In writing this book, `Subversive Spirituality', Eugene Peterson, professor of spiritual theology at Regent College, Vancouver, has gone back over his writings of the past twenty-five years and pulled together elements of writings in essays, biblical studies, poetry, pastoral readings, and interviews to examine many of the overlooked aspects of spirituality.
Peterson writes: `This gathering of articles and essays, poems and conversations, is a kind of kitchen midden of my noticings of the obvious in the course of living out the Christian life in the vocational context of pastor, writer, and professor. The randomness and repetitions and false starts are rough edges that I am leaving as is in the interests of honesty. Spirituality is not, by and large, smooth.'
We have a particular meaning attached to the word subversive, which is generally a sociological and political one. While this is certain akin to the meaning utilised here, it has a different slant and context. All spirituality, in a sense, is subversive, in the sense that it seeks not that which the material world (and usually that means the political world) holds to be important, but seeks a transformation. Most major religious figures have been subversive -- they have tried to change in small and major ways the prevailing framework of life. Religion is sometimes described as the institutionalisation of a revolution; when the institution overpowers the revolution, what is needed to get back on track is a subversion.
Peterson divides the book into five broad sections: Spirituality, Biblical Studies, Poetry, Pastoral Readings, and Conversations. In discussing scripture, seminary experiences, pastoral encounters and relationships, innovative ideas and creative imaginings, Peterson presents, as it were, the raw, unrefined nuggets of spiritual expression he has encountered, in his own life and in the experiences of those close by him, as well as those lessons he has gleaned from the studies of others.
`Spirituality is always in danger of self-absorption, of becoming so intrigued with matters of soul that God is treated as a mere accessory to my experience. This requires much vigilance. Spiritual theology is, among other things, the exercise of this vigilance.'
Spirituality is a subversive practise, when done properly. As Peterson states in one of his conversations, Christians in the West believe they are living in a culture which is Christian, and are often truly amazed to discover that they have more in common with the idol worshippers warned against in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures than with anything Jesus would have really wanted.
As one currently in seminary, I found his discussion of spiritual formation in context of the seminary to be intriguing and enlightening.
`They commonly enter seminary motivated by a commitment to God and a desire to serve their Lord in some form of ministry, and find that they are being either distracted or deflected from that intention at every turn. They find themselves immersed in Chalcedonian controversies, they find themselves staying up late at night memorising Greek paradigms, they wake in the morning, rubbing their eyes, puzzled over hairsplitting distinctions between homoousios and homoiousios. This is not what they had bargained on.... Seminaries were regarded as the graveyard of spirituality. Seminaries were where men and women lost their faith.'
I am fortunate that my seminary experience has, thus far, maintained a balance of spiritual encouragement as well as academic enlightenment.
This is a first class book, borne of a lifetime of searching, reflecting, and acting, and can give much food for thought. Regardless of the denomination of the reader, there is material here for the deepening of one's own spirituality, and for putting into life's practise a greater amount of living in accord with the spirit.