace and Presence (religious and secular) are viewed as part of human life and interactions, and Prayer is given a lot of attention. The latter is a contentious subject and all its facets and uses are explored and the question raised – What if the faithful lived the prayers rather than say them? What might happen?
Story as an essential part of all cultures helps in the search for meaning from the past and into the future. It is also a vehicle for increasing well-being. Finally, Hospitality, grounded in a sense of Spirit presence provides a framework for putting life meaning into practice. A powerful commentary on how all of this is a gateway to a world of difference I will leave for the reader to discover along with much I have not covered.
This discourse needs to continue beyond the book into conversations amongst groups. The impact of these conversations must be felt widely within the religious and secular communities. I look forward to seeing that happen.
Paul Inglis 18th August 2018.