I have walked and sought to articulate the Jesus Way (thanks Mr. Peterson) for over thirty years. Time has a way of being deceitfully generous with the actuality of our personhood. If you don’t believe me, go back and read old journals and then ask yourself the following questions. Is real change actually possible or am I merely an older, more sophisticated version of my broken self? Can one truly change or are we always forced to concede to God’s ever-expanding grace? Is that the point of “real change?” Is that deeper theological concession our most necessary change? If so, isn’t that merely a change of perspective more than a change of habits? If real change is never possible, what provides adequate impetus toward righteousness and beauty of character? Are these all the wrong questions?
I have large skeletons in my closet, a veritable killing field of front-page newsworthy issues of note, all nicely buried in my past. In May 2011 I graduated with a Masters degree in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University, Michigan. If the reader hasn’t already noted the glaring irony in such a statement, stop here. However, if you can see, as do I, the comedy of the words ‘master’ and ‘spiritual’ in the same sentence you are welcome to chuckle right along with me and see why I am stuck with these questions. As one eager for personal transformation I joined MSFL to determine if there were answers to my former questions.
I’m a little skeptical of the spiritual formation movement, specifically in evangelicalism, a theological trajectory that prides itself on being the conduit – a portal as it were – through which an ever-relevant gospel is communicated to an ever-needy world. The deepest need is always union with God, a multivalent and complex process under any rubric. But it is one that denies easy categorization or codification. And yet that is what we so often seek to do, for good reasons, but in some ways ill advised. Evangelicalism, for all its strengths, can be its own worst enemy, pursuing ardently whatever hints there may be of change on the wind in a frantic effort to stay ahead of the cultural relevance game even in matters spiritual formation.
I am convinced that no transformation is possible before one comes to that impossible crossroads where the utter frustration of “immovability” crashes into the immensity of holy desire for wholeness and union. Only here are we ripe for grace. Only here is grace poised to do its deepest work. Only here can our death lead to new life and transformed reality beyond the reaches of commoditization.
Given the stakes of remaining stuck and our propensity toward packaging the means of change, I am doubtful that the challenges inherent in actual transformation are just so high that packaging and promotion are still easier than acquiescence and brokenness. Be that as it may, by whatever means necessary, the Church has been reintroducing the cold, dark, clear waters of the great Christian spiritual tradition back into a world more thirsty than ever. I’m hopeful that any short term glitz, jingoism and book table mongering will lead to long term spiritual gains, long after any perceived spiritual formation “movement” has lost its traction and sex appeal.
Moreover, spiritual formation happens most often when we’re busy doing stuff one might not normally associate with the host of heaven. Or, as Mr. Lennon says, “life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.” Chasing change, specifically humility, is like chasing a greased pig. We rarely catch it and just look like idiots in the process. Sit in the muck with the pigs and they’ll come to you. Then, it’s bacon for dinner. Or, at least the satisfaction of knowing that we’re all in it together.
Join The Conversation:
Do you hold any skepticism regarding the spiritual formation movement?
If real change is never possible, what provides adequate impetus toward righteousness and beauty of character?
Robert Rife is the music and worship minister at Westminster Presbyterian Church (www.westpress.org), a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, poet and writer. He is a recent graduate from Spring Arbor University with an M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Leadership and blogs at innerwoven.me.