Spirituality and Deep Connectedness

Views on Being Fully Human

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Editor(s): 
Michael C. Brannigan
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Lexington Books
    , September
     2018.
     156 pages.
     $90.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781498565929.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Michael C. Brannigan’s Spirituality and Deep Connectedness: Views on Being Fully Human is a timely set of contributions on an enduring theme: thrusts of spirituality unpacked. This is a challenge from which one hopes for a definitive work.

The breadth of the book’s contributions attest to the diversity of spirituality, and its outcome attests to the rich depth of what is possible. It engages with writers from the academic spheres, education, and health professions, and, though sparse, an urban ministry practitioner. It is, therefore, an exercise in apologetics as much as it is a contribution to practical theology and—if there is such a discipline—spiritual or contemplative theology. There is assistance from an excellent index, succinct (intellectual) biographies of each author, and clear introductory and closing editorial comments on the book’s context. Additionally, each chapter is a virtual “case study” of the contributor’s sphere of expertise or involvement, and includes works cited as well as a further bibliography.

Core themes—such as integrity, wholeness, authenticity, and being “fully human”—come into play, providing several working depictions of the anthology’s intent. To wit, “[a]t its heart, living a spiritual life concerns our innermost quest to be fully human. This is hard work, a struggle. It is a quest that drives us to become authentic. Otherwise we remain fragmented, incomplete, without coherence and cohesion” (xxii).

Spirituality has been emphasized in publications with themes as diverse as those of social psychology and philosophy, as well as a wide assortment of hymns—respectively, Bruce Alexander's magnum opus, Globalisation of Addiction: A Study in Spirit of Poverty (Oxford University Press, 200); Henri Bergson’s “elan vital” or The Resounding Soul anthology with its instructive subtitle: “Reflections on the Metaphysics and Vivacity or the Human Person”; and, inter alia, Jim Manley’s hymns, such as “Spirit of Gentleness/Spirit of Restlessness.” Of course, theologians have engaged spirituality—Paul Tillich on depth or the late Walter Wink’s trilogies on naming, unmasking, and engaging the powers—while veteran feminist writers, such as Wendy Farley, Catherine Keller, the infatiguable Sallie McFague, and Marjorie Suchocki (another integrated process thinker), address the meaning of desire, creativity, and a renewed emphasis on pan-en-theism. 

Nonetheless, there are unique foci in this anthology. Notably, there is a welcome chapter on mercy, helpfully related to justice—and the author’s area of expertise—as well as that of medicine and the health fields, and drawing especially on Shakespeare’s profundity. This encourages a new engagement with the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr, Thomas Merton, and Christine Bochen. There is a section on “Critiques of Spirituality” (7-10), though it could have delved further afield to examine how organized forms and levels of spirituality have usurped the once dominant sphere of the church (a phase of enduring significance). Along with the anticipated chapter on spirituality in the health care field, there is Fran Grace’s chapter engaging spirit in “higher” education” (including “inner education”) professions, which details inspired writers, and another devoted to the contributions of Zen Buddhism. Richard White’s “From the Cave to Enlightenment” an exegesis of Plato's allegory of the cave in which he implores education to hold to depth and multidimensionality, rather than succumb to a monotony and sterility of reductionism. Perhaps the most helpful contributions—in addition to the instructive opening and closing chapters which set the theme in context and commend it for present and future generations—are case studies on Dorothy Day, and the Catholic Worker movement. Also of note is Mahatma Gandhi’s persistent, interreligious employment of soul-, moral-, or truth-force, with its emphasis on spiritual discipline (i.e., “synthesizing the sacred within the secular”). As Veena Howard writes “[b]y spiritualizing his political actions, Gandhi sought to confront those who believed spiritual life and political pursuits should be mutually exclusive endeavours (97). There remains much that yearns to be clarified in the tensions between charity, or direct service, and the advocacy and organizing of power to take action-for-justice-masking-and-keeping. Fred Boehrer gives this apt attention in “Gotta Serve Somebody: Dorothy Day, Spirituality, Service, and Social Justice.” He  draws upon his own participant-observation experiences, posing enduring questions for those of us in the urban ministry field who attempt to relate—and integrate—helpful theological perspectives and spiritual practices. 

Ultimately, there are due emphases and affirmations of the integration of the spirit with the body—a “spiritual bodliness.” These provide a perspective and strategy for the practice of a vital balance—something once missing which addiction recovery alerts us to—and surprisingly, though evil is not mentioned, a way of viewing evil as an imbalance and distortion of human freedom. 

An avid ocean kayaker, Brannigan’s concluding image warrants attention, itself a spiritual discipline. “Like the sea, the spirit's inherent mystery and power lies beyond our intellectual, poetic, and imaginative grasp. In truth, the spirit, spiritual, or spirituality eludes all defining ... like the sea, its overpowering presence and influence indelibly lure us” (115). Noting an absence of indigenous and deep ecology contributions from the book’s coverage, one hopes for a follow-up volume.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Barry K. Morris is an Independent Scholar.

Date of Review: 
April 5, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Michael C. Brannigan is Dean of Spiritual Life and the George and Jane Pfaff Endowed Chair in Ethics and Moral Values at the College of Saint Rose.

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