A Prophetic Word from Kenneth Leech

Kenneth Leech

Again and again, the Anglican theologian Kenneth Leech strikes me as one of the most important voices in contemporary Christian spirituality. Here is a passage from an introduction he wrote to a book, now long out of print, called Three Spiritual Directors for Our Time (by Julia Gatta, published by Cowley Publications, 1986):

The demand for spiritual direction, which has become something of an epidemic in parts of the United States, is an understandable reaction against consumerism. But it is all too easy to make “spirituality” another commodity or product to be promoted within a social and political framework which is taken for granted. Private spiritualities, safe, unprophetic, wholly inward, are very popular… The demand for direction within the churches has come at a time when perhaps they were least equipped to provide it. A church which has ceased to pray, ceased to challenge the principalities and powers, and become concerned more with the provision of comfort than with transformation, is in a weak position to guide… But the recovery of an authentic Christian mysticism is one of the greatest needs of our day.

Preach it, Ken!

What do you think? Do you agree with Father Ken that the church today “is in a weak position to guide”? What are we to do about this sad state of affairs?

Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
Pentecost and Ecstasy
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • bob

    With the current election cycle a private spirituality becomes more and more attractive. Inwardness helps to remove the particularities of religious beliefs and remove myself from the combative world. It seems so hopeless with the societal desolation that seems overwhelming. With the structural issues so immoveable my only movement seems to be a private religion that affects only my family and a couple of friends.

    • Carl McColman

      Bob, I understand where you’re coming from. But I think we need to resist the temptation to retreat into an exclusively private spirituality. Granted, there will always be a solitary dimension to spirituality (“Go into your room and pray in secret”), but it’s important to distinguish between solitary and private. A solitary spirituality, it seems to me, can (and should) remain engaged with the social nature of the Gospel. And for those of us who are discouraged by the current partisan political climate, perhaps we can find alternative ways to create the beloved community in our midst. “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.”

  • Jim Paradisi

    I absolutely agree with Ken.The need for authentic christian mysticism to be taught in our churches today is essential for conscinous transformation.Being & Becoming should be taught as the norm not just for a select few.The art of contemplation needs to be taught and practiced by christians to bring about effective change in culture.

  • http://prodigal.typepad.com Paul Fromont

    Hi Carl. The edition you mention is out of print but Wipf & Stock have a retitled edition available of this gem – The Pastoral Art of the English Mystics