The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boomers

Toward a Spirituality of Practice

Handout 3

1. Sweeping religious and cultural shifts

Of course, shifts in American religion are fairly common. Especially for religion as most people know it–in the "God-tangles of actually lived lives"–there is always a volatile element, the sacred never quite contained in its familiar forms. American religion has long been known for its dynamism and fluidity, its responsiveness to grassroots opinions and sentiments, its creative capacity in relation to the cultural environment. . . Religion in the United States is like a brilliantly colored kaleidoscope ever taking on new configurations of blended hues. Not just popular religious beliefs and practices, but religious institutions themselves undergo transformations in form and style, encouraged by a democratic, highly individualistic ethos and rapid social and cultural change (Roof, Spiritual Marketplace, 4).

The Seekers speak to the Church:

    1. Distrust of institution so enmeshed in culture–distrust of "going through the motions" for the sake of tradition or cultural status quo.
    2. Perhaps an emphasis on spiritual practices rather than doctrine or membership
  1. Robert Wuthnow constrasts the spirituality of the institutional church–a spirituality of dwelling–to a spirituality of practice, which puts the responsibility on individuals to spend time on a regular basis worshipping, communing with, listening to, and attempting to understand the sacred.
  2. Does the church need a new form of Christian accountability that does justice to those at odds with conventional forms of church membership?
    1. Need to recognize pluralism of modern U.S. society. Theologically, the church may need to clarify its relationship with other religious traditions.
    2. Recognize the importance of hearing the stories of individual seekers–these stories are powerful.
    3. Don’t sell short the intellectual abilities of the laity.


The Church speaks to the Seekers:

    1. The Church has its own long history of self-critique. From the perspective of mature, mid-life spirituality, Seekers may be surprised by the richness, complexity and mystery at the heart of the Christian tradition.
    2. The Seekers can recognize the extent to which their Christian upbringing still informs their spirituality outside the church.
    3. Seekers can recognize the changes in the Church since 1980–perspectives of liberation theology, ecology, black liberation theology, feminist theology and Biblical scholarship have permeated the Church’s understanding of itself.
    4. One reason to dialogue with other traditions is to seek the critical questions–the questions that open the Seeker to new ways of understanding. Make the effort to understand the particularities of the differences in religion in order to experience real spiritual growth.
    5. Just as the Seekers critique the Church’s enmeshment in society, so the Church can ask the Seekers to identify the connection between their beliefs and their ethical behavior.

Reflexive Spirituality

Wade Clark Roof dismisses the notion of the current American religious climate as "secularization". He sees the current situation as more complex and calls it "reflexive spirituality":-- a contemplative act of stepping back from one’s own perspective and recognizing that it, too, is situated in a plurality of possibilities.

This capacity of understanding one’s own view as just that–a view–forces attention to biography, history, and experience and creates consciousness about the positioned nature of all our perspectives.. . Generally it encourages a more open stance toward religious teachings and spiritual resources; more experiential and holistic views; and active incorporation of religious input into constellations of belief and practice, or greater agency on the part of an individual in defining and monitoring one’s own spiritual life. The effect is to create . . . a deeper awareness of who we are and how we became who we are . . . it suggests that spiritual seeking is elevated as a prominent religious theme and can itself be a creative, revitalizing experience, even a venue to transforming the meaning of the religious itself (Roof, Spiritual Marketplace, 75).


What have we lost?

What have we gained?

What do we do next?



 "God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand."

Rilke’s Book of Hours, I, 59, trans. By Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy