Last Sunday I received a weekly email from a friend of mine with a question that really caught my attention. Christianne Squires, whose weekly email is A Cup of Sunday Quiet, asked the question, “What does spiritual formation mean to you?” Here is what I said to her in response:
Off the cuff, I’d say “becoming more fully the spiritual beings we already are” or “remembering who we were created to be.” I believe there’s a divine blueprint inside of all of us, that we lose track of—especially with the “help” of those around us—and then spend our lives rediscovering—again, especially with the help of those around us. So yes, we are reliant on those around us for our spiritual formation—God brings those people into our lives—but we also have to embrace the courage to look for the Spirit deep inside ourselves—and pay attention to the messages from dreams and other Spirit-driven forces in our lives. And then follow through, because we do “preach what we most need to hear”!
The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to do my spiritual work in community. There was a time when I wanted to be a lone ranger, believing that I could grow my spiritual life all by myself. I am still enough of a perfectionist that I prefer to do things myself…but I also realize how limited my perspective really is, and the importance that community plays in balancing, correcting, and challenging me.
I’m preaching again today, this time at my home church. The gospel lesson is Mark 3:20-35, where Jesus is accused of being in league with the prince of demons because he casts out demons. Jesus responds that he cannot both be in league with demons and cast out demons, because “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Jesus is making a very important point here, and it relates to spiritual formation. We need community. In fact, I would say that community is essential for spiritual formation—because of the ways it balances, corrects, and challenges our individual assumptions, experiences, and statements of faith. This doesn’t mean that life in spiritual community is easy. It’s not. But it’s important to live together, learn from each other, and be willing to be changed by each other. Then we are not divided, but enriched.
We aren’t called into community to cast each other out, but to learn from each other the important lessons about that divine blueprint within each of us. Jesus knew that his accusers needed his truthful correction to their perspective on who had the right to cast out demons. He wasn’t seeking to divide the religious house of his day—although, in the end, that’s what happened—but rather to challenge those religious leaders to look beyond their assumptions about who has the power to work miracles in God’s name.
When have you tried to grow your spiritual life all on your own? How did that go?
How has community balanced, corrected, and challenged you?