One of postmodernism’s gifts is the realization that life does not happen in a vacuum. We all approach life from a particular point of view, shaped by our upbringing, social standing, personality, etc. In Spirituality with Clothes On: Examining What Makes Us Who We Are, Gareth Brandt considers how this apply to our spirituality. That is to say, he examines how a host of factors, like our family structures and gender, shape how we relate to God and how we experience him.
The title Spirituality with Clothes On communicates that rather than spending our time trying to strip away these life-shaping factors in order to arrive at some sort of pure or “naked” spirituality, we ought to instead embrace them as items which help us understand our spirituality. Just as the articles of clothing in our wardrobes say something about our identity, so too do social and psychological factors speak about our spiritual identity.
Healthy spirituality happens when these factors are reflected on and integrated into our understanding of our relationship with God.
This book is intended for a broad audience. The accessible writing style makes the interdisciplinary content (including elements of biblical study, history and psychology) appealing for anyone with an interest in spirituality.
Brandt is a professor of practical theology at Columbia Bible College; Spirituality with Clothes On has its origins in the class he teaches there on faith formation.
Brandt writes from a Mennonite perspective: he was raised in a conservative, rural Mennonite context and he now is a part of Mennonite Church Canada. Throughout his work, values of the Mennonite tradition, such as simplicity and the community hermeneutic, are evident.
Brandt begins his book by laying out his premise that there are factors in our life that shape our spirituality. After making his case, Brandt spends the rest of the book examining a selection of these factors.
Two chapters examining the primary role Scripture plays in our spirituality bookend Brandt’s exploration of factors. The former chapter identifies five basic truths about spirituality. From a biblical point of view, spirituality is a process, is God-initiated, involves human response, happens in community and is mysterious. The latter chapter contains a reflection on Colossians 3:12–17 which fittingly encourages believers to “clothe yourselves” in virtues including compassion, humility, gentleness, love and thankfulness.
Brandt suggests that living in accordance with these virtues gives us a picture of what mature spirituality looks like.
In between, Brandt examines various items of “clothing,” some of which we may not typically associate with spirituality (e.g., the role of consumerism in our lives). These chapters are full of useful insights and ideas that will help readers better understand themselves and those with whom they interact and minister. For example, the chapter on the role of personality provides the reader with a description of nine different spirituality types. (A quiz in the appendix helps readers discern their type.)
Another item of “clothing” the reader may find especially helpful is Brandt’s chapter on woundedness. Here, Brandt takes his reader on a journey through his own story of childhood abuse. In doing so, he compassionately encourages the reader to understand that their wounds do not diminish spiritual experience but rather can “become an integral part of our spiritual formation.”
Spirituality with Clothes On would be helpful to anyone looking to understand themselves and their relationship with God better. It leaves room for further discernment and exploration. Brandt is generally able to avoid the pitfall of forcing his own clothes on readers; instead, he provides tools to analyze our own wardrobes.
Some readers may struggle with Brandt’s chapter on consumerism. There Brandt expresses his strong personal convictions that part of a healthy spirituality ought to include a minimalist approach to consumption. For readers who are not used to thinking about the ramifications of their spending habits on their spirituality this may seem jarring. Nevertheless, Brandt’s passion and activism on this topic should not be written off but weighed carefully.
Spirituality with Clothes On is the type of book we need more of in our postmodern era: grounded in the story of Scripture, well researched, interdisciplinary and accessible to a wide audience.
Travis Barbour is associate pastor at Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.