Spirituality in the Ordinary

Book pick: Ann Applegarth recommends Am I Living a Spiritual Life? By Father Adrian van Kaam and Susan Muto


Questions and Answers for Those Who Pray

by Susan Muto and Adrian van Kaam

Sophia Institute Press, 2006

191 pages, $14.95

To order: 1-800-888-9344


If ever an English word has been overused, misused, confused and abused, it is the word spirituality. Spirituality, the gradual awareness of God’s amazing presence in a human life, has become a trendy New Age buzzword that often suggests something quite the opposite.

But even for Catholics, who should understand the precise meaning of the word, the title of this inspiring book poses a crucial question. One needn’t look far to see devout Catholics who are exhausted by religious well-doing, as well as less ardent souls who profess belief in the things learned in CCD or RCIA and yet live as though those beliefs aren’t relevant to their everyday lives.

Neither extreme represents what Father Adrian van Kaam calls the “unique form” God wants to give to all people.

“For Christians, this means that they have to find their unique life form in Christ,” he writes in an updated version of Am I Living a Spiritual Life?, a book he wrote in 1978 with Susan Muto. “It’s not only a question of gradually discovering the form my life has to take but of allowing my daily existence to be an answer to this call. ... This book is meant to help you remain in dialogue with this voice of the Lord. Its aim is to assist you in finding the thread that holds the events of life together in this graced disclosure of what God calls you to be.”

This work contains a section where the authors discuss reading, meditation, freedom, obedience, journaling, spiritual listlessness, discouragement, loneliness, fear of death, aging, and even the surprisingly essential aspect of play. Two shorter sections show strategies for “Integrating Prayer and Participation” and “Living Christian Community.”

The update might have devoted more space to the latter, as forming and nourishing friendships with other Catholics is much more difficult in this era of increasing busy-ness and isolation than it was when the book was written.

Father van Kaam, a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit who holds a doctorate in psychology, originated the discipline of formative spirituality. He and Muto, cofounders of the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality, have taught and written dozens of books on formation science, formation anthropology, and formation theology, the components of formative spirituality.

Father van Kaam and Muto write with grace and clarity, and their concrete illustrations of spiritual truths are right on target. Ordinary things such as slingshots, buttered toast, candles, raindrops, men chatting about a ball game, sailboats, musicians, rosebushes, oil wells and children’s rooms spark instant understanding of complex ideas.

When illustrating the need for God’s inner peace in the midst of outer agitation, for example, the authors write: “Picture a pond in winter. A skater pivoting on the ice. A solitary person day after day practicing a figure eight. Turn, reverse, turn — climaxing in a vigorous yet graceful spin. The pivot ends abruptly. The skater glides away to perfect her skill. What’s the secret of such a feat? It’s the skater’s ability to focus on one object. As long as she concentrates on a tree, a fence, or a point on the distant horizon, she’ll maintain her balance.”

Father van Kaam concludes, “As I discover increasingly who I am before God, my life becomes more consistent. In the light of doctrine, the Scriptures, traditional wisdom and personal inspiration, I can come to see what is the best option among the different life choices offered to me.”

Am I Living A Spiritual Life? teaches its readers how to recognize and seize this best option and how to gently maneuver the pathway to a wise, holy, and balanced Christian life.

Anne Applegarth writes from Roswell, New Mexico.