What is Spiritual Formation?

What is Spiritual Formation?
It is always good to begin with a definition. Here are a few to get us started:

  • “Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” (M. Robert Mulholland Jr., Invitation to a Journey)
  • Mulholland also states, “Spiritual formation is a loving relationship with God that shapes our being rather than a technique or method or program for self-improvement.”
  • “Spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.” (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart)
  • “Christian spiritual formation refers to the intentional communal process of growing in our relationship with God and becoming conformed to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (James C. Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered)

    To read more about what Spiritual Formation is and why it is important click on the Articles menu.

Quotation by Paula D’Arcy

1. LIVE your life at high speed.  No exceptions.  Run hard.
2. STAY scattered and distracted.   The more clutter and activity, the better.
3. TAKE everything personally.  Never evaluate.  Agree.
4. USE blame liberally.  It’s so invigorating.  I wasn’t responsible, you were.  Everything’s your fault.
5. DON”T laugh, especially at yourself.
6. STAY tied to your past. Elevate it to greatness.  Live remembering and longing.  Or missing.  Why do it halfway? Go for it.
7. USE the word “because.”  “I can’t because.”  Because is so little appreciated as a solvent for responsibility.  Try using because.  This will work.
8. NEVER question or think for yourself.  Just keep moving and accepting.  (refer to #1 and #3)
9. CONTINUE to think of God as invisible and distant.  Surely not present in this room.  At this moment.  Not while I’m reading a book.
10. REINFORCE the belief that your life is going to happen soon.  This is not it, not yet.  But one day.  Maybe when I’m finished reading.

Paula D’Arcy in Sacred Threshold

Is Your God Too Small?

Good souls many will one day be horrified at the things they now believe of god.Decades ago I read a book by Paul Little entitled “Your God Is Too Small”. The main premise of the book is simple enough. We all create an image of God which is way too small and is a distortion of what God is really like. “We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.” — St. Augustine. Usually this ‘too small god’ is created in our childhood and may stick with us the rest of our lives. Our image of God often comes out of how we were treated or in some cases mistreated by our parents or others in our growing up years. We add to this ‘too smallness’ ourselves by creating a god in our own image. For example: a bully in the sandbox hurts us and takes away our spot and we react by hating the bully, fighting the bully and kicking the bully out. Now we feel this is our right and we hurt others and kick them out of their sandboxes. We have become the bully. So we project this same image upon God. God is big, strong and pushes people around. And since our god is like this, it adds support to our own pushy behavior. Fr. Thomas Keating identifies three images of God which are quite prevalent in our day and age. ‘The policeman’ who is watching us all the time just waiting for us to make a mistake so he can catch us in the act; ‘the tyrant’ who wants to rule over us with an iron fist for his own benefit and ‘the judge’ who can’t wait to punish us for all our misdeeds. Who would want to have anything to do with that type of god? But is this what the true God is really like? George MacDonald put it this way: “Good souls many will one day be horrified at the things they now believe of God.”
As you enter 2016 what is your image of God? Does your working image of God fit with those I listed above or is there some other dominate image?
How can you discover what God is really like?

Where He Leads Me I Will Follow

The mountains are yearning.Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way.

I grew up in an American Baptist church in Southern California. My parents took me to church along with my two brothers and latter our baby sister. My maternal grandparents were also active in the church. We had Sunday School at 9 a.m. and then over to gym where we had donuts. Then off to the church service. I remember sitting next to my grandfather who gave me “Life Savors” hard candies to keep me happy. I also remember hearing my dad singing the hymns near me on the pew when he wasn’t up in the choir loft singing with the choir. My grandfather didn’t sing well but that didn’t matter because it was just great sitting there with him. At the end of each Sunday morning church service there was an invitation to come forward, accept Jesus as Savoir and Lord and to be baptized into the church. We would sing a hymn and sometimes people would go forward. There was no pressure or begging. Just a simple invitation and a few verses of a hymn. One Sunday when I was 10 years old I went forward. To be honest, I should say a girl my age whose family were friends with our family went forward and I followed. It seemed like the right thing to do. I felt like I was saying that my adult family members were followers of Jesus and now I wanted to take that step for myself. Not long after my decision to go forward the pastor came to our house to talk to me with my parents about what it meant to be baptized. So one Sunday I was baptized by immersion. The pastor recited this verse over me as he did with all those being baptized:  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  Romans 6:4 (NRSV). As I came up out of the water the choir sang the chorus of “Where he leads me I will follow”. I guess that is what I’ve been trying to do from that moment on.
Where He leads me I will follow,
I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way


CONTEMPMPLATIVE ACTIONThere’s got to be more to relating to God than just going to worship, reading Scripture, and saying rote prayers. Have you ever felt like that? Do you want “something” more”? What feeds you spiritually right now? What’s one thing that makes you most passionate about God? Once you discover that maybe you will discover that there is a Christian practice that seems to fit.

I want to briefly list some classic spiritual practices to see if any of them might fit for you.
1. Opening Contemplative Space: identify times in your daily life that provide opportunities for centering in the reality of God. Try to be aware of God’s presence throughout the day.
2. Looking Within: Look inside yourself to see what makes you tick or fails to make you tick in order that you may love. God is not out there somewhere; God is right inside of you.
3. Confession: Confession and forgiveness can be vital parts of your spiritual journey. Tell God each day what you are sorry for and then wait for a sense of God’s forgiveness.
4. Spiritual Reading: Use the four steps of lectio divina which are reading, meditating, speaking and listening the next time you read a short passage of Scripture. Go slow. Go even slower.
5. Develop a “Rule of Life” – a formal list of ways to attend to the rhythms and facets of your spiritual and religious life and relationships. This list should cover all aspects of your life and may be daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually.
6. Visualization: Try visualizing new ways of responding to temptation, mentally rehearsing different choices in a difficult situation, or projecting yourself into a biblical story through imagination.
7. Serving Others: How can you act in the world with compassion each day?

I know this is just a list. Does anything seem to fit? What could you do to learn more about this classical Christian practice so it could actually become a practice in your life? Hint: you don’t have to perfectly understand the practice to begin giving it a try. It might be helpful if you found a spiritual friend or spiritual director who can walk with you as you develop spiritual practices that fit you and help you discover “something more”.

Praying for What We Want

Out Hearts are restless FBI’ve just been reading a book by Janet K. Ruffing entitled Spiritual Direction – Beyond Beginnings. Chapter 1 is all about sorting out our desires.

What do we really want? Human and divine desiring is a core feature of the spiritual life. Our desires energize the spiritual quest and lead us to God. Of even greater surprise is the possibility that God longs for us as much as we do for God. Page 9

Some in the Christian tradition warn us that our desires can get us into big trouble so we should control our desires with rational thoughts and disciplined actions. But is it not true that our desiring already originates in God’s desiring?  Quoting Ruffing again:

The mystics strongly assert that our desires, our wants, or longings, our outward and inward searching—when uncovered, expressed, and recognized—all lead to the Divine Beloved at the core. Page 11

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius repeatedly encourages us to “ask God our Lord for what I want and desire”.  When we ask ourselves what do I want and desire it is important to get beyond our conditioned responses. Ruffing offers these questions for further reflection (page 30)

• How do I pray for what I want?
• What internal or external voices do I need to quiet in order to discover my own authentic desire?
• If you continued expressing your feelings, you might eventually arrive at your core desires.