A new book co-written by an ACU academic, Spiritual Formation: The History of the Mystics, has received a commendation from the National Council of Churches Australia for its contribution to Christian unity.
The book by Dr. Don Gates and Head of Peter Faber Business School (Sydney), Professor Peter Steane msc, provides a framework for ministry, social justice action, and policy with practical disciplines for the spiritual journey.
Mystical experiences from the Old and New Testament are described in great detail as are revelations of early church leaders from Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to later European mystics such as John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.
The book also highlights the 18th Century Enlightenment period that saw mystics such as John and Charles Wesley emphasise a social holiness evidenced in social action, such as Wilberforce’s anti-slavery campaign. This continued with William and Catherine Booth’s founding of the Salvation Army.
Spiritual Formation: The History of the Mystics then offers practical advice on the four key spiritual disciplines - meditation, prayer, fasting and study - and gives tips from great spiritual leaders who mastered these practices.
Professor Steane said throughout the Christian tradition, there are many mystics: desert mothers and fathers, hermits, founders of religious congregations and evangelical preachers who provided a tapestry of Christian leadership charisms.
“These mystics have founded and re-founded Congregations, Societies and Churches over time spanning hundreds of years,” he said.“Wisdom comes in many forms: numeracy, literacy, artistic, as well as spirituality.
“The spirituality of mystics shaped their charisms and their legacies in Christian leadership formation attributes – in providing hospitality, respectful communities, safe workplaces, listening and discernment management skills, and by innovation and change capabilities.
”Professor Steane said the spiritual skills that were described by Saint John Paul II, were one of the key attributes for Catholic identity and mission, and for leadership, whether clerical or lay, in the modern Church.He said for Australian Catholic University (ACU), the book is a resource that informs our leadership and contribution to the Australian Church.
“While it can be said that ACU is in this world, it is also true ACU is not wholly of this world,” he said.“Our business may be to stamp a Catholic intellectual identity in the Australian higher education scene, but in a way our mission includes a dimension that transcends the secularity of that world.
“At ACU, the role of both academic leadership and the formation of future leaders (for the professions in health, teaching, ministry and business) entails understanding the nature of Christian spirituality as well as engagement in revealing that Spirit in our behaviour.
”The 238-page book, with 417 pages of freely downloadable annotated referencing, is being translated into the Indian vernacular next year.
*Dr Donald Gates is a retired Salvation Army officer with 54 years of service. He has held appointments in education, management, ministry and social service, including nine years in Papua New Guinea. He continues to research values in social and economic policy.
*Dr Peter Steane, MSC, is a Catholic priest with three decades of experience in education, formation, and leadership development. He is currently a professor of management at ACU, and continues to research and teach ethical leadership, strategic thinking and organisational renewal.