What is Spirituality?
In one sense the term “spirituality” refers to something universal: the way each of us understands how the pieces of our lives are connected to the life of the world. “Spirituality” also has a more specific meaning: the practical and specific aspects of shaping a life of prayer or structuring worship – each of which can develop a greater awareness of the spiritual in human experience and can energize us for action in the world. Finally, “spirituality” has to do with how each specific religious tradition knits together experience into a meaningful whole through specific spiritual practices. Tewkesbury Abbey stands within an Anglo-Catholic spiritual tradition which is firmly rooted in an Anglican ethos which in turn has its roots in the teachings and practices of St. Benedict.
What makes Spirituality Christian?
Christian spirituality sees Jesus Christ as “fully human and fully divine”. In other words, Christian spirituality views the person of Jesus as the picture of what it means to live a fully human life-one that is passionate, self-giving, truth-telling and connected to others. In this picture of redeemed and restored humanity we discover true divinity, God’s love of us and for all God creation. Christian spirituality also views the Church as God’s own creation, Christ’s body, the primary way in which Christ continues to be present and active in the world. Thus, for Christians, Church is essential. It is the place where we participate in the realm of God and are nourished both for our journey and for Christ’s continuing work of reconciliation in the world.
Tewkesbury Abbey is a Church of England parish church in the diocese of Gloucester within the Anglican Communion. As such its style of Christian spirituality and temperament has been shaped by this context.
Anglican spirituality is rooted in communal daily prayer (Morning and Evening Prayer) and is shaped by the principles laid out in The Book of Common Prayer. Therefore, Scripture has primary importance along with the prayerful meditation on the psalms, and our way of praying tends to have more formality and structure than many non liturgical churches.
For Anglicans, communal prayer comes before and shapes personal prayer. Prayer in Tewkesbury Abbey is seen as an activity that connects us to God and to each other – the ‘other’ may also include our brothers and sisters who have died. Communal prayer is a part of daily, weekly and yearly rhythms that both surrounds and informs our community when it gathers either to worship or make decisions.
Anglicans see the world, itself, as sacramental. That is to say, that the material world is capable of mediating God’s grace. We emphasise the two primary Gospel sacraments of Baptism and The Eucharist as well as offer the other sacramental signs of confirmation, matrimony, reconciliation, anointing and ordination.
Anglicans emphasise the incarnation, God being born as Jesus and entering fully into human life and history. Accordingly Anglican have a ‘down to earth’ spirituality that affirms the goodness of life and the created world, the reality that things are not as they should be, but believe that the extraordinary is found in the ordinary.
Anglicans experience union with God as happening over time, gradually through a journey aided by personal prayer and discipline. This perception is confirmed by the teaching of the Christian saints throughout the ages.
Anglicans believe the truth can be found in exploring the creative tension between opposites. For example, we affirm both the sacred and the secular, the material and the spiritual, the mind and the heart, glory and intimacy.
Anglicans tend not to be “black and white” in our thinking. We affirm the ambiguity of personal experience and the breadth of human life. Through our history, which has often been bloody, we have learnt to tolerate differing opinions of the spiritual journey.
Anglicans believe in good scholarship, going back to the original sources and valuing a questing and questioning faith. We search for wisdom in many places and encourage people to listen to each other and bring their honest questions to their life journey.
Anglicans are at home in the world of poetry, image, symbol, story-telling, ritual and art. Although we have always resisted the temptation to align ourselves with the dogmas of either wing of the Church Universal, we have had many great theologians who have influenced world events.
Anglicans believe that beauty, in all its fullness, is a doorway to truth, goodness and God.
Anglicans avoid extremes, believing that a godly life is one that is both inwardly graceful and ordered, and outwardly serving and responsible.
Perhaps through our Celtic origins, Anglicans have a reverence for nature and its rhythms. We are not above the created order, but very much a part of its delicate and intricate balance.
Anglicans believe that Christian life has political implications and that civic life is both a legitimate and important place for our faith to be expressed.
Tewkesbury Abbey is a modern Anglo-Catholic parish rooted in the retention of Catholic Christianity within the English Reformation. Anglo-Catholicism emerged, along with the Evangelical Movement, as a reforming tendency within the Church of England which, in the 18th and 19th century, had so absorbed the rationalism of its time that it had lost sight of the importance of a personal faith in Jesus, the sacraments and the centrality of awe and wonder in the spiritual life.
Jesus, the Christ, has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and therefore he is at the centre of all we are and do.
An emphasis on the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, Anointing (with oil for Healing), and Reconciliation (confession and absolution) as a part of the rhythm of a holy life.
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Holiness of life is seen as a process in which we open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit in regular (daily, weekly and yearly) prayer. Anglo-Catholics make use of a variety of devotional practices that assist them in prayer (icons and statues, candles, etc).
Anglo-Catholics believe in the reality of the Communion of Saints. We believe that we have seen holiness of life in the lives of many men, women and children in the history of the Church. We especially honour the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose life was full of grace and without whom Jesus could not become one with us so that we might become one with God.
Anglo-Catholics emphasise sharing the divine life in a deeply reverent style of worship. We are open to all styles of worship, but whatever that style may be the liturgy should lead the worshipper to a deeper experience of God. We enter into this adoration through listening to and singing beautiful music whether it be traditional or contemporary. We use gesture and embodied prayer (genuflection, bowing, crossing oneself) with the engagement of the senses (incense, holy water, bells, vestments) to help us enter into worship. As Anglo-Catholics, our ultimate worship experience is one in which we not only glimpse but enter into and taste something of the beauty and mystery of God.
As all human beings are made in the image of God, Anglo-Catholics emphasize social justice out of a tradition that makes a liturgical connection between worshipping God in beauty and holiness and working to manifest justice and mercy in the world. For Anglo-Catholics beautiful liturgy leads us into a divine life which celebrates the dignity of human beings.
We, in Tewkesbury Abbey, are proud and grateful for our Benedictine heritage.
The Rule of St Benedict, written in the 6th century, still holds great relevance for our lives today. Benedict’s wisdom has provided the foundation for Benedictine communities throughout the centuries, and continues to influence many of us here in the Abbey Community. Benedict’s rule calls us to a daily rhythm of listening, obedience, hospitality and conversion of life.
Here are some of the characteristics of Benedictine spirituality:
Grounded in Listening:
For Benedict, the spiritual life was about listening to God – through prayer, Scriptures, the depths of our own experience, through listening to others in our community and the wider church.
Ordered by a rhythm of daily prayer that is Biblical and reflective:
For Benedict, prayer had a particular structure and process. Monastic life was punctuated by the rhythms of prayer during the hours of each day. These prayers, which included the saying or chanting of psalms, are expressed in our Daily Office in the Abbey. Scripture plays an important part in these Daily Offices and provides us with a structured opportunity to reflect upon them.
Rooted in Stability:
Benedictine monks and nuns made a commitment to living in a specific location, within a specific community as the context for their spiritual growth and development. The meaning of stability in our day refers to staying rooted where we are – in relationship with ourselves and with others. However hard we find it, we commit ourselves to each other in order to grow in the spiritual life.
Conversion of Life:
By listening and seeking stability of life, we strive to discern the new path that Jesus is forever calling us to travel. Benedict called this lifelong process conversation morum or conversion of life.
Benedictines believe that the Christian life is best lived in the daily context of good, balanced life in community. No one aspect – prayer, work, rest or study – was to be done in the extreme. Instead, holiness of life was to be found through the right balance of these elements in life.
St Benedict taught that the ‘outsider’ was Christ himself, and on receiving the stranger we receive Christ. Today, hospitality plays an important part in our ministry to pilgrim, visitor and seeker. Be assured you will be our honoured guest when you visit Tewkesbury Abbey.