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BEC Spirituality

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by Dr. Estela Padilla

This article taken from : http://cbcpbec.com/


When we say ‘spirituality’, it is actually not easy to determine what we really mean. In the past, the word gives the impression of ‘otherwordliness’. Coming from the Latin word ‘spiritus’, or spirit, the word is differentiated from ‘matter’ or ‘flesh’. We have sadly inherited a way of thinking (and even more sadly, a way of believing) that dichotomizes, for example, between the secular and the sacred, church and world, faith and good deeds, prayer and action, active life and contemplative life, religion and politics, among other things. Moreover, that which is spiritual is also deemed ‘higher’ than that of the material. We also seemed to relate ‘spiritual’ with specific activities – like praying, fasting – or specific language – such as God-talk or church concerns. (Robert McAfee Brown has effectively debunked this ‘Great Fallacy’ in his book ’ Spirituality and Liberation’ published in 1988 by The Westminster Press, Philadelphia).

In the history of Christianity, we hear about Spirituality of the Desert Fathers, Medieval Spirituality, Franciscan Spirituality, Jesuit Spirituality, Spirituality of Liberation, Feminist Spirituality, among others. Today, we hear of lay spirituality or priestly spirituality. We also know that spirituality is not confined to the Christian tradition. We hear of New Age Spirituality, as well as a Buddhist, Hindu or Islamic spirituality.

I guess one can say that spirituality is an animating life principle or an animating life force : convictions that guide or direct a person’s / community’s path; a framework that shapes a person’s / community’s opinions, attitudes and values; or a core energy that keeps one / a community going, especially during difficult times. (This definition is inspired by the different definitions I read in the first chapter of ‘Christian Spirituality: Themes from the Tradition’, by Lawrence Cunningham and Keith Egan, published by Paulist Press 1996 , which gives a comprehensive survey of the tradition of Christian spirituality).

Christian Spirituality

When we talk of Christian Spirituality, we mean that this animating life principle or life force is rooted in Christ. It is a way of living that follows Christ, indeed a life of discipleship. This following of Christ is not just an individual event, but a call also to belong to a community. This communal way of following Jesus in our world is guided by the Spirit.

Of all the definitions I’ve read about Christian Spirituality, this I find comprehensive:

“The term spirituality refers to the Spirit at work in persons 1) within a culture, 2) in relation to a tradition, 3) in memory of Jesus Christ, 4) in the light of contemporary events, hopes, sufferings and promises, 5) in efforts to combine elements of action and contemplation, 6) with respect to charism and community, 7) as expressed and authenticated in praxis. (Michael Downey, “Jean Varnier: Recovering the Heart” Spirituality Today 38 (Winter 1986) 339-40.)

Reading through contemporary Christian spirituality, (or just from the above definition) one indeed notices a more integrated or wholistic approach to Spirituality very different from the dichotomizing of the past. We have come a long way from separating the church from the ‘sinful’ world to acknowledging that the world sets the agenda for the church. (Gaudium et Spes # 40-44).

Third World Spirituality: Some Elements

Let us look more closely in the world where we belong – the Third World (or more politically-correct, Two-thirds World) and see how Christian spirituality has dialogued with this world.

In a book produced by the 1992 Assembly of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians in Nairobi Kenya (Spirituality of the Third World, edited by K.C. Abraham and Bernadette Mbuy-beya. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1994), spirituality has taken on a different language.

Arising from a situation of extreme poverty and injustice, neocolonialism and international imperialism of money, militarism and oppression, the search for a spirituality of the Third World started with a cry for life and ended with a commitment to life. Let me give you a sampling of how different Two-thirds World Theologians have defined ‘Spirituality’.

For an Indian theologian, Spirituality is ‘spiritual resources that sustain a people who struggle for a meaningful life against great odds’. For a Sri Lankan theologian, Spirituality is a ‘presence, that encourages, urges, sustains people to stand up for the fullness of life.”

For an African woman theologian, Spirituality is ‘what permits us to make sense of life’; it is the ‘soul of a culture, the motivation that underlies all activity’. Its authenticity is confirmed by ‘one’s commitment to life’. From another African theologian, Christian Spirituality is ‘a freeing service to the poor’. For him, Black Spirituality fundamentally means social transforma-tion of demonic structures and system’.

A Latin American theologian said Spirituality is ‘vitality’. It is found wherever there is ‘solidarity, trust, hope and the joy of living’. It is the spirituality of those who ‘stretch out their hands to save life, to foster it and respect it and help it to bloom and grow’.

There is decidedly a liberational strand to Third World spirituality, proclaiming a God who stands on the side of the poor. R. Brown, in his book, Spirituality and Liberation (cited earlier), clarified that Spirituality and Liberation – which in the past or in a dichotomized theology – are two terms that are mutually exclusive – are actually ‘two ways of talking about the same thing’. Liberation from sinful structures (personal and social) is liberation for a grace-filled life. A grace-filled life (spirituality) cannot but be committed to the fullness of life that God dreams for every one.
Asian Spirituality: Some Elements

This portion on Asian Spirituality is taken from ‘Asian Christian Spirituality: Reclaiming Traditions’ edited by Virginia Fabella, Peter K. H. Lee, David Kwang-sun Suh (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1992).

Asia, being part of the Two-thirds World, affirms its liberationist strand, but adds a few more elements of its own, being a continent of multi-cultures and multi-religions and the birthplace of the most ancient spiritualities.

In is interesting to note that two Asian theologians, more than twenty years ago, wrote about ‘rice’ as a sacrament of God. ‘God is Rice’ by Kosuke Koyama (who also wrote Water-Buffalo Theology, a Japanese theologian based in Thailand) ) and Pab (Rice) by Kim Ji Ha, a Korean theologian. The following short poem I think summarizes the important elements of an Asian Spirituality:

Rice is heaven.
As we cannot enter heaven alone
We should share rice with one another.
As all share the light of the heavenly stars
We should share rice and eat rice together.

Some elements of an Asian Spirituality I would say are: integral (the sense of the sacred embraces us and everything around us); expresses a deep respect for creation; open to all, especially those who are different from us; builds up communal spirit and is praxis-oriented. Let us expound on a few of these.

On the opposite side of the Greek (West) dualistic view that ‘spirit’ is separate from body / flesh / matter; Asians believe in an integrated, wholistic view : ‘spirit’ is ‘ruah’ (Heb.) or breath – the ‘wind of God; the energy and power of God.” From an Indian theologian,

“Spiritual life is human life, the whole of human life inspired and led by the Spirit, the energizing presence and activity of God.” “Spirit is the breath of God by which we breathe. It is the divine sea of life in which we live and move and have our being.’ But the Spirit is also ‘action and freedom, energy and movement, life and justice. Therefore the Spirit is struggle against all that contradicts, obstructs, restricts or destroys freedom, life and love. The Spirit is the spirit of combat.”

Another Indian theologian confirmed this Spirit of Combat by relating it to a Spirituality of Resistance, resistance against the evil of poverty and injustice and all the forces of death. He believes that this resistance is what actually unites us with other religious traditions of Asia because we can all enter into a common spirituality of liberation. This awareness and respect for other religious traditions is also common to Asia. Being the birthplace of different religious traditions with Christianity comprising only 3% of the population , dialogue is a way of life for Asian Christians.

A Korean theologian expounded on this spirit of combat and liberation among its minjung (the poor living in the rural villages) who are han-ridden (han is feeling of anger of the people brought about by injustice inflicted on them). This theologian’s suggested local term for spirituality is shin-myung, or communal life energy. Shin-myung is the “burst of energy that leads a dae-dong gut”. Dae-dong Gut is a festival and a ritual of blessing, healing and praying for the victims of unjust deaths. Shin-myung is the ‘transforming force of life and society’. Communal shin-myung is “life itself”. It always springs forth to “confront the power of being killed and is also the freedom that strengthens the volition for life”.

The following section is a part of the final statement of an Asian Theological Conference that gathered in Korea in 1991 “The Search for a Liberation Spirituality in Asia” (Asian Christian Spirituality: Reclaiming Traditions’ edited by Virginia Fabella, Peter K. H. Lee, David Kwang-sun Suh (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1992), pp 148-156).
“What, then, is spirituality?
Spirituality for us is bound up with life
And all that life involves.
It is freedom and food,
Dignity and equality,
Community and sharing of resources.
It is creativity and celebration
Of the God of life and liberation.

Spirituality originates
From the Spirit of God
Who fills the earth
Who gives and guides, and accompanies,
Blesses, accepts, and works with.
Spirituality is
Contemplation and praxis.
It is all that can contribute
To the balance and blossoming,
The healing and wholeness of life,
Of the human race,
The earth,
the cosmos.

Spirituality contains two aspects:
Openness to all humans,
All of nature,
From atoms and molecules
To the ultimate mystery we call God.
Response is the second moment,
A relevant reply to the need at hand,
The cry of the situation,
The call of God
That comes through people and events. “

Spirituality as Creative Dialogue between Faith and Culture

After reading through some elements of Two-thirds World and Asian Spirituality, one can surmise that Spirituality is not a finished product but a continuous dialogue between faith and culture / context. A person / community living in a specific time and place draws upon its spiritual and cultural resources to respond to the social changes facing them. Social changes or context, in turn, enrich, critique and strengthen a person / community’s spiritual and cultural resources so that Spirituality becomes a communal animating life force.

I intentionally left out a discussion of Filipino spirituality both in the Third World and Asian Spiritualities because I want to specifically focus on BEC Spirituality as a microcosm of Filipino Spirituality. Before I do so, however, let me briefly give a description of BECs. You must be aware by now that there are a variety of experiences, approaches, structures and even description of BECs all over the country. I guess such variety only attests to the nature of BEC as the local church coming to life.

A BEC has four defining marks. This description is originally taken from South Africa (from a book entitled “Towards a Community Church” written by Anselm Prior, OFM, published by the LUMKO Institute, Germiston, South Africa. LUMKO Institute is the pastoral arm of the South African Bishops’ Conference ) but for the past twenty years have been used widely in Asia, especially in the Philippines.

A BEC is in the neighborhood. It is the church at the neighborhood level. A gathering of families (number depends on the parish /diocese) in one of the houses in the neighborhood on a regular basis (also varies from parish to parish). The BECs are set up in the neighborhood for several reasons: biblical (a gospel imperative to love the neighbor); sociological (one’s natural community is where people live); theological (to be church is to be rooted in daily life); missio-logical (every baptized is gifted and capable of building up the local church and responding to its needs); structural (neighborhood set-up is a way to reach out to ALL the baptized which center-based structure of parish life – through Sunday Eucharistic celebrations and church organizations – has accomplished very little).

A BEC is centered on the Word of God. It is the Word of God that forms and challenges the BEC. It is the Word of God that nourishes the life of the BEC. Although not all BECs in the country have eucharistic celebrations, all would have regular Bible-sharing and liturgical celebration of the Word. Formation / catechetical sessions that are Bible-based are also regularly given. It is the Word of God that builds them up from a regular neighborhood to a local church, bonding them as brothers and sisters challenged to live out the Gospel values of justice, peace and joy in their locality.

A BEC responds to the needs of the community. Every baptized is gifted and capable of building up the local church. In the BECs, everyone is helped to discover their giftedness and to enrich it by serving the needs of the community. Different kinds of ministries – liturgical, youth, family, social action, health, among others, are set up. A BEC is also aware of and gets involved in social-political and economic issues that affect them.

A BEC is linked to the wider church. A BEC is the smallest cell of the wider church which is the parish. It has to be linked to the center to enrich its life. One way of linking with all the BECs in the parish / diocese is through a regular meeting and training / formation of leaders representing all the BECs in the parish. Moreever, regular pastoral programs are structured and coursed through BECs – formation for sacraments (baptism, (first communion), confirmation, marriage). Parish-wide activities and celebrations are linked through and enriched by the BECs. The most basic link that different BECs in the parish has is living out the same vision-mission-goals of the parish in their locality.

Moreover, the BECs are also very much encouraged to network with governmental, non-governmental and people’s organization in their areas and working for the same goals.

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