Learning Your Spiritual Language

by Sr. B.J. Brown,
St. James’ Mill Creek, Wilmington

Sister B.J. led a popular workshop on this topic at Parish Life Day in November. The following is a portion of what she shared. To explore and learn more, consider reading her new book,
Convents, Jails, and Other Tales (available to check out via InterfaithResourceCenter.com or by calling 477-0910; available for purchase on Amazon.com).

Many years ago a woman came to see me for spiritual direction. Little did I know that this engagement would set a path for my own spiritual development and focus for some 30 years.

My friend was distraught and confused because she was reading a very well-known and revered book on the spiritual life; but rather than guiding her and building her up, it served to make her feel that she was not the Christian she thought she was – nor could ever be. It turns out that she was simply reading the wrong book at the wrong time in her life.

This caused me to begin a research and writing project that lasted some years, and, ultimately some 25 years later, I saw the dream of having my book published. My dear friends Paul and Dan Somerset of Rehoboth Beach took a chance on me and published my book, Convents, Jails, and Other Tales, last year.

While I thought my book was simply a primer to help folks come to know many of the great Christian Mystics of the Church through the centuries, it has provided a new path for me in my work as a spiritual director. I am using it to help folk come to a realization that each of us has a spiritual language that is uniquely ours, and that all of these saints are available to us as mentors to encourage us along our path toward God, each in their own way, with their own particular language. We don’t all speak the same way about God, nor does God come to us in the same way as everyone else. As far as I am aware, no one else has encountered God in a burning bush, except Moses. However, we can all use that symbol of the burning bush to begin to describe our own revelatory experience.

There are so many “languages” of spirituality. There is the Apophatic (no images) or the Kataphatic  (with images) , the Speculative (cerebral) or the Affective (feelings). This was my first understanding of the difference in the way we undertake and seek out the holy, but there are so many more. There are all the different Monastic expressions: Benedictine, Franciscan, Celtic, Carthusian, Jesuit, etc. We can also experience the differences in national cultures or in the various Faith traditions of Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Orthodox. Even within these traditions, the many variations of expression of worship and praise, from high, Anglo Catholic Eucharistic worship to the silence of a Quaker meeting, there are such diverse and personal languages that touch our hearts and fill our minds.

In these many years of ministry, it has been my goal to help people come to a knowledge of their own spiritual language – how God speaks to them. Where and how does the presence of the divine intersect with our “dailiness”?  I am still discovering this for myself as well. That is the exciting part … there is always something new to learn and new ways that God is made manifest to us.

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