The Treasure in Our Midst
Spirituality and Practice – Part 2
by Paul Chaffee
TIO’s initial profile of Spirituality & Practice, in November 2012, suggested that the website was the premier gathering of spiritual resources and practices on the planet. Its 24,000 web pages constituted a vast library of reviews, profiles, blogs, and on-demand e-courses.
Six years later, while sporting a beautiful new web platform, S&P has kept its vision and goals intact: “We envision a global circle of people vitally engaged with the wisdom and practices of the spiritual traditions, who are thereby equipped to live deeper and fuller lives and to serve their communities and the wider world.” That original purpose prevails, but the new numbers are astonishing.
Today S&P supports some 40,000 webpages. This includes 1,450 spiritual practice instructions (in a searchable database), 350 articles on spiritual practice; 200 profiles of spiritual teachers; more than 7,000 book reviews, 4,700 book excerpts, 5,500 film reviews, and 500 blog posts; 82 photo and meme galleries, 11,400 spiritual quotations (in a searchable database); and special sections, “Explorations” of major topics, key practices, and particular religious traditions. S&P’s interactive on-demand e-course list now includes 169 titles, with two dozen new ones coming online every year. As ever, S&P only reviews, collates, and collects content co-founders Mary Ann and Frederic Brussat think is valuable. They don’t have time to critique what they don’t like. (See TIO’s first profile to understand why their decisions are trustworthy.)
In spite of the growth, S&P is not about the numbers but rather the singular care for and nurture of us all at the level of spirituality, whatever tradition(s) or idiosyncrasies we each bring to the table. And S&P’s back-story during this period of growth is as inspiring as the statistics.
Crossing the Country
Six years ago the Brussats owned the 10th floor of a loft building in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, a large home that included their work stations, a huge library, and a comfy ‘living room’ without walls. Forty years of collaborative publishing about religion and culture had jelled into their remarkable website. S&P was thriving. But the Brussats were reflecting on how it would continue as age caught up with them. They explored possibilities for a sustaining relationship which might outlive them with several seminaries, but didn’t find a good fit.
When they became acquainted with Claremont School of Theology in Southern California though, they were intrigued. CST, while grounded in Methodism, is much more tuned to the interreligious world than most seminaries in America. It has interfaith-friendly graduate students and faculty who would be happy to participate in S&P’s programs. In a mutual relationship, both S&P and CST could be strengthened. S&P would have a ‘home’ in a compatible, fruitful environment, and, for its part, CST would have special access to the largest curated, digital collection of spiritual content anywhere. CST is already online savvy, so S&P’s huge e-course curriculum is a plum it could promote to great advantage. A conversation began, the Brussats visited Claremont, California several times, and the challenge of moving their whole operation came front and center.
Meanwhile, the growth and development of the website continued unabated. At any given time, S&P is collecting and curating content about new topics. In recent years, two such “Explorations” have been The Elder Spirituality Project and The Reverence Project. Today they each can stand on their own as rich websites with more compelling resources than you could imagine. The fact that each Exploration is an interconnected element in the rich digital web called Spirituality & Practice enriches and magnifies the value of diving in wherever you are attracted.
In 2015 a relationship was struck between S&P and CST. The 10th floor loft in Manhattan was sold, CST helped the Brussats find office and library space in a building adjacent to the campus, and S&P came west that summer. Pilgrim Place, a senior community cheek-by-jowl with the seminary, had a place for them. It is filled with progressive religious leaders who are completely supportive of the Brussats and their work. This is a considerable advantage for two New Yorkers who arrived in southern California without a single driver’s license!
Two years since they moved, they are particularly enjoying “the weather, the citrus, and the flowers!” The relationship with CST is thriving. Currently they are developing plans for certificate programs to be offered through the seminary for CEUs and academic credit. The first one, “Interfaith Prayer Practices,” will repurpose some of the e-courses by leading spiritual teachers currently in S&P’s system with additional assignments supervised by CST faculty.
Spiritual Practices Supporting Democracy
In partnership with the Fetzer Institute, a large new Exploration is now being posted, titled The Practicing Democracy Project. This project’s overview page sets out a new challenge: Democracy is more than the system of government. It is a way of life based upon citizens' commitment to the common good… The Practicing Democracy Project assumes that American democracy can flourish only when citizens are united at a deep level that transcends ideology, race, and class, to a shared spiritual and moral vision of what America should be. We believe that democracy as a way of life can be strengthened and deepened through spiritual practices — both those traditionally considered to be "inner work" and those that encourage active engagement with our neighbors and communities ...
The collection and curation process for Practicing Democracy should be larger than in previous explorations. S&P is currently accepting applications for three project fellowships.
No surprise, to cope with its own growth and continuing activities, S&P has added two executive staff. Patricia Carlson is Senior Editor and Program Director; besides writing, editing, and curating content, she manages S&P’s e-courses. Darren Polito is the Creative Director responsible for managing all the images on the website, creating galleries, and posting content. He also writes the Ritual Space blog.
In a world where promoting brands and garnering media attention often seem more important than the task at hand, Spirituality & Practice is an anomaly. It flies under the radar, doesn’t nominate itself for awards, and lets the work stand for itself. It is a Treasure Island in the roiling sea of our much-conflicted global culture. Go visit.
Header Photo: Nullfy, C.c. 2.0 nc