Friday 20 November 2009

Holy Spirit: readings and poems

As mentioned in an earlier post, this semester I taught an undergraduate course on the Holy Spirit. There were some requests to post my reading list – so here it is. I've listed each of the weekly topics, together with the set readings. Each class also included a brief reading/discussion of a poem – so I've also listed the poems here.

Assessment consisted of class participation (the weekly class included a tutorial discussion of one of the set readings); an essay on patristic pneumatology, an essay on contemporary/constructive pneumatology, and a series of brief written reflections on the set readings.

The required text for the subject was Eugene Rogers' wonderful new anthology, The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Wiley-Blackwell 2009). I was very impressed by how much the students seemed to enjoy and appreciate this book (with one small exception: see Week 9 below) – I'll definitely use it again in future. All asterisked items on the reading list are from this anthology. I've also added a few notes on the overall shape of the course.

1. Knowing the Spirit

  • Robert Jenson*; Eugene Rogers, After the Spirit, 1-16
  • Poem: Veni Creator Spiritus (hymn)*
2. The Spirit in the NT
  • Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence, 860-83; Hans Urs von Balthasar*; Kärkkäinen, Pneumatology, ch. 2
  • Poem: John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1.1-32
3. The Spirit and the body
  • Eugene Rogers, After the Spirit, 45-72; Alasdair Heron, The Holy Spirit, ch. 5; Staniloae*
  • Poem: Gerard Manley Hopkins, "God's Grandeur"
  • Note: These first three weeks were all focused on the Spirit's narrative identity in the NT. Luke-Acts was really the central text for these opening weeks, and we continued to return to Luke-Acts throughout the semester (and also to Romans 8). Next time around, I'll probably replace "The Spirit and the body" with a topic that refers more specifically to Luke-Acts; and I'll also replace some of these early readings with some specific exegetical readings on Luke's theology of the Spirit.
4. The Spirit and prayer
  • Sarah Coakley, "Why Three? Some Further Reflections on the Origins of the Doctrine of the Trinity"; Adrienne von Speyr*; Thomas Smail, The Giving Gift, ch. 9
  • Poem: R. S. Thomas, "Sea-watching"
5. The Spirit and worship
  • Kilian McDonnell, The Other Hand of God, ch. 3; Richard Norris*; Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit I, ch. 5
  • Poem: Rowan Williams, "Rublev"
6. The Spirit and scripture
  • Amy Plantinga Pauw, "The Holy Spirit and Scripture" (in Jensen, ed., The Lord and Giver of Life); Stephen Fowl*
  • Poems: George Herbert, "The H. Scriptures"; R. S. Thomas, "Paul"
7. The Spirit and freedom
  • Rowan Williams*; Joerg Rieger, "Resistance Spirit: The Holy Spirit and Empire" (in Jensen, ed., The Lord and Giver of Life)
  • Poem: Keith Green, "Rushing Wind" (song)
  • Note: I particularly enjoyed the class discussion of this Rowan Williams essay. Williams comes close to arguing that the Spirit is itself the abolition of pneumatology – a challenging thought for a class on pneumatology! In some ways, this tension between the Spirit and pneumatology – or between the Spirit-as-reality and talk-about-the-Spirit – was central to the course. (The texts we read by Coakley also explore this tension in various ways.)
8. The Spirit and desire
  • Sarah Coakley*, "Living into the Mystery of the Holy Trinity: Trinity, Prayer and Sexuality"; Karl Barth, CD II/1, 650-51; Augustine (selections from Confessions and Homilies on I John)
  • Poem: John Donne, "Holy Sonnet XIV"
9. The Spirit and the triune God
  • Augustine, selection from Homilies on I John*; Thomas Smail, The Giving Gift, ch. 6
  • Poem: George Herbert, "Grace"
  • Note: This Augustine selection was my only disappointment with the Rogers reader. Unfortunately, Rogers used the old NPNF translation, and the students were completely put off by the clumsy 19th-century syntax. This was a real shame, since I'd used other selections from the lovely new translation of Augustine's Homilies on I John, and the students found this very accessible. Maybe Rogers could update the translation in his next edition...?
10. The Spirit as God’s mission
  • Gregory, On Pentecost*; Kirsteen Kim, The Holy Spirit in the World, 41-66
  • Poem: Sufjan Stevens, "Seven Swans" (song)
11. The gifts of the Spirit
  • Cyril*; Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, ch. 9; Amos Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh, 292-301; Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence, 886-95
  • Poem: George Hebert, "Whitsunday"
  • Note: This class unexpectedly turned into a discussion of "discerning the Spirit", especially with reference to the Spirit's work in other religions. It was probably the best discussion of the whole course, so next time around I'll add "Discerning the Spirit" as one of the main topics, and I'll probably combine "gifts of the Spirit" and "charismatic experience" as a single topic.
12. The Spirit and charismatic experience
  • Sarah Coakley* (Church of England Doctrine Commission), "Charismatic Experience"; Frank Macchia, "The Spirit and the Power: Spirit Baptism in Pentecostal and Ecumenical Perspective"; Augustine, Homilies on I John, 6.8-13
  • Poem: John Michael Talbot, "One Dark Night" (song; words by St John of the Cross)
13. The Spirit and Christian hope
  • Jürgen Moltmann*; Karl Barth, "Life in Hope", in CD IV/3; Denis Edwards, "Ecology and the Holy Spirit" (in Preece and Pickard, ed., Starting with the Spirit)
  • Poem: Kevin Hart, "The Last Day"
Poem for concluding reflection: Kevin Hart, "Prayer"


Jason Goroncy said...

Looks fantastic Ben. Thanks for posting this.

Robert said...

This is good stuff---thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to the course on eschatology.

Andrew Brower Latz said...

Thanks for posting this, Ben, it's very helpful. Looks like a great course. Is it thirteen weeks long? My undergrads would probably faint if I asked them to read this much! Did yours feel happy with it?

Ben Myers said...

Yeah, it's 13 weeks long (although in future it will be 12 weeks, since we're moving to trimesters). I encourage students to do all the readings, but it's not compulsory. Since one of the readings each week is set for tutorial discussion, they have to come to class with notes/questions from that text. And their reading log assignment is a reflection on any 10 readings (excluding texts set for tutorials). So in total they'd have to do about 22 readings over the semester (out of a total of 35) — but some of them are quite short, so I hope it wasn't too taxing!

Still, I think the format of my ecclesiology course was really much better: for tutorials, students just had to read a few pages each week of Bonhoeffer's Life Together, and then they had to discuss one additional reading each week in their reading log. I still gave them a few different readings for each week, and this gave them more freedom to choose which readings they'd like to do.

Andrew Krinks said...

This looks great.

For what it's worth (I was reminded by the 'Veni Creator Spiritus' above), there's a wonderful poem by Czeslaw Milosz with almost the same title:

Maybe a different sort of "Holy Spirit" poem, but a valid one nonetheless. Milosz--always the irreverent worshiper.

Edward Pothier said...

I re-iterate the comments about the course. Thanks for posting.

I remember reading an absolutely great anecdote about the two poles of study and Spirit, in several places. The first one I could find is in a book about preaching by the Roman Catholic (Jesuit) priest and patristics scholar Walter J. Burghardt which follows:

To me, the unprepared homilist is a menace. I do not minimize divine inspiration; I simply suggest it is rarely allocated to the lazy. Here I resonate to a story told me some years ago at Belmont Abbey by the famed Baptist Biblicist and preacher Dale Moody. A student in his Spirit course at the Louisville seminary wasn't meeting the professor's expectations. So Dr. Moody called him in and (in a delightful drawl I cannot reproduce) said: "Son, you're not doin' all that well in my course on the Holy Spirit. You been studyin'?" "Dr. Moody," the young man replied, "I don't have to study about the Spirit; I'm led by the Spirit." "Son," Moody asked, "that Spirit ever lead you to the library? If He doesn't soon, you're in deep trouble." [Page 10 of Walter J. Burghardt, Preaching: The Art and the Craft (Paulist Press, 1987)]

A.J. Smith said...

Wish I was in your class.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for the Milosz poem, Andrew — I'll have to use that one next time. And Edward, I think I'll use that Moody anecdote too!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ben. An endless, wonderful topic really!

1. An enriching contribution from an Australian author, could be included in week 15, 'The Day of the Spirit' by Geoffrey Bingham:
2. This could go with the poem 'The Day and Days of the Spirit' in 'The Spirit of All Things', both free on a PDF download:

There are lots of good reasons to get out of bed in the morning, hey?

Geri Russell said...

Thanks Ben for this. What a wonderful resource! I especially appreciate the poetry.

"next time around I'll add "Discerning the Spirit" as one of the main topics"

I'm working on a paper on Amos Yong right now and would humbly suggest you place his concept of "discernment" alongside a reading involving his notion of "hospitality" in "Hospitality and the Other."

Matthew Moffitt said...

How did you use Seven Swans?

Anna Blanch said...

As someone working on the Lit and Theology side of things I was pretty impressed by your poetic selections. Thanks for posting this.

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