By an enjoyable and circuitous route (via Jason Goroncy – here) I came across what sounds like a fascinating book – Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life by Robert Davis Hughes, III. Hughes is Norma and Olan Mills Professor of Divinity and Professor of Systematic Theology in the School of Theology of The University of the South, where he has taught since 1977. Author of numerous articles appearing in journals such as the Anglican Theological Review, the Sewanee Theological Review, and the St. Luke's Journal of Theology, he also wrote "The Holy Spirit in Christian Spirituality" for The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality (2005).
Beloved Dust was published in October 2008.
“This is actually just a “teaser” review. I just got my copy of Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life yesterday [Nov. 17th 2008], which means I’ve only given it a cursory glance: so I’m only going to do a brief mini-review of this book for now. But this book deserves a careful reading, so after I’ve read it, I’ll come back and write about it in greater depth. Let me offer a disclaimer: Bob Hughes was my spiritual director in the late 1980s, so I am a wee bit biased here. He teaches theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, and embodies the fullness of the splendor of Anglican spirituality, from its catholic sacramentality to its joyous optimism in the Holy Spirit. Here, in his first book, he is proposing a “reconstruction of spiritual theology” in today’s post-modern, post-triumphalist, post-Vatican II world, engaging honestly with the challenges posed by interreligious dialogue and with the exciting emergence of serious lay spirituality in our time, as evidenced by the popularity of the writings of Thomas Merton and Richard Foster, or the success of organizations like Shalem or Spiritual Directors International. In conversation with significant voices such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Simone Weil, Beloved Dust explores where the Holy Spirit may be taking us: using as its overarching metaphor the notion that we earthy humans are made of dust, washed over by the tides of the Spirit’s love, care and grace.”
Table of Contents
Part I: Love and Dust: New Foundations for Spiritual Theology
1. The Nature of Spirituality and Its Crisis
2. The Rise and Fall of Spiritual Theology as a Discipline
3. Koinonia or Communion: Trinitarian Resources for Renewal
4. The Missions and Tides of the Spirit: Pneumatological Resources for Renewal
5. Dust: Anthropological Resources for Renewal
6. Spirit and Psyche: The Conversation between Psychology and Spirituality
Part II: Tides of the Spirit: A Renewed Spiritual Theology
1. Converted Dust First Interlude: The Dark Night of the Senses and the "Second Conversion"
2. Transfigured Dust Second Interlude: The Dark Night of the Soul and the "Third Conversion"
3. Glorified Dust
Meantime, and more recently Amos Yong offers the following thoughts on the book:
“…In a discussion of what the Christian theological tradition has called sanctification, and which Hughes calls transfiguration, a pneumatological theology of love is explicated. Again, drawing together in an intriguing manner disparate voices – this time, Teilhard de Chardin and Simone Weil – Hughes weaves a tapestry that captures the transfiguring waves of the Spirit which bring forth the new creation in anticipation of the eschatological glorification of dust in the coming age. Yet the transfiguration of dust happens precisely through the Spirit's work in the mundane activities of being neighbors and friends, vocational pursuits, study, work, life in community, and, of course, religious and spiritual life and practices. Each form of transfiguration, however, remains from first to last a work of the Spirit, and is in part the participation of dust in the Spirit's mission and economy.
There is much to appreciate in Hughes retrieval of the patristic, medieval and Reformation traditions of spiritual theology. In many respects, Beloved Dust is the fruit of a lifetime of teaching, research, reflection and writing, with much of this material previously tested in various ecumenical venues. What is noteworthy is that Hughes has been, since 1977, on the faculty at the Episcopalian-affiliated School of Theology of The University of the South, as well as having been a longtime member of the Episcopal Church, and it has been from this ecclesial location that his pneumatological theology of the spiritual life has been shaped…
Yong concludes his review:
“…Beloved Dust, like all academic treatises, can be argued and disagreed with on major theses and more minor points. I suspect that for some (especially more traditionalist) systematicians, this proposal to reopen the question of the theological loci and even propose a pneumatologically-informed theological methodology will be out of the question. But perhaps there are fewer of these conventionalists left, and maybe even most contemporary systematicians have come to recognize at least the heuristic value of trying out an alternative reframing of the tradition that has been handed down to us. I invite potential readers of Beloved Dust to approach this book as if trying on a new set of lenses for a systematic theological task. Perhaps along the way, what will happen is not merely the conversion of one's mind, but also the transfiguration of one's soul. In the end, the truth and persuasiveness of even pneumatological theologies of the Christian life consist not just in the propositions that are bandied about, but in the evocative and affective power of the spiritual vision to captivate the soul and to compel the experience of the tidal waves of the Spirit. If so, then this remains a spiritual theology in continuity with the best that the tradition has to offer, except now made palatable and accessible for the present time…”
You can read Yong’s full review here.
And for those who appreciated Carl Mccolman’s “teaser” at the beginning of this post, here’s an excerpt from his full review:
“…This book aims to be “the first fully constructive spiritual theology since before Vatican II.” Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life 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 (of which my own work post-2005 is but a modest example). 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 Beloved Dust sets out to do. And while I may lack the academic knowledge or credentials to identify any specific scholarly weaknesses in Hughes’ argument, 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…”
Again, from McColman:
“…Beloved Dust has already won a major award: the 2010 Poullart Libermann Award in Pneumatology, from Duquesne University. This award is only offered only once every five years to “the most significant scholarly contribution to the area of pneumatology in the preceding five-year period.” Given how well this book has achieved its objective as a celebration of Christian mysticism as the graced work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it’s an apt honor…”