Spirituality & Personal Growth
The College for Bishops Leadership Institute was established to provide educational resources for new bishops as well as trending informational resources for all bishops. Spirituality & Personal Growth focuses on specific resources such as:
New items are added monthly. To comment on current items or suggest additional topics and/or resources, please use the feedback form at the bottom of this page.
Devotions & Personal Study
mysteries human and divine
Those who know Dorothy L. Sayers as a writer of religious essays often wonder how she could also write popular fiction. At first, the books were a simply way to make a living, cashing in on the detective story craze of the twenties, but Sayers, like G. K. Chesterton, found murder mysteries a vehicle to explore the choices characters make between good and evil. In the introduction to a collection that she edited, she wrote that such stories “make you feel that it is good to be alive, and that, while alive, it is better, on the whole, for you to be good.”
Eugene Peterson, author of ‘The Message,’ and pastor to other pastors, dies at age 85
Eugene Peterson, the best-selling author and longtime pastor praised as a “shepherd’s shepherd,” passed away on Oct. 22 at age 85. Although best known for “The Message,” his popular paraphrase of the Bible in contemporary language that made the Bible accessible to many Christians, altogether he wrote more than 30 books, including the Christian classic, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. His life’s goal was to change the pastoral imagination of pastors today, to urge them to slow down and to be present to their lives so that they could help their congregations do the same.
Thomas Keating, pioneer in centering prayer, interfaith dialogue, dies at 95
Trappist Fr. Thomas Keating, a global figure in both interreligious dialogue and Christian contemplative prayer, has died at the age of 95. Keating died Oct. 25 at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, where he had been abbot from 1961 to 1981, and where he began his role as one of the chief architects of what is now known as centering prayer. This article from the National Catholic Reporter provides details of Keating’s life and areas of influence.
Found among her papers, Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal was published to great acclaim in 2013 as it gave readers a glimpse into the baptism by ﬁre she endured before emerging as America’s ﬁnest Catholic writer of the 20th century. Five years later, this work continues to appeal to readers who value her work as it teaches us not only about the author, but also about ourselves as people in pursuit of twin vocations, the professional and the spiritual, and the challenges of reconciling the two.
Different pilgrimage sites—whether religious or aesthetic, or both at once—lend themselves to different experiences. In fact, they demand their own distinctive ritual actions. At Lourdes, you take the water. When you go to Chimayó, you take the dirt. You go to “Austin” to bathe in the light, to undergo a visible transformation. And you take a picture.
Is punishing your body a spiritual practice? At one time, it was. In the Middle Ages, thousands of pilgrims walked the arduous and dangerous Camino de Santiago. Many didn’t make it but died along the way. As one of the prime Christian pilgrimages, it was nothing if not explicitly religious. But today over a thousand peregrinos pour into Santiago daily and most of them are non-religious or, at most, “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR). Why do they undertake what can be a punishing journey through rain, cold, wind, extreme heat, difficult terrain, and uncomfortable communal accommodations?
Today, nearly all scientists say that coincidences are just that: coincidences – void of greater meaning. Yet, they’re something we all experience, and with a frequency that is uniform across age, sex, country, job, even education level. Those who believe that they’ve had a ‘meaningful coincidence’ in their lives experience a collision of events so remarkable and unlikely that they chose to ascribe a form of grander meaning to the occurrence, via fate or divinity or existential importance.
Church life slows down in the summer. Bible studies go on hiatus, worship services combine, and office staffers cut out early. Everyone, including Jesus, seems to be on vacation. In this Faith & Leadership article, an island pastor is reminds us of an essential truth: church is defined by the people present, not the people missing. Even in the malaise of summer, God gives every church all the gifts and graces it needs.
At a time when church attendance is declining in many parts of the world, there are indeed many depressing real reasons why some choose to avoid church. However, as Marilyn McEntyre outlines in this article from Comment Magazine, the list of reasons to choose church is longer, more interesting, and ultimately more compelling.
For doctors as much as anyone else, regarding people as having lives of equal worth means recognizing each as having a common core of humanity. Atul Gawande is a surgeon, public-health researcher, and New Yorker staff writer. He recently delivered as this commencement address at U.C.L.A. Medical School.
Is there anything to be learned from envy? If Socrates was right and the un-examined life is not worth living, then surely we should examine our feelings to ﬁnd what we really care about as opposed to what we would like to think we care about. And what better instrument for this kind of self-examination than envy, a feeling as honest as a punch.
At the popular level, attachment theory is much talked about, but also often misunderstood. If you have heard of it, it is probably through some well-meaning discussion of popular approaches to parenting children, where ‘attachment parenting’ is basically the opposite of ‘tough love’ styles like the ‘cry-it-out’ method of helping babies learn to sleep. Despite what proponents of ‘attachment parenting’ may tell you, however, attachment is not really about the benefits of breastfeeding or co-sleeping or baby-wearing for healthy child development. Rather, attachment theory explains how people learn to experience and respond to separation and distress in the context of core, close relationships from very early on in their lives. Interestingly, the effect of attachment on human relationships also seems to include our relationships with God.
Forming wisdom in an age of information overload: We are not "wired" for the sheer amount of information, let alone the horror, we are now able to ingest in the course of a day. The prayer, "Let my heart be broken by what breaks the heart of God" is a daring and consequential request. We need circles of friends, church groups, reading groups where we can keep finding ways to address common problems, encouraging one another to hang on to hope that drives deeper than optimism and is willing to take "a full look at the worst."
Publishers rejected her, Christians attacked her: The deep faith of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ author Madeleine L’Engle
It took 26 publisher rejections before Madeleine L’Engle could get “A Wrinkle in Time” into print in 1962. The book was an instant hit, winning the Newbery Medal the following year, but despite its wild success, L’Engle still had fierce critics. Perhaps most critical were some conservative Christians who believed that the book promoted the occult or mystical elements. A new Disney film adaptation of the book opens this month, sparking renewed interest in this classic tale.
MLK Jr: Epistles and Prophets
In observance of the deep and lasting impact of Dr. King’s ministry, Trinity Church is offering the video curriculum below for use by individuals or in group education settings. The speaker series, “Three Epistles on Race in America,” explores contemporary black/white relationships using writings that, while perhaps lesser known than King’s famous “I have a dream” oratory, resonate powerfully today. The speakers are New York City journalist Errol Louis, New York University professor and poet Fred Moten, and Trinity’s Vicar, Phil Jackson. Hear their challenging examinations of three civil-rights era letters from Dr. King, James, Baldwin, and Thomas Merton, and share them with friends in your community.
If you are in ministry, Wendell Berry is ubiquitous. If you are in rural ministry, he is inescapable. His poems are read as lectio divina at retreats. He is quoted in conference presentations and referenced in sermons. There is a great deal about Wendell Berry and his writing to respect and admire. Yet this rural pastor has found that his idealized vision of rural life is not helpful -- especially for people who have never lived in the country.
While undergoing treatment for cancer, author Genevieve Fox ponders the moral legacy she should leave for her sons: The Few Important Things I Have Shared With My Sons That Might Influence Them In A Positive Way. Though poetry does not provide the answers she is seeking, she does come to a realization about the legacy of love and the emotional entitlement it creates.
“A worn and weathered prayer book reveals a spiritual life well lived:” Catholic author Jeffrey Essmann reflects on his personal “history in prayer” using the daily office in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
Good Book Club
Join the Journey: At the invitation of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Episcopalians across the church are embarking on a journey through the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts during the seasons of Lent and Easter. The initiative is led by Forward Movement and supported by more than two dozen partner organizations, including Episcopal Church Foundation, ChurchNext, Episcopal Migration Ministries and The Living Church. During this webinar, Episcopal priest Jay Sidebotham and Forward Movement deputy director Richelle Thompson will help you prepare for the journey, providing context and background for Luke and Acts and sharing information about how to access and use dozens of resources (mostly free!) created to encourage deep and joy-filled engagement with God’s Word.
What does the suffering person really want? How can you navigate the waters left churning in the wake of tragedy? After years of leving with stage IV cancert, Kate Bowler has found that the people least likely to know the answer to these questions can be lumped into three categories: minimizers, teachers and solvers. Perhaps there is a better way. Kate Bowler is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School, the author of “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved” and the host of the forthcoming podcast “Everything Happens.”
After experiencing the horrors of war, author Bryan Mealer lost his faith. In this essay from The Guardian, Mealer tells how morning runs with a priest – and a visit to a more welcoming church – helped restore it.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was first published way back in 1985– 86, before there was an internet, before there were cellphones, before there were even lattes. This novel, which by now ought to have become quaint and archaic, has become more believable over time, not less. In this article from Words That Matter, Margaret Atwood discusses the belief system that shapes The Handmaid’s Tale, as well as her own views of religion.
In the beginning, there was....well, what? For David Bentley Hart, whose mind-bending translation of the New Testament was published in October, the Word—as a word—does not suffice: He finds it to be “a curiously bland and impenetrable designation” for the heady concept expressed in the original Greek of the Gospels as Logos. The Chinese word Tao might get at it, Hart tells us, but English has nothing with quite the metaphysical flavor of Logos, the particular sense of a formative moral energy diffusing itself, without diminution, through space and time. So he throws up his hands and leaves it where it is: “In the origin there was the Logos …”
When we talk about God, we often do so mutedly and only in the confidence of our private sacred spaces. If we're going to regain our confidence in finding words for God in public places we need a new way of thinking about language. That is the theme of Rowan Williams's recently published Gifford Lectures, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language. By paying closer attention to what we do when we speak, Williams clears the ground of some of our default attitudes about language and begins to erect a new structure, one in which talk about God might not just be for those religious eccentrics at the margins of the public square.
In this New York Times editorial, David Brooks once again thoughtfully examines the challenge of civil discourse in our increasingly polarized society. How do you engage a fanatic? Ultimately, the only way to confront fanaticism is with love.
What can churches and Christian communities offer to today’s society that is so defined by isolation and alienation? What they can offer is a form of community that isn’t available anywhere else and that doesn’t necessarily take the same forms that community took in eras when more people got married, more people had families, and you could rely on those kinship networks as the basis of community. In a world where you have lots of divorced sixty-seven-year-olds who have one kid who lives halfway across the country, you need communities that are ready to welcome people and take them in and build communities around something other than the nuclear family.
Once a mainstay of public school education, poetry memorization has become deeply unfashionable, an outmoded practice that many consider too boring, mindless and just plain difficult for the modern classroom. Besides, who needs to memorize when our smartphones can instantly call up nearly any published poem in the universe? In fact, according to this New York Times article, the value of learning literature by heart — particularly poetry — has only grown more meaningful in our current digital times.
Popular author and pastor Eugene H Peterson recently announced that he is retiring from public life and that his latest book As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation On The Ways of God Formed by the Words of God is his last. The book is a collection of his sermons and this excerpt is from a section entitled: “Yes and Amen and Jesus: Preaching in the Company of Peter.” This excerpt was featured on Bearings Online, a web publication of Collegeville Institute.
Gisela Kreglinger’s book The Spirituality of Wine makes a coherent defense of the long-standing relationship between the Christian tradition and wine. However, her work overlooks the one who pops the corks, polishes your glasses, creates pairing guides, and cleans up when the party is over. When you see these things happen hundreds or even thousands of times in a restaurant or banquet hall, patterns and meanings emerge that are not apparent in the dinner party in your home. These are the moments of anticipation, ecstasy, and nostalgia that are only noticed by the server.
We miss the opportunity to recognize something of the divine in the face of the Other we pass on the street. When we turn away from those who need our help, we behave as if our bodies had boundaries, as if our skin truly separated us from the Other. But what if our bodies don’t have strict edges? What if we could develop a new way of seeing the body that reveals that we are always already touching, that we are inextricably linked to a larger institutional and social body that binds us all?
12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing
A few days before she turned 61, writer Anne Lamott decided to write down everything she knew for sure. She dives into the nuances of being a human who lives in a confusing, beautiful, emotional world, offering her characteristic life-affirming wisdom and humor on family, writing, the meaning of God, death and more.
Romantic love is a myth. You don’t choose a partner because you love him. You love that partner because you chose him. Which explains the plague of our time. Too many choices, too many channels, too many potential hookups--it's made it just about impossible to choose, and if it's just about impossible to choose, it's just about impossible to love, and if it's just about impossible to love, then, according to The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us by Bruce Feiler, it's just about impossible to be fully human.
Elaine Pagels won popular and scholarly acclaim for her revolutionary interpretation of the early Christian Church in “The Gnostic Gospels.” Then unthinkable personal tragedy led her to the subject of a new book: What is Satan? This article from The New Yorker explores Pagels’ writing in the context of her own personal losses.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is currently in the news as its recent television adaptation airs. It is a dystopian story of the dangers of totalitarian government and religious fundamentalism. The author of this article also sees The Handmaid’s Tale as a dark midrash on the patriarchal tales of Genesis.
Although Martin Luther King, Jr. used Christian social ethics and the New Testament concept of “love” heavily in his writings and speeches, he was also heavily influenced by Eastern spiritual traditions, Gandhi’s political writing, and the Buddhist notion of the interconnectedness of all things. Nowhere does he transmute spiritual ideas from various traditions into secular principles more masterfully than in his extraordinary 1958 essay “An Experiment in Love,” examined in this post from Brain Pickings.
The physical is already illuminated with the presence of the sacred. If we care about the spirit, we cannot avoid concern with the here and now. The spiritual is about the social, the mystical is also about the political. The cosmic in us has to be about both changing the human and changing the world of which we are a part. The healing inside and the healing of the world are wrapped up in one another.
Ministry is “a business that breaks the heart for the sake of the heart,” Frederick Buechner said in a commencement address. Buechner is a theologian, ordained Presbyterian minister and writer. He is also an unlikely social media sensation, with more than 1.5 million followers. His address is reprinted in a new book (Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons of Frederick Buechner) marking Buechner’s 90th birthday and is included in this article.
Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland has been for many years a lay reader at our Cathedral of Holy Trinity in Paris. Recently, the Rt Rev Pierre Whelon, Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, wrote this essay for Anglicans Online on his interview with her on how she prepares to read in church. She says in part that “reading the Scriptures in church has to be an authentic proclamation of the reader’s faith.” Read her full article: "Reading the Bible as a Statement of Faith."
Parker Palmer notes that giving advice comes easy to our species and is mostly done with good intent. However, the motivation behind advice in many cases has more to do with self interest than in interest in another’s needs, and sometimes advice can do more harm than good.
Long before the cat became a modern literary muse, a monk whose identity remains a mystery immortalized his beloved white cat named Pangur. Sometime in the ninth century, somewhere in present-day southern Germany, this solitary scholar penned a beautiful short poem in Old Irish, titled “Pangur Bán” — an ode to the parallel pleasures of man and feline as one pursues knowledge and the other prey, and to how their quiet companionship amplifies their respective joys.
The tasks of today’s ministers are manifold and often study is lost in the minutia of ministry. Still, a commitment to study deepens our preaching, gives us a wider perspective on God’s presence in the world, and enables us to more creatively respond to the questions of seekers as well as congregants.
Bono & Eugene Peterson: The Psalms
This short film documents the friendship between Bono (of the band U2) and Eugene Peterson (author of contemporary-language Bible translation The Message) revolving around their common interest in the Psalms. Based on interviews conducted by Fuller Seminary faculty member David Taylor and produced in association with Fourth Line Films, the film highlights in particular a conversation on the Psalms that took place between Bono, Peterson, and Taylor at Peterson’s Montana home.
"The arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice." Though often associated with Martin Luther King, this quote did not originate with him. This article examines the context of the original quote and explores how our perception of a moral universe offers hope.
David Brooks writes that there are two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. Deeply good people are those who have earned the eulogy virtues during their lives with moral and spiritual "accomplishments." Brooks details a "bucket list" of these important life lessons. This editorial was adapted from Brooks' new book The Road to Character.