Today's Christians are not looking for instructions about how to live a spiritual life

(Unsplash/Christian Widell)

During the past decade, several Catholic spiritual leaders have used social media to gain a large audience, communicating their message to thousands or even millions of followers. Other new leaders are less visible, gravitating toward smaller communities where they share their personal experiences to encourage others to live their faith.

Either way, people are looking for "humanity on display" in those from whom they seek spiritual guidance, said Franciscan Fr. Daniel Horan, a professor of systematic theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where he teaches and writes about spirituality.

"One of the frustrating parts of a lot of our hagiography, our lives of the saints and tradition of holy men and women as models, is that they seem so unrelatable," said Horan.

This is especially unappealing to people today, said Kaya Oakes, a Catholic who wrote The Nones Are Alright, a book about religiously unaffiliated Americans.

"People aren't really as interested in finding a kind of Christ-like figure," she said. "It's more about this sense of searching for a collective resonance."

Oakes said that increasingly people find this resonance through spiritual writers like Jessica Mesman Griffith who write memoirs or personal essays.

The creative nonfiction genre is so "fruitful" today because "people are looking for truth and reading about other people's experiences that they can feel some sort of resonance with," Oakes said. "They're not looking for instructions about how to have a spiritual life."

A version of this story appeared in the Dec 15-28, 2017 print issue under the headline: Seeking relatable guidance .

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