Joseph R. Myers is an entrepreneur, speaker, writer, and owner of FrontPorch, a consulting firm that helps churches, businesses, and other organizations promote and develop community. Author of Organic Community andThe Search to Belong, Myers is also a founding partner of the communications arts group settingPace, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find out more about Joe at www.languageofbelonging.com
I have been wrestling with “Spiritual Formation.”
What is it? Can it be accomplished? How?
Spiritual practices seem so empty at times.
I have been led to a beginning question, one that is most perplexing. If we are to gain any knowledge or experience of spiritual formation, maybe we should contemplate this question first. Maybe it holds the key.
What is the soul?
There, I asked it aloud. Now it must be dealt with.
What if the soul is not something we have, but rather is something we are? “It is the very life-pulse within us, that which makes us alive…As such it has two functions.
First of all, it is the principle of energy. Life is energy. There is only one kind of body that does not have any energy or tension within it: a dead one. The soul is what gives life. Inside us, it lies the fire, the eros, the energy that drives us…”The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, Ronald Rolheiser.
Rolheiser also states: “But the soul does more than merely give energy. It is also the adhesive that holds us together, the principle of integration and individuation within us. The soul not only makes us alive, it also makes us one.”
What if spiritual formation was the nurturing of this fire burning within us—the energy and tension that define “alive?” What if it’s about finding a way for peace and tension to live in harmony?
What if spiritual formation is less about spiritual practices and more about nurturing wholeness? What if it is about nurturing live-giving relationships and communities?
What if spiritual formation was more about living with Christ than practicing Christ?
It seems that, if this is true, then spiritual formation practices would have a more organic order than a master plan mindset. Our practices would have more descriptive than prescriptive patterns.
Patterns are integral to our lives. They protect us, help us organize what we do from day to day, and even entertain us. Most of the time, we don’t even think about them. We simply absorb them.
When we see a man coming toward us in the distance, we observe the pattern of his walk and can know instantly if he is a good friend and not someone intending to do us harm. When we wake up in the morning, our first thought may be: What day is it? Weekdays tend to follow one pattern; weekends another. We hear three or four notes of a melody and we begin to sing along.
Patterns, as organizational tools, can be prescriptive or descriptive. Master plans tend to follow prescriptive patterns. Prescriptive patterns are “prescribed;” they are specific, rigid, and regular. A physician dictates which medication you should use, how often you should take it, and for how long. A general aviation pilot knows to follow a basic airport traffic pattern when no air traffic control tower is present. The patient gets better; collisions are minimized. Sometimes prescriptive patterns are good and necessary.
But when we talk about spiritual formation, prescriptive patterns may not be helpful. Forcing behaviors to accomplish spiritual health may not be the “silver bullet” we are looking for.
Organic order is strengthened by descriptive patterns. Descriptive patterns have an expressive, evocative, and eloquent spirit. They describe reality. They don’t force it. We discover descriptive patterns through observation, as they emerge.
Maybe it would be more helpful to think of those elements that keep us alive and together, and describe those as our journey of spiritual formation.
Lord, help me to be alive and soulful…