Transformative spiritualities and mission is a significant point of discussion at the pre-assembly event of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) which is currently under way in Manila. Transformative spiritualities are also one of the constituent themes of the CWME statement on mission and evangelism that will be presented to the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, Korea in 2013. Dr Rico Palaca Ponce, academic director of the Institute of Spirituality in Asia based in Quezon City, the Philippines, gave an interview on the topic on 23 March.
How do you define transformative spirituality ?
For me it depends on the way we understand our contexts in the world we live in. One of the objectives of this CWME pre-assembly event is to seek vision, concepts and directions for a renewed understanding and practice of mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. With this objective, I would say that crucial to any discussion regarding transformative spirituality and mission is how we view and relate to the world.
Transformative spirituality is a “life-energy”. It is a breath of fire. It is an ember that sustains the flame of one’s heart. It is restlessness. It is something that calls the person to go beyond oneself, to concern for, and relationships with, the others.
Transformative spirituality enables a person to consider the meaning of one's actions. It enables a person to comprehend the complexity of one's motives and the impact they have on the world. It is also the capacity to experience passion for a cause, compassion for others and forgiveness of self. It is a process of becoming, but never as an achievement. It is a potential rather than a possession. Transformative spirituality is finding the truth of one’s existence and discovering the fire within.
The concept of transformative spirituality provides hope for the oppressed people. It gives a new paradigm of understanding our relation with the Divine, fellow human beings and the creation. It provides us a new understanding of how to be a follower of Christ in today’s context. It provides a new image which may inspire us to be in solidarity with the poor in their struggle for freedom from all forms of unjust systems and structures present in society.
What are the characteristics of a renewed missionary approach?
Taking into consideration our view of the world as the place where God reveals Himself/Herself, transformative spirituality and mission has to be contextual. We should be rooted in our situation. It means that we are in touch with the realities of the people. We are rooted in the Philippine, Asian and Third World realities in order to gain a deeper understanding of the religious, cultural, social, economic, political and environmental contexts so that the gospel might be brought to bear as a historical force for the transformation of society.
This transformational approach is significant. We must be responsive to the call of the Spirit and the signs of the times which demand the transformation of individuals, relationships, communities, institutions and structures so that “all may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
We should also be guided by scriptural, theological and pastoral reflections rooted in human experience and contemporary issues, cognizant that justice, peace and ecological concerns are essentially related to the gospel message. We should incorporate the perspectives of women, Indigenous peoples and other marginalized sectors, the insights of other religious traditions and spiritualities and the concern for the integrity of creation.
It is also important to help promote the forging of unity and peace. We should be builders of bridges instead of fences. We should foster mutual relations with people of other faiths and religions. This implies that we should maintain an attitude of openness to share and learn.
What is the role of transformative spirituality in a changing landscape?
The situation in many parts of the world is characterized by a worsening economic, political and religious-cultural bankruptcy. Everyday, millions of people, especially Filipinos, leave their homelands and go abroad in hope of better jobs and better opportunities. We are enraged at the continuous extra-judicial killings of peasants, workers, church people, journalists, lawyers, activists and others. There is ongoing violence perpetrated against women and children.
As high-rise buildings are being constructed in the cities, there is the ruthless demolition of the houses of the urban poor communities. Displacement of farmers and Indigenous communities is rampant, just to give way to so-called development projects. One wonders, for whom are these developments when thousands of people are pushed to the margins? The situation of the Philippines and neighbouring countries is plagued by a culture of death and sinful social structure.
However, like other liberation theologians, people dare to ask the question: How to be a Christian in a world of destitution? They embrace a kind of spirituality which is committed to life, cause and struggle of the millions of marginalized people and has a commitment to end the history of social discrimination and social injustice.
Yet people can be so touched by an immense power within themselves. They become committed to a particular cause or a movement towards bringing positive changes in their homes, communities and in the world. This immense power that touches their core being is what we may call “transformative spirituality”.
Church to renew its thinking on mission and evangelism (WCC press release of 22 March 2012)