That wonderfully charismatic figure, Martin Luther King, was fond of saying, “The church is the place you go out from.” Heart of Life, Centre for Spiritual and Pastoral Formation, is a place you go out from. People come in, certainly, and are warmly welcomed, but our mission is ultimately to send people out (as Jesus did), to build relationships, to build community.
When we help people to articulate their inner experience of God in their lives, we notice that people grow in self-awareness and inner freedom, but as well they become more accepting of others, more tolerant, more loving. While our approach might focus on an individual’s personal experience of God, it seems to shift naturally to what is happening in the rest of their life, to their relationships and involvement with other people. Often people are led to some new action in their life – decisions about relationships and caring for others become clear.
This is the value of our experiential approach. Traditionally, spirituality is taught experientially – precisely because spirituality is concerned with the experience of God. As we know, the experience of God is something quite different from knowledge of God. All worthwhile spiritual writing seems to me to be based on personal experience. There would be many examples. Teresa of Avila couldn’t write any other way than to say, “My sisters, this is how it has happened for me – this is how God has been working in me.”
This approach has asked massive change in the way people understand and approach spirituality: while we might still encourage the practice of personal private prayer, it is not solely for one’s own sake or one’s own private relationship with God. While we might still want someone to look more carefully at their personal dynamics, again this is for others’ sake, as much as their own. God’s gifts are given to individuals, but for the sake of all of us – what the same Martin Luther King called ‘the inter-related structure of reality’.