By Alexander Carpenter
From Sabbath school discussions to blog comments, there’s no doubt that Adventism involves dialectic and debate. Rooted in the rationalism of modernity, with prominent heretics known for doubting this or that belief, many a conversation devolves into questions of hermeneutics or rhetoric with little attention to Near-Eastern languages, ferreting out footnotes, cultural analysis, or even checking out a monograph or two.
Most debates never get to epistemological assumptions. How do our texts, traditions, experience and our reason represent meaning? Of course it is essential to have these conversations as humans to share information, to broaden awareness, to grow faith. But all too often it seems that doctrinal or theological debate has to carry most of the burden for defining our faith and we are left with the unbalanced presumption that what someone believes tells us how spiritual they are.
Let’s face it, Adventism sucks at spirituality. We understand the import of the “what” of doctrine, and we increasingly hone the “how” –from keeping the Sabbath to helping the poor. But where’s the “why?”
In other words, what is Adventist spirituality? It often seems that we are Adventists because of beliefs or culture, but are there good spiritual reasons to be Adventist too?
Of course one can argue that spirituality transcends particular religions, but it seems to me that while we rush to debate over the true understanding of say, the investigative judgment or creation, we often don’t stop to ask what a particular belief means for our spiritual health.
It’s clear how our doctrines function. They are cultural markers, like clothes or language. If someone expresses doubts about a literal six-day creation, it’s fair to ask how that impacts their Sabbath-keeping or their ecology. But outside of emotional displays, it’s hard to tell someone’s spiritual state. And frankly it doesn’t seem that our institutional leaders seem very concerned. As long as I pay tithe, go to church on Sabbath and call myself an Adventist, do our leaders have a vested interest in promoting anything deeper than the old mantra about “relationship with God.” Every relationship I have is with people in the flesh. At least for me, GOD is a bit more profound than a friend or a lover. Humans require more than relationships, we need spirituality.
Perhaps more experiential sermons on spirituality. Applied to being an Adventist, a Christian, and a humane being. We need more plain reading of scripture in church. We need more
silence. Sabbath schools should to be less about opining about the truth
and more about finding the meaning of it as a group. This year I’ve had the chance to
practice lectio divina with other Christians. By letting the passage sit in silence and repetition the texts take on richer meaning.
I recently read this from Albert Schweitzer:
One realizes that he is but a speck of dust, a plaything of events outside his reach. Nevertheless, he may at the same time discover that he has a certain liberty, as long as he lives. Sometime or another all of us must have found that happy events have not been able to make us happy, nor unhappy events to make us unhappy. There is within each of us a modulation, an inner exaltation, which lifts us above the buffetings with which events assail us. Likewise, it lifts us above dependence upon the gifts of events for our joy. Hence, our dependence upon events is not absolute; it is qualified by our spiritual freedom. Therefore, when we speak of resignation it is not sadness to which we refer, but the triumph of our will-to-live our whatever happens to us. And to become ourselves, to be spiritually alive, we must have passed beyond this point of resignation (“The Ethics of Reverence for Life,” Christendom, 229).
It is not merely that Paul was the first to champion the rights of thought in Christianity; he has also shown it, for all time, the way it was to go. His great achievement was to grasp, as the thing essential to being a Christian, the experience of union with Christ. Out of the depths of the expectation of the Messiah and of the Messianic world this thought wells up in him, a thought to which expression had already been given by Jesus when He spoke of the mystery of the consecration of believers through fellowship with the unrecognized future Messiah who was dwelling among them. By penetrating to the depths of the temporarily conditioned, Paul wins his way to a spiritual result of permanent value. . . . So we too should claim the right to conceive the idea of union with Jesus on the lines of our won world-view, making it our sole concern to reach the depth of the truly living and spiritual truth (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, 377ff).
And this is what’s occurred to me: Not only do we need to pursue spiritual depth for ourselves, but it moves us beyond the old left/right ideological divides of the church. For of course the doctrinal, the social, and the spiritual are interrelated. And the Truth is revealed and remixed in all three.
In fact, I think that the spiritual is what saves us – individuals and communities – from destroying ourselves. It’s easy for liberals to prioritize social action and for conservatives to focus on doctrines. I think that spirituality is what helps both sides balance out. This common meaning occurs, not by focusing on the other side, but by looking inward and BEYOND.
Now I wonder, Where can we emphasize the spiritual in Adventism?