In His Spirit (Paperback)
Two Models of Spirituality
At the heart of an understanding of Christian spirituality is an adequate understanding of the self. Spirituality is our effort with grace to become what we have been created by the Lord to be; we must grasp who we truly are in order to know what we are to become. Many of us have an inadequate understanding of who we are, so we also have an inadequate understanding of spirituality. I find it very helpful to begin an understanding of spirituality by contrasting the view of the self presented in Scripture with the view of the self held by most of us Westerners. It is also helpful to draw out the implications for Christian spirituality owing from each view. I am calling the scriptural model of the self the Self-in-God and the Western model of the self the Self-outside-God. I will begin by describing the two views of the self with their approaches to spirituality. I will then review briefly two psychological models of the self for their compatibility with the scriptural model. It goes without saying that the human person is a very complex phenomenon. In no way am I attempting to present a complete view of the person. I will be discussing but one aspect of the person, the aspect which I believe holds the key for best illuminating the nature of Christian spirituality.
Scriptural Model of the Person: The Self-in-God
The indispensable starting point for understanding Christian spirituality is an acceptance of the view of the person presented in the New Testament. The New Testament is emphatic in stressing the fact that human nature is different because of the resurrection of Jesus. The difference is the result of the sending of the Holy Spirit by Jesus and the Spirit’s new presence in the world in those believing in Jesus. Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost sums this up:
“You must repent,” Peter answered,“and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).1
Paul emphasized this new reality in a particularly effective way for his Jewish Christians. Before Jesus and the sending of the Spirit, the primary presence of the Lord on earth was in the revered temple of Jerusalem. But now no more:
Didn’t you realize that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody would destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16–17).
John’s metaphor of the vine and the branches and Paul’s of the body of Christ are only two of the more dramatic ways the New Testament uses to emphasize this new presence of God in his people.
But the Scripture message does not simply point out the fact of a new presence of God in believers; it further insists that this Spirit is continually active and powerful in their lives. The newly born Christian community is now primarily characterized by activities that flow from the presence of the Spirit. These effects are nowhere more obvious than in the Acts of the Apostles. We need only recall the difference in the first disciples before and after the reception of the Spirit at Pentecost to see the effect the Spirit had on them. Jesus himself recognized that it would be necessary for the Spirit to come in order for his disciples to begin their mission.
“...but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
For Paul this new life was so significant that he did not hesitate to speak of it in terms of a new creation. He contrasts the creation in Christ and the creation in Adam: “And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul’s witness is particularly compelling because he knew what it was to live without Christ and the new power that comes with belief. It was only in Christ that Paul personally found the power to be freed from his sinful tendencies and to live according to his spiritual self.
In fact, this seems to be the rule, that every single time I want to do good it is something evil that comes to hand. In my inmost self I dearly love God’s law, but I can see that my body follows a different law that battles against the law which my reason dictates. This is what makes me a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:21–25).
Paul saw the entire world as mired in sin before Christ came. But he assured the Romans to whom he was writing that this same power which has been triumphant in him personally was also stronger than the power of sin in the world and could be triumphant in the world, no matter how sinful it was previously.
...but however great the number of sins committed, grace was even greater; and so, just as sin reigned wherever there was death, so grace will reign to bring eternal life thanks to the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:20–21).
And for Paul the presence of the Spirit had an even greater implication. As a good Jew he had formerly been under the law and striven to fulfill all its prescriptions; the effort was difficult and unsuccessful and Paul frequently calls himself a slave to the law. The law imposed an obligation but it did not give the power to fulfill the obligation. However, the Spirit had freed him from the law. Paul’s life was now directed not at fulfilling external prescriptions of a written law but at responding to the internal directions of the Spirit.
Since this law was written within him, it gave the power to fulfill what it directed. It would always be triumphant over the unspiritual self.
So then, my brothers, there is no necessity for us to obey our unspiritual selves or to live unspiritual lives. If you do live in that way, you are doomed to die; but if by the Spirit you put an end to the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:5–6).
God’s Spirit had joined our spirit and would now direct our lives.
Any presentation of the scriptural view of the person that presented us as having only tendencies toward good owing from the presence of the Holy Spirit is obviously inadequate. The New Testament stresses that we are divided beings, also possessing tendencies toward evil. We continually experience pressures from within ourselves as well as from our external environment moving us away from the inclinations of the Spirit. But the clear message of Scripture is that we need not be controlled by these inclinations. The presence of the Spirit does not take away the inclinations—it surely did not for Paul!—but it does give us power not to be controlled by them; grace is stronger than sin. Christ, our redeemer, frees us from the power of sin.
In order to fully understand the New Testament view of the person, it is important to understand the meaning of grace. Paul uses the term often; it means for him everything God has given us in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, then, is really the completion of what God has given us in Jesus. Let us consider grace as the power given us through the presence of the Spirit to enter into a deeper relationship with Christ and so become more like him. Our relationship to Christ is similar to human relationships: we are different because of our relationships; in some sense we become like those people we love. It is the same with Jesus. As the Spirit draws us into a deeper relationship with Jesus, we become more like him. But there is an important difference, a difference that is central to an adequate understanding of Christian spirituality. In this relationship Christ is always the initiator; his role is always primary. We can go to him only because he first draws us to himself. Any movement toward Christ, any movement toward good, occurs because he sends his help, his Spirit. It goes without saying that we have a crucial role in keeping ourselves open to the Lord as he extends his initiative. For we are free to ignore his promptings and act contrary to them, but this should not dilute the fact that we move toward the Lord and toward good because he enables us to move.
The scriptural model of the person insists that the Holy Spirit is present in us, continually active in us and continually extending initiative, moving us away from evil toward good. This model has great implications for Christian spirituality. Spirituality is our effort with grace to become who we truly are. The deepest level of our being is spiritual. This is the level of our freedom and love. Here we are free to move out in love toward God and others or to live a self-centered existence. It is at this level that the Spirit of God is united with the human spirit; at this level God’s Spirit joins our spirit. To be true to our deepest nature we Christians have the immense task of becoming aware of the movements of the Spirit and responding to them at all times, during our work, our recreation, our prayer. A constellation of attitudes toward spirituality flows from this New Testament model of the self. It is helpful to enumerate the more important ones: emphasis is placed on internal attitudes rather than external actions; the Spirit initiates all good desires and we listen and respond; the focus is on love for God and others rather than on any reward, for the self emphasis is on union and love in this life rather than concern about the next life. For brevity, I am calling the scriptural model of the person the Self-in-God model.
Western Model of the Person: The Self-outside-God
The Western model of the person is quite different from the scriptural model. It is usually not explicitly articulated, but its assumptions affect our understanding and living of the Christian life. I am presenting it here to highlight the scriptural model by contrast. If the New Testament model can be summarized as the Self-in-God model, the Western model can be summarized as the Self-outside-God model. The difference in prepositions is crucial. In the Western model the existence of God is never disputed, but God is seen residing primarily in heaven, outside the self: “God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world.” The transcendence of God is so stressed that there is little or no acknowledgement of God’s immanence. Here I must be careful not to exaggerate, for the Western model does acknowledge in a vague intellectual way the presence of God in the person—baptism confers sanctifying grace, and the Eucharist and good actions increase that grace—but this presence of God is never really taken seriously; it has no practical effect on actions. In this model the person is a complexus of body, mind, and spirit—but the spirit is seen as a human decision-making faculty not in touch with the Holy Spirit. In this model, God’s Spirit has not joined our spirit; the model is, therefore, contrary to Scripture.
And this model also effects a distinctive approach to spirituality. Since the Spirit is not present in the person, all good desires and actions must originate from natural capacities. Persons operating under this model make every effort to please God by the correct use of all their natural capacities. Since the person is understood to be a complexus of only natural operations, this is the logical conclusion regarding spirituality. Persons operating under the assumptions of the Western model—and this includes all of us at times—see all their good intentions and actions as owing solely from their own desires to please God. They do not see the Holy Spirit as having any role. In my experience this view of the self and its approach to spirituality is the dominant model for most Westerners and is operative in all of us at times.
Here again a footnote on the theology of grace is important, for those of us operating under the Western model have a vastly different theology of grace. Grace is the reward given by God to the person for good deeds. It exists and is stored up in a heavenly treasury outside the individual; it is not an internal power owing from the presence of the Spirit of Christ. As the person conscientiously strives to love and serve God, this heavenly treasure is increased; as it increases the person becomes more pleasing to God. In short, through efforts owing only from personal initiative, the individual does good works of prayer and service all day long, and God in turn rewards these efforts with an increase of grace. The accompanying diagram illustrates the two models presented.
Two Models of Spirituality
The Western model of the person is clearly incompatible with the scriptural model. In addition, its approach to Christian spirituality is also at odds with the New Testament. The constellation of attitudes that surrounds this spirituality is quite different from the scriptural model: external deeds are more important than internal motivation; the self is the initiator of all good deeds and God is the rewarder; reward and punishment for deeds are often the primary motivation rather than love for God and others; guarantees of eternal life are often more important than union and love of God in this life. In my experience, the assumptions buried in the Western model of the person are operative in all of us at some times, even though they are usually not consciously articulated. Growth in the understanding of the true nature of Christian spirituality comes only after these assumptions are recognized and held against the New Testament approach to spirituality.
It is easy to see that the two models presented have vastly different attitudes to spirituality. At the risk of repetition, it may be helpful to juxtapose the main tenets of these models:
- God initiates and person responds.
- Grace is transformation of the total person into the likeness of Christ by the freely given gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Focus is on love of God and others now.
- Emphasis is on internal attitudes and continual awareness of the Spirit’s movements.
- Person initiates and God rewards.
- Grace is treasury of merit stored up in heaven and earned by good deeds.
- Focus is on reward for self now or in heaven after death.
- Emphasis is on sporadically performed external deeds.
To gain the most from this analysis it is important to be very concrete. The practical question is: Do I adequately acknowledge the Spirit’s role in the good actions I perform every day, or do I attribute them only to my own initiative and hard work? The scriptural model insists that if the action was good, the Spirit was present from the beginning to the end. Since I am a teacher of theology it is most important for me to acknowledge God’s role in this area. Do I see the desire in me to teach well for the love of God and others as coming from the Spirit? Do I recognize that the strength and insight to carry out the good desire well are also infused by the Spirit? At the end of the day, do I adequately acknowledge God’s role in my successes and give God appropriate thanks? In addition to my teaching, I must do the same review for my counseling, my committee work at the university, my writing, my prayer, my helping others in any way throughout the day. I have allowed grace to be present and operative in myself to the extent that I have tried to do my daily service for the love of God and others. To this extent the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus our Lord has been dominant over the pressures on me not to serve with love. To the extent that I have not served in love, I humbly admit my faults and ask for a greater increase of grace to transform these areas. My reward for living in the Spirit is the habitual peace and joy I experience.
It cannot be stressed enough that the Self-outside-God approach to spirituality is a distortion of the New Testament. It attributes to the self what in truth flows from the Spirit. In it God is not permitted to be God; grace is not grace. The saddest fact of all is that the conscientious person living under the Western model will never truly appreciate the presence and power of God in daily life. Erroneously attributing to the self what clearly is of God, the person will never understand the all pervasiveness of God’s love and activity.
Psychological Models and Trust of the Self
The key to understanding Christian spirituality is the acceptance of the scriptural model of the self and all the implications it contains. There is one corollary of this model that in my experience is not adequately recognized: trust of the self. If God’s Spirit has truly joined our spirit, then we have every reason to trust the deepest inner movements of our natures. This trust becomes a key for all spirituality. The goal of Christian spirituality is to recognize and respond to the continual interior movements of the Spirit, for the Spirit will always lead us toward greater union with Christ and greater love and service of God and others. In my experience, many of us are able to intellectually accept the Self-in-God approach to spirituality, but we are not able to trust the inner movements of the Holy Spirit implied in this approach. We have a predominantly distrustful attitude toward human nature, and this conditions our approach to spirituality. Just as it is necessary to expose the Western model of spirituality in ourselves, so it is also necessary to expose the predominantly distrustful attitude to the self, if it does exist in us. I will present two models of human nature taken from psychological theories of personality that reflect contrasting views of human nature, the first trustful of the self and the second distrustful. I don’t believe that most of us consciously articulate a psychology of human nature and its trustworthiness, but I believe each of us has implicit attitudes toward the subject. My own growth in the understanding and practice of spirituality was greatly helped by my uncovering an essentially very distrustful attitude toward my deepest self.
Perhaps a short note should be added on the criteria to be used for assessing the adequacy of personality models from psychology. For believers revelation is the ultimate norm of truth. This is not to say that a person must be a Christian to do valid empirical science, such as psychology, but a Christian approach does insist that the conclusions of empirical science be compatible with the basic facts of revelation. There can be no contradiction between truth arrived at from empirical science and Christian revelation. Where one does exist, it is because science is inadequate or because the theological explanation of revelation is inadequate. And history witnesses to the frequent occurrence of both! Again we must recall that the human personality is an immensely complex phenomenon and that no personality theory has gained general acceptance as reflecting this phenomenon adequately. Each theory seems to explain one particular aspect of human nature better perhaps than another. None explain well the psychological dynamics of the total person. I have chosen two theories to be examined under one aspect only—namely, how well do they reflect the positive internal growth forces that are the result of the presence of the Holy Spirit? If the theory does not allow for an essentially positive thrust within the human person which can be trusted to lead the person toward good, I am judging it to be inadequate because it is incompatible with revelation.
Trusting the Self: Spirituality as Transformation
For the Christian, there are three keys for adequately understanding the human person: creation, sin, and redemption. The theology of creation insists that God created us in his own image, with a dynamic orientation toward loving and serving him in all. From the beginning we shared in the essential goodness of all of God’s creation. But God also created us free. The theology of sin insists that from the very beginning human beings abused this freedom, yielding to internal and external pressures to serve themselves only and ignore his commands. Finally, the theology of redemption insists that God sent the Son into the world to reinforce the basic goodness of our creation and to give us new strength to overcome our evil tendencies and use our freedom for loving and serving God in all. The theology of redemption emphasizes that the power of the grace of Christ in us is stronger than the power of sin in us; consequently Christ has freed us from sin. We have seen how this truth of freedom from sin is expressed in Paul. the conclusion for us is that we can now trust our deepest self. At our center dwells the Holy Spirit of God reinforcing the dynamic goodness of our creation and enabling us to transform our evil inclinations. Christian spirituality becomes our effort with grace to put more and more of our life under the dominance of the Spirit. It is very helpful to have a theory of personality that acknowledges the basic positive thrust of our natures toward good and that sees the growth forces within us as more powerful than the destructive forces.
One such personality model is the self-actualization theory of Abraham Maslow. This model has been very important for me. Until I became acquainted with it, I had been implicitly embracing a very negative model of myself. I read about the Spirit and the Spirit’s power, but I was never really able to acknowledge it because I believed human beings, especially myself, were dominated by evil and coping as well as they could. I had not truly grasped the fact that the grace of Christ in us, transforming our natures created good by the Lord, is stronger than the power of evil in us. Here a caution is in order. Maslow is not a Christian, nor even a believer in God. He does not present his theories in theological terms; he goes no further than stating his conclusions in the language of psychology. He himself reacted strongly to the suggestions that there is a power outside the self that reinforces goodness within the self. In this sense he is at odds with Christian revelation, since he denies God and his immanence in human beings. Yet there is a basic dynamism to his theory that I find very compatible with revelation. As a Christian viewing his theory with the eyes of faith, I can see the power of the Spirit working within the psychological model he presents, bringing the person to wholeness by following the deepest tendencies of the self. I am led by Maslow to an attitude of basic trust of my deepest self. For me this was crucial in developing a better understanding of Christian spirituality.
A quote from the early writing of Maslow presents the three pillars of his theory: (1) human nature contains a structured inner essence; (2) growth is the result of trusting and developing this inner nature; (3) sickness is the result of violating this nature.
“Now let me try to present briefly and at first dogmatically the essence of this newly developing conception of the psychologically healthy man. First of all and most important of all is the strong belief that man has an essential nature of his own, some skeleton of psychological structure that may be treated and discussed analogously with his physical structure, that he has some needs, capacities, and tendencies that are part genetically based, some of which are characteristics of the whole human species, cutting across all cultural lines, and some of which are unique to the individual.
Second, there is involved the conception that full health and normal and desirable development consist in actualizing this nature, in fulfilling these potentialities, and in developing into maturity along these lines that his hidden, covert, dimly seen essential nature dictates, growing from within rather than being shaped from without.
Third, it is now seen clearly that most psychopathology results from the denial or the frustration or the twisting of man’s essential nature. By this concept what is good? Anything that conduces to this desirable development in the direction of actualization of the inner nature of man. What is bad or abnormal? Anything that frustrates or blocks or denies the essential nature of man.”2
For Maslow, this essential nature is a hierarchically arranged order of needs inherent in our organic makeup, ranging from the need for food at the lowest level to the need for an ultimate value at the highest level. The following are the four basic needs common to all persons: physiological, security, love and belongingness, respect. Maslow calls these basic needs because they must all be fulfilled to some degree before the person can be motivated predominantly by the next higher set of needs—which also emerge in hierarchical order—that Maslow calls being needs. These are: the need to develop one’s own unique talents and potentialities (self-actualization need), the need to know and understand the meaning of life better (curiosity need), and the need for an ultimate value toward which to orientate all life. Growth results from trusting this inner nature and listening and responding to the promptings of each level of need as it arises. Lack of growth comes from ignoring the promptings toward a higher level of need fulfillment and remaining on the lower level. One’s inner nature will direct the person up the entire hierarchy of needs. Only the person whose entire life is orientated toward serving an ultimate value, such as truth, justice, or beauty, is mature and fully developed in Maslow’s schema.
There are elements of Maslow’s theory of human nature that are incompatible with Scripture. For me these elements are outweighed by his basic positive approach of trusting our inner nature. I see Maslow as compatible with the scriptural view of the self and supporting from a psychological framework the approach to spirituality I have been presenting. My faith view of the self easily sees the power of the Spirit in the entire process. His insistence on the essential goodness of our nature reflects my belief that God created us in God’s own image, looked at us and all his creation, and saw that we were good. His insistence that we have a guide within our deepest nature to continually direct our choices toward growth reflects my belief that the Holy Spirit has joined our spirit and is continually influencing and leading us. His insistence that our lack of growth and our destructive inclinations come from ignoring our inner guidance reflects my belief that we have the freedom to move against the influence of the Spirit. In addition, it also means that I am responding to superficial pressures on me and am not truly in tune with my deepest self. My deepest self, the Self-in-God, is still fundamentally trustworthy, but under the pressure of destructive forces both within and outside myself, I have chosen to move with a more superficial level of my being. The grace of Christ is still present and still prompting me toward good, but I have freely chosen to move against it.
In no way do I intend to underestimate the power of evil in the world and in myself; to do this is to simultaneously undervalue the power of our redemption in Christ. I simply want to insist that grace is stronger than sin, and because of this we can rely on its help at all times, continuing to trust the inner self in God. Sin comes from not relying on this inner guidance and from responding to other influences. With Maslow’s model of the person as psychological basis, I think of spirituality as a continual process of the transformation of our human spirit by the Spirit of Jesus. I see the Spirit operating to reinforce the inherent positive thrust of our being toward God, and I see the Spirit also operating to transform those evil inclinations that move us from God and others. I believe there is a gentle interior thrust within us, God’s Spirit and our spirit working together, continually moving us toward love and service of God and others. The goal of spirituality is to move always with this thrust.
Distrusting the Self: Spirituality as Repression
Perhaps the most prevalent theory of personality that embodies a basically negative and distrustful view of human nature is the psychoanalytic theory of Freud. Most of us are not Freudians and would find it impossible to explain his theory of personality, yet I find that his theory explains well the implicit, unarticulated assumptions many of us have toward human nature. Freud’s theory has great value for understanding human behavior; like all personality theories it explains some aspects of our nature better than other theories. I am not attempting to criticize Freud’s great contributions and insights. I am looking at the theory from only one perspective—whether it presents the inner core of the person as a reliable guide to behavior and so fundamentally trustworthy. It does not; thus, I believe that it is fundamentally incompatible with Christian revelation. It does not adequately reflect the Christian theology of creation and redemption. I believe the theory leads to an implicit distrust of human nature. When adopted by Christians, whether explicitly or implicitly, it results in an understanding of spirituality that is aimed primarily at repression or at best control of the inner self. The following is an extremely simplified and inadequate presentation of a small part of Freud’s theory. I present it solely to help those of us who are influenced by it to better recognize ourselves and then to reexamine our attitudes in light of the Gospel.
Freud does posit the existence of an inner nature common to all people; however, this nature is essentially destructive and cannot be trusted. The classical Freudian theory posits three basic personality mechanisms: the id, ego, and superego. The id is the primary process in the person; it is the source from which the energy comes for the entire personality, comparable to Maslow’s inner nature. It can be summarized as the pleasure principle in the person, seeking always to gratify instinctual demands arising in it as soon as possible. But since it seeks to gratify instinctual demands with no regard for the harmful effects to oneself or others, it cannot be trusted. Two mechanisms, the ego and superego, exist to mediate the blind, selfish, and often destructive demands of the id. The two work together. The ego is the rational principle in the person; it dialogues with reality outside the person and presents alternative and non-destructive ways to fulfill the demands of the id, thus relieving its stored up tensions. In doing this it draws upon the superego, the moral code of the individual internalized from codes presented by parents and society. The ego and superego work together to regulate the blind impulses of the id, especially the sexual and aggressive impulses, and to direct them in a way that is not harmful to the individual or to society. But the id remains the primary process in the person, the fundamental source of energy; the ego and superego are secondary and reactive processes.
I believe that the Freudian theory—at least as I have presented it here—is basically incompatible with Christian revelation. The theory states that our inner nature is basically a thrust toward selfish satisfaction of instinctual demands with no regard for the welfare of others. It insists that the primary energy of the entire personality flows from this thrust of the id. The secondary processes are needed to temper its destructiveness, namely, the ego and the superego redirecting the essentially selfish thrust of the id toward constructive fulfillment approved by society. I see this view of the self as opposed to my belief that God created us in God’s own image, essentially good, and that, in addition, he sent the Spirit to reinforce and strengthen this positive dynamism of our nature. The primary energy of our deepest self is toward good. Evil in us is a secondary reaction, occurring when we move against our deepest nature and yield to pressures of selfishness from superficial levels of our being or from our external environment. In Freud’s view growth does not come from trusting and responding to the inner self but rather from either repressing or sublimating this inner self and by responding to secondary processes of the ego and superego. I believe that this view has disastrous implications for spirituality. Since our inner selves cannot be trusted, spirituality becomes an effort to repress, or at best control, an essentially evil nature and to direct our lives according to some external standard of perfection that has been presented to us. In this view grace is not stronger than sin in us; Christ has not truly redeemed us. Since we cannot trust our inner selves for guides, we must measure our perfection by the external criteria of the written code. We cannot rely on the power of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts to transform all the inclinations of our inner selves and lead us gently toward love and service of God and others. In a sense we are like Paul before he had been freed from the law of sin in him and was still enslaved to the external law.
A Spirituality of Being
I have included this rather lengthy discussion of psychological models of the self because this dimension has been very helpful for me personally in adequately understanding the heart of Christian spirituality. During the past twenty-five years I have held three different views of human nature, and they have had great effect on my understanding of spirituality. I don’t believe that I held these views in a vacuum. I believe they characterized many of the people with whom I lived and can even be said to reflect stages through which Christians in general were passing. The first view was essentially Freudian though not consciously so. I saw human nature as basically sinful, dominated by the effects of original sin, and so not able to be trusted. My effort was to overcome this nature and to live according to some supernature. I directed my life toward measuring up to sets of external guides of perfection presented to me by my religious order and the Church. I gradually passed from this view to a much more positive view of myself and human nature, probably around the time of the second Vatican Council. Maslow’s approach to the goodness of human nature summed up this attitude, though I was not familiar with Maslow at the time. I began to feel that we human beings had the power within our natures to make this world a better place. I definitely moved away from a mentality dominated by feelings of sin and evil in myself to one of confidence in the powers given human nature by the Creator. If we tried hard enough, we could make this world a better place for everyone. There was, however, little acknowledgement of the need for God’s help in this effort. During both these periods, I believe I was more influenced by a Self-outside-God approach to spirituality. In the first period I was too sinful and God wouldn’t dwell in me; in the second period, I didn’t need God since God had given me all the strength I needed in creating my human nature with so much positive potential. In both, the Western model of spirituality that sees good deeds as initiated by our own efforts and then rewarded by God was predominant.
I believe that I passed into the third stage—the one I’m in now—about ten years ago. I was writing my dissertation and had chosen to compare two approaches to religious experience, those of thomas Merton and of Abraham Maslow. I recall beginning the dissertation feeling that Maslow, who articulated what I had implicitly held about human nature for several years, would emerge as being very similar to Merton, even though he was an agnostic. The more I worked on the dissertation, the more their differences emerged. I ended the dissertation with a conclusion exactly opposite to the one I started with. Since that time I have grown in the appreciation of the role of the Holy Spirit in all personal growth. My psychological approach has been infused by a theology of human nature acknowledging its basic goodness owing from creation in God’s image and recognizing the all pervasive presence and power of the spirit of Christ owing from the redemption.
It is my conviction that Christian spirituality can be adequately understood only if we have an accurate understanding of the person taken from both theology and psychology. I have presented models of the self from theology and from psychology that have been helpful to me in understanding spirituality. I have also presented two models of the self commonly held that seem to me to distort an understanding of spirituality. The approach to spirituality I am taking is often called a “spirituality of being” because it seeks only to bring to fullness the being the Father has created and the Son has redeemed. It does not seek to impose any particular practices unrelated to becoming what we have been created to be. At the heart of the entire process of coming to this fullness is the Holy Spirit, our sanctifier. It is now necessary to look further into the New Testament to see what we can validly expect from this presence of the Spirit of Christ among us.
1. List several good deeds you have done today. Explain God’s role in them according to the scriptural model of the self and according to the Western model of the self. Explain your role according to the two models.
2. Give examples of attitudes to spirituality in yourself and in others that reflect a Self-outside-God understanding of spirituality.
3. How has an attitude of basic distrust of the self influenced your understanding and practice of Christian spirituality? Give concrete examples from past and present.
4. Describe how your understanding of Christian spirituality has changed throughout the years. Compare and contrast your present approach with the approach presented here.
1. All New Testament quotations are from The Jerusalem Bible, except where otherwise noted.
2. Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), pp. 269 270.