Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
One of the marvellous things about a ministry of spiritual direction (in fact about all Christian ministry) is it is reciprocal. I often receive from those I have conversations with new and graceful insights into the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a wonderful thing to see the power of the Gospel at work in a person’s life. These ‘wonderful exchanges’ are almost always given in conducting retreats, or weeks of guided prayer. Over the years I have been involved in these week-long programmes in ecumenical contexts and on two occasions in large Baptist churches. These were especially rewarding, and have led me to compare some of the main traits of Evangelical and Catholic spirituality. There is much one can learn from the other, and since this magazine serves both traditions, here are a few thoughts.
The distinctive features of Evangelical spirituality compared to a more Catholic experience lies in two areas. The first is a more positive all-embracing engagement with Scripture. There is a familiarity with the Bible and a confidence in handling it. There are also no reservations about its authority and, most importantly, there is no doubt as to its ability to communicate to the individual. This compares with the often ‘packaged’ approach to Scripture in the Catholic tradition. It is ‘delivered’ either through the Missal, or a scheme like ‘Bible Alive’. These are valuable resources, but there is no substitute for a ‘primary engagement’ with the word of God. I have heard one Roman Catholic catechist exhort a congregation ‘The Bible is our Book’! Indeed it is, but there is always a slight suspicion that the Catholic priest does not quite trust the people to read it for themselves!
The second is an ability to talk in an open and honest way about spiritual experience and issues of faith in daily life. There is also an openness to new ways of praying (if it has a scriptural basis). Generally speaking participants had pretty sound doctrine and were able to work within an orthodox framework of ‘spirituality’, including an acceptance of spiritual conflict, which is prerequisite for a healthy spirituality.
One of the strengths of the Evangelical tradition is its emphasis on the ‘home group’ or ‘cell church’. This encourages the sharing of faith and mutual encouragement, and is also a means of teaching and nurture. But it is also a weakness. My experience, after several weeks of ministry, was that most participants (from an Evangelical tradition) found it difficult to trust their own judgement, but would want to seek assurance in the context of fellowship. In this way the ‘group experience’ dominated private prayer.
In more Catholic settings I have found there is often a need for more ‘fellowship’; there is often a definite lack of opportunities to share faith experience. There was often a similar lack of confidence in individual spiritual ‘intuition’, but in this context because there was rather too much of ‘Father knows best’! The overall lesson for me has been: ‘always be willing to listen and learn from another tradition and do not stifle the work of the Spirit.’