Spiritual Formation and the Church

Kyle has been leading Rivendell into a tour de force of the spiritual disciplines, and much of what we have discussed has been enlightening for us as a community. Touching on these subjects not only puts oneself under the microscope, it also shows the structure of a group of people and how they live out their lives. So far, we have covered disciplines like scripture memorization, prayer, Sabbath, lectio divina, the Jesus prayer, and fasting (Kyle, if I missed something let me know!). Yesterday, as we were entering our time of commmunion, Lindy spoke about the difficulty of practicing these things. He was honest about his own struggles, about how it is much easier to consume ourselves with discussions about spirituality without really having to do the grunt work of it all. And I think that is key, because many of us so often think that spirituality is something that is easy. The problem occurs because so much of the terminology we surround the already loaded word ‘spirituality’ is usually synonymous with ease. Think about it. Rest, peace, tranquility, communion, these are just a few of the words that get used frequently when we talk about spiritual issues. These things are conflated together often, and it is easy to see why.

But to face the silence, to open up the scriptures, to rest for a day, to withdraw yourself from others or to abstain from eating is a direct challenge to our everyday routines. We rarely encounter the mystery of God on a daily basis, we are so busy with ourselves and with managing our accounts, making sure the barista gets our coffee order right, hedging our bets on whether or not we can gain affection from others. We work terribly hard to distance ourselves from any abruption to our schedules, emotions, or our passions. We are both the taskmaster and the slave wrapped into one package, and if we feel that our product is not making us rich enough, we enslave ourselves even more to get what we want.

Today I started rereading one of my favorite books of all time, Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Throughout the book, Nouwen reflects upon his life in conjuntion with Jesus’ parable about the lost son who returned home to his father. Nouwen sees himself as the prodigal, the elder son whose resentment has made him depart from home in an emotional way, and finally as the father who welcomes home those who were once lost. I think that is a healthy analogy for Christian communities, for we have all been both sons at certain times in our lives. We have lived as if our father does not exist, we have also resented our father when he did not give to us as we thought he should, and yet we have been called to come home, to eventually take on the characteristics of the father and shepherd other lost sons and daughters. Nouwen says that this journey starts in prayer, and I want to extend that to the spirital disciplines in general, to the formation of Christians who are trying to follow in the father’s footsteps. Lindy is right, this only starts with us actually doing these things, praying the prayers, silencing ourselves to hear God better, fasting and reading the text to shape us into people who long for the love of God to be shown in this world. My prayer is that we allow the Spirit of God to invade our territories, to move in us and form us in ways we could not imagine.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Spiritual Formation and the Church

  1. I am continually reminded of how much we don’t want our religiousness to interrupt our daily lives, our routine or our priorities. We want our religion to act as a tool of validation – a rubber stamp as it were – to make us feel good about our passions and plans and to anchor us when we begin second guessing or struggling with what’s going on in our lives.

    I have fought against this series. I love the idea of inviting people to connect with God through contemplative disciplines, but the pastor/teacher in me knows that a) this isn’t the kind of lesson series people want to hear and b) lots of folks probably aren’t going to try this stuff.

    Yet I think the effort to expose us to different means of contemplation, worship and connection with God is worth it – even if only a few folks really ‘give it a shot.’

    I love that line:

    “We have lived as if our father does not exist, we have also resented our father when he did not give to us as we thought he should, and yet we have been called to come home, to eventually take on the characteristics of the father and shepherd other lost sons and daughters.”

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