Yesterday was “Christ the King” Sunday in many churches across the world (though many other churches across America probably celebrated Thanksgiving early instead). As I understand it, the day is a comparatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar. The Sunday wraps up the church year with a reminder of Christ’s sovereignty. From Sunday morning’s psalm (145 in the ESV):
10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your saints shall bless you!
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
and tell of your power,
12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
I remember reading that passage at the beginning of the school year and finding great comfort in it. I am grateful that it comes back around every few weeks.
This coming Sunday is the beginning of Advent. I often start off the Advent season hopeful. Much like the beginning of the calendar year or the school year, the beginning of the liturgical year reminds me that there can be a shape to things beyond our own whims. And while the Sundays of the season are a big deal (at varying degrees depending on your church), it’s really the day-to-day that carries it. Unfortunately (and this will come up later in the week), it’s the solitary nature of the day-to-day that serves as the leak from which hope tends to leave.
As such, this is the time of year that I always break out Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Time. The book is a kind of primer on the Christian year, it’s traditions and practices. It begins with a nice chapter on “ordering your spiritual life.” The cover of the book has a subtitle on “forming spirituality throughout the Christian year.” I bring that up because the chapter is good and because it reminds me of a chapter in N. T. Wright’s latest book, Broken Signposts. In Wright’s estimation, “spirituality” is one of seven signposts that point us back to God and to Jesus. From the beginning of Wright’s book:
Human beings regularly experience the world as a whole as something that ought to make sense. There are several signs, clues if you like, of the sort of sense it ought to make. But things don’t work out the way they seem to suggest.
Wright then couches his discussion of “spirituality” with his own experience of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the popular move from specific religion to vague “spirituality” (which is why many Christians bristle at the word). “Spiritual but not religious” is the way it gets articulated these days. Wright beats a familiar drum in this part of the book, bringing philosophies like Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Gnosticism into the conversation. Many people today probably move through all three of these on a regular basis, I imagine. “As long as it’s not Christian,” Wright reminds us (and as much of the world nods). Spirituality is about making sense of the world via our “religious impulse” with the religious sucked out.
Webber also couches his discussion of spirituality in the personal. He recounts some of his own movement through college and graduate school that mirrored moral and intellectual engagement with the Gospel. He brings in the idea of worldview, too. And then he adds:
But I still looked for more, much more. What I longed for was something that went deeper than pious ideas on morality or intellectually stimulating thoughts about the meaning of human existence, as good as these were. I wanted something that actualized the pattern of being in Christ. I wanted something that worked in my life, something that brought a realistic spirituality into being. I wanted something that ordered my life into the patterns of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and coming again. (emphasis mine)
Which sounds a lot like the Paul writing to the church in Philippi concerning what was gain to him and what was rubbish.
(image from depositphotos.com)