In the past, on the rare occasion, I heard someone use the term “Pietist” the image that immediately came to mind was that of a man in the 1600’s, dressed in black pants, black boots, white shirt, buttoned to the top, and a black jacket. If you could see his face, you’ll notice a pained expression. Pietist was not a term I EVER used, until 2017.
In 2017 our church began to explore a new denominational relationship, and one of the denominations would use the term “Pietist” in the way of identification and with pride. Was I confused! It needs to be said that terms have their place, but for a term whose time has passed, why are people using it with such pride? Who would want to be identified with such a term? So, I began to ask those “in the know,” or should have been “in the know” to be often met with mostly blank looks and a mumbled attempt at definition. So, with no one else to turn to I looked to the authority, Mariam Webster. Webster defines it this way: “17th-century religious movement originating in Germany in reaction to formalism and intellectualism and stressing Bible study and personal religious experience.”
Preparing for a class this summer I was forced to dig further, but fortunately, I found the “person in the know” I needed. Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom in her book Angels, Worms, and Bogeys, offers this description. “Pietism included an emphasis of the individual’s relationship with God, a devotion to Scripture, and a strong understanding of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.” What? Pietism should not be an isolated seventeenth-century experience. Pietism that is a personal relationship with God, devotion, and love of Holy Scripture and reliance and trust in the work of the Holy Spirit is what we need today!
While I was raised and trained in the North American center of Reformed theology, over the last six years, I have been blessed in ways too many to mention by the humble traditions of the Roman Catholic Church as I explored training for Spiritual Direction. They taught me reliance and a love of Scripture. They also taught me that God is in all things. They taught me anew that the Spirit of God resides in me, leading and guiding me in “the way of righteousness. “This experience changed my life and deepened my relationship with God. What I experienced was the reality of “Piety.”
Now, the image I have when I hear “Piety” mentioned, I see a guy in shorts, longish grey hair often pulled in a ponytail, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Oul Kai shoes. You will notice his face because there is no hiding the peace. Yup, I am a Pietist at heart!