A TIO Interview
Spirituality & Practice is a website with 27,000 webpages, each a resource for individuals and communities seeking spiritual wisdom and guidance in their everyday lives. The site receives about 1.5 million unique visitors each year (more than 6,000 every day), who click on 5 million page-links. The site also hosts more than 100 online on-demand e-courses, all having to do with spiritual practice. Thousands sign up each year for the modestly priced courses. Hundreds of books and movies have been reviewed, and spiritual leaders from dozens of different religious traditions, alive or passed, are profiled, quoted, and linked to additional resources. S&P includes blogs, “Praying the News,” curricula, videos, galleries, poetry and stories, and more.
But S&P is much more than a remarkably rich digital library of spiritual resources, free to the world. TIO talked with Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat about creating this digital ministry and what it means for individuals and spiritual/religious communities everywhere.
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TIO: Tell us how you came to create Spirituality and Practice.
Frederic Brussat: S&P is the consolidation of 40 years of work. We started out as a resource center for Christians looking for the best resources in popular culture to use in their congregations. We talked about it being for teachers and preachers. So we provided them with book, film, rock music, television, art, and theatre reviews.
Mary Ann Brussat: We organize our spiritual resources in contexts where people are most engaged in life, though the media we use keeps changing. For 20 years we produced study guides for television networks for movies like Shogun and Winds of War, the first features about anorexia and incest, and dozens more. Back then TV was what you talked about at the water cooler the next day.
FB: In the early 1990s we sensed a sea change to spirituality, a deluge of books, people talking more about their spirituality than their faith, interest in poets like Rumi. We shifted our emphasis to delivering resources for those on a spiritual journey. This emphasis expanded our ministry since a growing number of people were seeking wisdom, guidance, and practices to deepen or enhance their traditional faith. We spent two years writing SPIRITUAL LITERACY – Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, published in 1996. It’s filled with hundreds of prayers, reflections, poems, and stories about spirituality in the different arenas of our lives.
MAB: That was the same year we quit working with newsletters and magazines and moved to the internet. For ten years we provided and managed the internet content for Spirituality and Health Magazine, before launching S&P in 2006.
TIO: What sets S&P apart from the thousands of religious, spiritual websites around the world today, largely without anywhere near the numbers you draw month after month?
FB: The foundation of this digital ministry is an Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy with 37 practices – from Attention to Zeal – which are common to all the world’s religions and cherished by spiritual independents and others as elegant character qualities which enrich our daily lives and doings.
TIO: How did you decide on these 37?
MAB: By that time we had surveyed, collected, and reviewed thousands of spiritual resources, collecting quotations, and as we focused in on “spiritual literacy” in our daily lives, these practices emerged for us.
FB: They actually came as if in a trance! They were waiting to be identified and the definitions flowed. Should there be more? Perhaps, but these 37 have served us well and provide a framework, a lens, to identify spiritual practices wherever you find them.
MAB: Our next book, Spiritual Rx – Prescriptions for Leading a Meaningful Life (2000), has a chapter on each of the practices – definitions and practices. We found that the Alphabet worked as a good operating framework while deciding what to include in the books and now with everything else we do.
Over time we’ve used it as a wonderful bridge in three different ways. First, the Alphabet is a bridge between religions, since all religions have these practices for transformation to one degree or another. A second bridge is between religious folks and the spiritually independent. Gratitude, for instance, is important in most religious traditions. It is also important to many ‘spiritual but not religious’ people – they just don’t practice it in a religious framework. The same with forgiveness.
Finally, the Alphabet is a bridge to popular culture – books, movies, websites which explore these practices. It’s all about building connections, and the beauty of the internet is that it reinforces the idea that everything is connected. I love Alan Jones’ definition: “Spirituality is the art of making connections.”
FB: It’s worth mentioning here that the second foundation of this digital ministry is practicing everyday spirituality, whereby we see the sacred meaning of everything around and within us. Back in my seminary days, and then in the parish, I had read quite a bit theologically and was disappointed that it was so abstract. You’ve got to start with the experience of people, with their lives. So as a pastor I invited young people to bring their favorite rock and roll, and we talked about it. Women in our church were reading serious novels, so we started a book club.
MAB: In looking for spiritual resources, we always start by asking, “Where are the people, where are they living?” As opposed to what we usually get at weekly worship – “Here is who we are and what we believe.” Say you are interested in providing spiritual resources for the elder community, growing so fast right now. You need to address the special needs in their daily lives when you consider their spiritual growth. Their health concerns, death and dying, legacy work, what you want to pass on, harvesting the meaning of your life – these are their concerns, and spiritual resources need to take them into account.
FB: Remember how Jesus related to people. When he was talking to peasant women, he told a story about the woman who lost a coin. To the shepherds he talked about the lost sheep. His stories were all set in terms of these people’s everyday lives. That’s how we identify and promote our resources – discovering and nurturing the 37 practices in our daily lives, where people are actually most engaged in the world.
TIO: What’s new this year at S&P?
FB: As Christian educators we have watched the decline of traditional mainstream Christianity and the growing [From S&P’s “12 Quotes on Peace“ gallery.] interest in spirituality as an alternative to the beliefs, dogma, and exclusivism of the past. We have mapped this transition point and come up with A Progressive Christian Spirituality for the twenty-first century, characterized by openness to other paths, radical views of Jesus, spiritual literacy, mending of the world, and a global community of people in service to others. At the same time, in response to the wide media coverage of the ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ and ‘None,’ we’ve assembled a A Field Guide for the Spiritually Independent, a term coined by Rabbi Rami Shapiro.
In 100 Best Transformational Movies we salute those who provide us with inspiring and soulful ‘artists of life’ who muster the creativity and courage to transform their lives and often the lives of those around them. This 14-page resource provides links to a review of each film. And the Climate Change map is a 41-page resource of resources which we’ve curated with the best content on the subject: quotes, e-courses, spiritual practices, films, books, organizations, and teachers. It is part of our effort to show the deep connections between everyday spirituality and sacred activism.
MAB: The Elder Spirituality Project is another new emphasis on the website, a response to the needs and interests of this growing segment of the population. We started by offering a series of e-courses led by elders including the late Angeles Arrien, Joan Chittister, Christina Balwin, and William Martin. We’ve just finished a course presented by Sage-ing International on “Living Your Legacy.” And we’ve added to the website a whole section of curated content on elder spirituality, including spiritual practices, children’s and adult books, DVDs, documentaries about inspiring elders, and more.
FB: Right now we’re working on the The Reverence Project, which will launch with our redesigned website in January. We’re collecting practices from all the religious traditions on “radical respect” and “awe” and identifying ways where more reverence is needed in our society and world.
MAB: Of the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy’s 37 spiritual practices, reverence is one of our favorites. It’s really very practical, while being abstract. When you see reverence as radical respect, you see how it touches on so much of daily life – caring for creation , the love of nature, recycling, not littering, fight for animals and wildlife habitat, opposing sex trafficking. It goes on and on. Reverence is about awe, and from a spiritual perspective, everything is awesome.
TIO: Thank God and thank you Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat for your remarkable work.
The Alphabet of Spiritual Practices