Elsewhere McIntosh helpfully reflects on what he’s trying to do: “…If I’m focusing on mystical thought per se, or spiritual discernment, or on what it could mean to sense all creation as alive with divine intent and to see all things in God … in all such questions I’m seeking to elucidate how we might understand the beliefs of Christian faith more deeply – precisely by considering them in the light of spiritual traditions and mystical thought…”
Michelle (‘Chelle’) Wade, in this post, reflects a little on Chapter 1 in McIntosh’s book Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology (Oxford; Blackwell, 1998: 3-34).
She notes that “…the particular task of the Mystic is ‘contemplation’ and hence [contemplation] is the particular method of Mystic[al] Theology. She goes on to quote McIntosh from the chapter in his book noted above:
“…Contemplation is not like normal thinking only muddled and tentative, on the contrary it is seen as an activity in which the mind is liberated to perceive clearly, freed from the usual constraints of distraction, self-preoccupation or prejudice…”
“…the more classical notion of mind [as opposed to Enlightenment preoccupation with linear, empirical rationality] refers to the desire of our whole being for deep understanding and relationship with all that is intelligible…”
“…What the mind is fixed upon in clear vision by an act of suspended wonder is ‘the manifestation of wisdom’… [Hence] it is in contemplation that theology and spirituality meet…”
Chelle observes that “McIntosh is particular about a definition of spirituality within the realm of Mystical Religious Experience”, and so he can suggest that:
“…spirituality… is inherently oriented towards discovery, towards new perceptions and new understandings of reality, and hence is intimately related to theology…” [The assumption being of course that this is what “theology” is also orientating itself towards - Paul].
“…the spiritual is that dimension of life which is engendered and empowered by God… [And] is connected with the active presence of God and not primarily with extraordinary inner experiences…personal experience is not in itself the goal of spirituality…” [see also my post on Kenneth Leech - Paul]
These latter points are helpful (and dare I say at the start of the 21st Century, needful!), particularly if you accept, along with the likes of Kenneth Leech (and many others, including Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr et al), that contemplation and action are inseparably and needfully interwoven. Action gives rise to contemplation, gives rise to action, and so on and so forth.
Interestingly, Chelle notes that McIntosh “…favours a ‘God-centric’ definition of spirituality as opposed to a Human-centric definition.” This she contrasts with perhaps a more popular understanding; that which is provided by US Catholic nun Sandra Schneiders:
“…just as one says that a person has a certain ‘psychology’, a shape or pattern to their psychic life, so one could well say that every human being has a spirituality, that is, a ‘fundamental dimension of the human being’ … [i.e.]… that dimension of the human which is oriented towards self-transcendence…”
“… [There is a distinction between] ‘the lived experience which actualizes’ one’s spirituality … [and the] … inherent feature of human existence…”
“… [the academic discipline of spirituality is] the experimental and theoretical study of human efforts at self-transcending integration and to the pastoral practices aimed at fostering the spirituality of individuals and groups…”
If you want more insight into McIntosh’s writing, you’ll find a summary, by Andrew Brower Latz, of the first part (chapters 1-3) of the first part of Divine Teaching: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Mark A. McIntosh. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing (2008), here. Well worth a slow reflective read if you don’t have the book. There are some really rich nd evocative quotes and thinking contained in Latz’s review.
For more on Schneiders see, for example, her essay Biblical Spirituality in the April 2002 issue of Interpretation journal. You might also enjoy this essay: An Architectural Reflection on Sandra Schneiders and Philip Sheldrake’s Understanding of Christian Spirituality, which I read quite a few years ago (it featured on this blog at that point). It is fascinating! And the bonus for me was that it introduced me to the work of US-Architect Christopher Alexander and his understanding of wholeness in the field of architecture (and of course the wider implications). She also has two useful essays (The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Discipline; and A Hermeneutical Approach to the Study of Christian Spirituality), while McIntosh has one (Lover Without a Name: Spirituality and Constructive Christology Today) in Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality (pub. 2005).