Tuesday, July 09, 2013

There and Back Again

Reflections on attending SSCS conference 2013 

Prayer and worship every morning and evening

The conference of The Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality (SSCS) was held on the retreat-like beautiful campus of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana from June 29- July 2, 2013. I was glad to be able to attend and present a paper though the journey there was long and tiring. It was an 18 hours flight from Singapore to New York, 4.5 hours from New York to Chicago, and another 3 hours by bus from Chicago to South Bend where the campus is located. This is only the traveling time and did not include the transit and waiting time. But the journey was worth it!

The Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality (SSCS) normally holds their conference as part of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) conference which involves about ten thousand participants in a convention center of a major city. It is decided to be a good idea for the society to have its own conference away from the hustle and bustle. This was smaller group consisting of professors and a few graduate students which meant that I was able to meet and talk personally to these spiritual mentors and authors whose books I have been reading and studying for the last forty years. I was able to talk to and interact with Bernard McGinn, Mary Frohlich, Pieter G.R.de Villers, Bo Karen Lee, Lawrence Cunningham, Ann Ansell, Angela Reed and Arthur Holder. There were many others but these are some of those whom I wanted to meet face to face. I was disappointed not to meet Philip Sheldrake and Sandra Schneider who were not able to attend. 

I also met many of the younger scholars.  I am encouraged by Glenn Young (Rockhurst University) with his course on teaching mysticism (a course I myself am thinking of teaching) and Tom Schwanda (Wheaton ) who is working on Puritan spirituality (another area I am interested to explore). I have enjoyed the hospitality and friendliness of these participants. Though I am the only Asian from outside the States and stranger to the clique, I felt welcomed and accepted as their equal. I even have a door-gift for traveling the furthest distance, an honour I am vying with Pieter who is from South Africa.

The theme of the conference was Wonderous Fear and Holy Awe. It was fascinating as one academic paper after another was presented by the speakers;  seeing it unfolding through topics such as St. John of the Cross, ecopiphany, Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandra, spousal kiss in the Song of Songs as espoused by two Cistercians, Hildergard of Bergen, Pascal, Henri Nouwen, Meister Eckhart and Kierkegarard. One thing I have to get used to is their presentation style.  Presentation is reading directly from their papers. Only a few gave out outlines and even fewer use Powerpoint. It can be challenging if the speakers do not enunciate well! I gave my presentation but as I was pretty jet-lagged and very nervous, I am not sure how it went, but I hope it went across well.

The papers are of high standards. These are heady academic stuff and I must confess I enjoyed the intellectual challenge tremendously. It was fascinating to categorise the different types of fear (of the Lord) and different types of wounds implied by St. John of the Cross. An interesting discussion was did Jesus experience the fear of God in the garden of Gethsemane? While the intellectual side of me is lapping this up hungrily, my pragmatic side keep asking about its practical application. I have to continually give myself permission to pursue the knowledge of the wonderous fear and holy awe of God for its own sake.

I have enjoyed the conference and learnt much from it. Made some friendships that I will like to follow up and nurture. What was the warmest feeling was that I realize that I am not alone in this interest in Christian spirituality.  There are only a handful of people in Malaysia and Singapore who are into this area and I have lived with the loneliness of a pioneer in the field for a long time. It is good to find company in this diverse group of individuals with the same interest though I have a travel a long way to meet them.

Soli Deo Gloria

entrance to campus of the University of Notre Dame

my memorable door gift

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Blogger Tony Siew said...

Hi Alex, it's good to know you attended the Conf at Notre Dame. Enjoy reading about your experience. Simeon the Theologian of the 11th century is probably my favourite church father on spirituality. Some years back, I taught a course on John's Gospel focusing on John's notion of spirituality through communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Tony,

So good to hear from you again. Yes, Simeon the Theologian had some interesting thoughts on spirituality. I wished I had attended your course on John's Gospel.

2:57 PM  

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