- A Plea for Ethnographic Methods and a Spirituality of Everyday Life in the Study of Christian Spirituality: A Norwegian Case of Clergy Spirituality
Neither existing literature on clergy spirituality specifically, nor Christian spirituality more generally, has traditionally devoted much attention to the role of ordinary family life and parenting when it comes to shaping the spirituality of pastors, or church employees.1 Rather, this kind of literature has usually focused on spiritual practices, where a prerequisite has often been that you are able to withdraw from—or do something in addition to—ordinary daily life. So how do we respond to pastors who describe their spiritual lives in ways that foreground the ordinary?
But at the same time I learn stuff from being a mother, and I feel that it gives me, how should I put it then, sacred . . . sacred moments (laughing), that I believe are God given. And it gives me ideas for my preaching that I also believe can contribute to opening up [the Christian faith] for others(Hannah).
God encounters me wherever I am if I seek God. In the midst of the everyday, and in the midst of it all. And this made it an entirely different experience for me, and an encounter between me as a human being and experiences of God, which became much more commonplace, but in a way much greater too, for all of a sudden I could see God in small things; In the joy of being allowed to eat. . . , to have dinner with the kids, and it was much more the everyday stuff that all of a sudden became fundamental. There was something about, that’s where God’s faithfulness was appearing(William, emphasis mine).
What counts as “real spirituality” or “real pastoral spirituality”? What can be sustainable sources of spiritual nourishment for clergy and others who are employed by the church?2 These questions might call for a wider understanding of pastoral spirituality than has traditionally been the case, and also for the willingness to look for such spirituality outside the explicitly [End Page 94] “religious or spiritual sphere.” The quotes above are taken from open ended, in-depth interviews with ordained pastors in my Norwegian, Lutheran context. The twenty-one strategically sampled interviewees of this study on clergy spirituality all served as pastors in the Church of Norway (CofN) at the time they were interviewed.3
At the outset of my research, my focus was primarily the contemplative or devotional practices of the clergy.4 However, during the analysis, the salience and significance of everyday practices related to children and family life began emerging as a pattern worth exploring more in depth. This is a discovery that I would have probably not reached had I only studied classical texts written by spiritual figures such as Julian of Norwich, St. John of the Cross, or Evelyn Underhill.
This essay, then, has a twofold purpose; one material and one methodological. Materially, it makes a plea for the significance of an everyday spirituality not only for lay (people), but also for clergy, at least in non-Catholic traditions. This might also apply to lay leaders and deacons in Catholic contexts. Methodologically, I want to suggest that an ethnographic approach might enrich the study of Christian spirituality by expanding the sources (or data) to be explored, and by challenging or nuancing existing categories of the field. The ethnographic lens gives access to the spiritual experiences of contemporary people who have not written—or are not in the position to write—spiritual texts themselves.
My understanding of Christian spirituality is largely informed by Sandra Schneiders’ definition of the phenomenon, emphasizing experience,5 but also by Elizabeth Drescher’s critique of Schneiders, and her move towards practice.6 In this paper, Christian spirituality is defined as “the way in which a person experiences the relationship to God, and nurtures and expresses his or her faith with a special emphasis on Christian practice.”
A Plea for Ethnographic Methods, and How They May Enrich the Study of Christian Spirituality
1. Expansion of Available Sources or Data
The use of ethnography, widely understood,7 or methodologies from the social sciences have, until...