(Sub)Urban spirituality

A while back I mentioned commentators that suggest contemporary representations of Celtic Spirituality probably say more about the felt needs of Christians today than they accurately describe historical Celtic practice (here).

I’m not sure who I may be plagiarising here, but I’m certain many have noted that with increasing urbanisation, industrialisation and rapid technological advances, there has been a tendency to reminisce fondly of a pre-industrial idyll. This nostalgia may account for some contemporary presentations of Celtic Christianity. They attempt to ground faith on something less transient and manufactured.

For evidence, just look at the images selected for most homemade YouTube worship videos; it’s all seascapes and sunsets. Very seldom will you see a building, let alone a housing estate or factory. Why is it that we prefer a rural conceptual context for expressions of faith and prayer when most of us live in urban and suburban areas? Is it because, to us, rurality expresses the otherness of God?

I don’t know enough about the Iona or Northumbria communities and perhaps they successfully translate their liturgies for the Gorbals or Newcastle? But, I wonder how often we alienate ourselves and our faith from our daily context by focussing on the green pastures and still waters of David’s youth, rather than the roughcast and steel of our own.

Does anyone express well a liturgy of the city? I’ve seen some of the City to City theological material which argues strongly for a focus on civic, economic and cultural centres. But apart from the name, I don’t see much ‘urban’ in the New City Catechism. And what about a liturgy of the suburbs where the sparkling lights and cultural variety fade to grey homogeneity?

It’s interesting that the Bible is perhaps less sentimental than most of our worship. Scripture recognises the draw of the city or at least the reality of urbanisation. I wonder how many of us relate Christian spirituality with the natural or rural world while Scripture describes a holy city the context for the ultimate presence of God with humanity.

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