Each of our neighbours, in any place of worship, will have taken a wandering past pathway of conversion in their lives. They may be quite selective about which moments or incidents from that past they want to discuss openly with a new friend. Nevertheless, if they want to make the most of God’s loving hand, active within their self-understanding, they will need to ask, ‘”Where have I come from?” even while wanting to consider, “Who am I?” and “Where is life leading?” Spirituality is the name we give to whatever blend of sharing, prayer, listening and meditative reflection we try out, in order to reach that fuller self-awareness.
Even long-term residents of Kent can have an impression of this as an area that has been passed by, in the spread of lively Catholic understanding. It can feel like an area of casual visitors, dropping in for the Oyster Festival or a Castle’s attractive flower garden. Yet this is far from the real story of Catholic Kent. Brave hearts and minds have been wrestling with difficult theological truths and spiritual experience here for two thousand years. Names who deserve to be remembered include the Benedictines Augustine of Canterbury and St. Anselm (both Italians), Archbishops such as friar John Peckham and the scholar Stephen Langton, the Franciscan Adam Marsh and day visitor Wolfgang Mozart, through to modern Jesuit theologians Teilhard de Chardin and Henri de Lubac. There are also Catholics who have taught at the University of Kent, or converts such as the novelist Muriel Spark, living alongside the Carmelites, who deserve our attention.
Spirituality has developed in a number of distinctive directions over two thousand years, and familiarity with some of its versions can broaden our self-understanding and stimulate our religious creativity as members of local communities. In our own period, the Church has taken up the challenge of articulating a sensitive dialogue with secular society about the search for meaning and the gifts of God. It will help us to become participants in this dialogue if we learn more of the language of mission and grace which has flourished, even in small ways, amongst our Kent neighbours. The PDF available for downloading with this article gives a more thorough insight into those who have contributed to this language. More names may come to mind, about whom further reflections could be offered in the future.
Reflection from Chris Dyczek, OFM