In finishing out the wheel of spirituality, we come to the one that is probably the most prevalent in the Presbyterian Church and the Reformed tradition and that is the “intellectual” spirituality. In her book, Ware actually starts with this type that is heavily present within American Culture. However, I chose to do this last because it is so dominant; I did not want to cloud the uniqueness of each type or lift it up as the “model” spirituality. If anything, this exercise for the past month should not be about seeking a model for more perfect spirituality, but finding an understanding for how you see and understand God for yourself and how you can be closer to God while also challenging yourself to try or explore different spiritualties.
The joke about the Presbyterians is that we are the frozen chosen. This is well earned; in many churches in our denomination, services can be extremely devoid of emotion, but in its place comes intellectual challenges and questions. While we are not the wealthiest protestant denomination, we are the highest educated, and part of the reason for that is the culture we have that we feel very connected when we are thinking, questioning, and finding answers.
I often find it funny about every other year when a presbytery does a “contemporary” worship service. It is an odd experience watching folks try to sway and sing to the music, and while they often talk about how much they enjoy the service, the following comments often hit on how empty they felt after the service was over, or comments like, “did the pastor even say anything in the sermon?” I often get that comment when I preach the rare “emotional-driven” sermon from time to time.
The difficulty with a person who leans towards this spirituality is that they often don’t show it. There is nothing obvious about them that screams spirituality. In fact, even in discussions they often shy away from talking about what God means to them in lieu of expressions or proofs of faith through theological or scientific discussions.
As you may guess, the extreme of this spirituality is the heresy that the Gnostics ran into that through the right knowledge one could achieve a divine state. In the same way, knowledge is power, and another problem that this spirituality leads to is the idea of superiority or that their understanding of God is the only understanding because they have proof. You can imagine the problems that would result from that. While the heart spirituality at its extreme manipulates people, this spirituality at its extreme subjugates them. Some might say that Mormonism or even Scientology is an extreme of this spirituality.
The trick though of all these spiritualties and approaches is that understanding is important. While each spirituality adds to our understanding of God, in their extremes they often become much more about their own movements than they do the spiritual expression of faith. Like I said at the outset of this series, I take this test annually just for the fun of it. I find that depending on where I am, and what is going on in the church and my life I tend to move around the circle, and where I am being filled changes. This is true for most of us, and for most of us we are never exclusively in one area or the other. But when we have an understanding of how we connect with God, whether that is our advocacy, our silence, our emotional connectedness, or our mind, we can grow deeper and be filled in far more substantial ways.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen