I am itching to read another Robert Hughes, Robert Davis Hughes III and his ‘Beloved Dust: Tides of The Spirit’ this year, just begun. It sounds lovely and this image of Beloved Dust is profoundly exciting. This heavenly earthiness, which may well synchronise with what I’ve discerned from the Scriptures and discovered in Evgeny Lampert and Martin Thornton, seems to suggest a necessary spiritual rootedness, striking threefold, Holy chords- Conversion, Transfiguration, Glory...
(Here are a couple of reviews and overviews of the book from Amazon to bring it to life. The front cover is enticingly sweet too.)
”Robert Davis Hughes’ brilliant and generous exploration of the “tides of the Spirit” in Christian spirituality, Beloved Dust, is an education in the history, interrelatedness, and potential of spiritual life in the Christian in all its forms.
Hughes “rescues” spiritual theology from its exile–begun in the thirteenth century–from being considered outside dogmatic theology or subordinated to moral theology. Describing how spirituality in a new pneumatological context “flows naturally from Trinity to creation to Christ to Spirit to church and beyond”–he develops implications of the Spirit’s mission as koinonia: participation in the Trinity as a gift to the whole created order.
Beginning with an understanding of our humanness as dust–assembled as we are from material elements in the universe–Hughes illustrates how spiritual life manifests as physical life indwelt by God’s Spirit. Humans indwelled can grow to discover their capability for self-transcendence–evoked in us through God’s self-transcendence–while remaining always dependent on God’s giftedness to us.
Covered here–among many other topics extensively explored–are aspects of conversion; the theological and cardinal virtues as actualized in Christian life; theories of self-transcendence and spiritual style; and implications of Christian love as individuals and communities become engraced in this ultimate gift of God.
Highly recommended as a satisfying and comprehensive case for a new understanding of Christian spirituality in the light of what we know about being human and what we must seek to understand and incorporate into our lives as disciples of Jesus.”
Isabel Anders, Managing Editor, Synthesis Publications
Author, The Faces of Friendship (Wipf & Stock, 2008).
”This superb book begins with about seventy pages devoted to surveying the history of spiritual theology (also known in earlier times as mystical theology or ascetical theology), particularly unpacking the reasons why mysticism became marginalized after the Reformation, and why the entire discipline of spiritual theology more or less collapsed after Vatican II, largely because trends in ascetical theology in the early to mid-twentieth century were essentially rendered obsolete by the council. Of course, even if theologians and the church at large were not paying much attention to a theology of the Spirit, the Spirit himself (or herself, as Hughes clearly prefers the ancient Syriac rendering of the Holy Spirit as feminine) was on the move, as evidenced by the post-conciliar explosions such as the charismatic renewal, the interest in Christian meditation and centering prayer, the growth in oblate and lay monastic associations, and the increased (actually, emergent) interest among lay Christians in the writings of the classical mystics. Hence, Hughes correctly discerned a need in the larger discourse of the Christian community: a survey of the issues and concerns related to the theology of the Holy Spirit, anchored in the tradition but fully engaged with the issues of our time. This is what the book sets out to do. Speaking as a layperson for whom spiritual theology is deeply relevant to my own identity and practice as a Christian, I’d say this book is not only a splendid compendium of the first two thousand years of Christian spiritual wisdom, but it offers plenty of food for thought to nourish us as we move forward into the third millennium.
Although he acknowledges the weaknesses in the traditional developmental map of the spiritual life as purgation – illumination – union, Hughes retains this tripartite model, both because of its Trinitarian character and because it so neatly corresponds with three central events of the life of Christ: his baptism, his transfiguration, and his resurrection. With the life of Christ in mind, Hughes recasts this mystical itinerary as conversion, transfiguration, and glory. But just as the Christian experience involves a coterminous relationship with all three persons of the Blessed Trinity, so too the spiritual life should not be understood as sequential: as if we undergo conversion and then, done with that, move on to transfiguration as a prelude to the final experience of glory. Rather, the clear evidence of how spirituality manifests in so many unique ways in the lives of different people down the ages reveals that the Spirit can bring us to continual, life-long conversion — a process that never ends, at least not on this side of eternity — that can coexist simultaneously with the experience of luminous transfiguration and joyous glory. Hughes uses the metaphor of waves crashing on the shore to suggest that these three aspects of the spiritual life are “tides of the spirit,” moving in a circular rather than sequential manner.
He also considers the “slack” between tides as a metaphor for John of the Cross’s famous concepts of the dark night: the dark night of the senses, when we are called to ever-deeper detachment from our earthly addictions and will-to-control, and the far more terrifying dark night of the soul, when even our attachments to God and to matters of the Spirit are called to be sacrificed on the altar of utter self-donation to the Ultimate Mystery. These “darknesses” exist and persist beneath, before and beyond our experience of the Light of God, just as profound silence exists beneath, before and beyond our words as well as our apprehension of The Word.
Throughout Hughes’ study, a deep appreciation of the Trinitarian nature of Christian spirituality remains central to the narrative, as does his titular metaphor of humanity as dust, beloved by God, called into being, given life, and ultimately deified through the continual unmerited grace bestowed upon us by our loving creator. Consideration of classical categories of ascetical theology — such as the cardinal and theological virtues — anchor this book’s function as a continuation of the tradition.
The “transfiguration” chapters form the book’s strongest section, primarily because of the brilliant discussion of the work of two of the twentieth century’s most important mystics, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Simone Weil. His unpacking of Weil’s four forms of the implicit love of God is particularly enlightening. The final section on “glory” is beautifully written but seems far too short, even with the author’s humble insistence that he himself “knows precious little” of the deified life.”
Let’s Hope it becomes a beloved work in my library and lives up to these high expectations.