Spiritual Formation – November 2002

Link: Companions in Christ | Tools & Tips.

From Marjorie Thompson, Companions in Christ Spiritual Director

Spiritual formation is the process by which God forms us into the persons we are meant to be, Christ-like persons. Being re-shaped according to the pattern of Jesus' mind, heart, and work is the gracious labor of the Holy Spirit, moving within us personally and among us as Christian community. This transforming work takes us into ourselves and carries us out toward others in an endless, mutually reinforcing spiral of growth.

Some people imagine that the spiritual life is only inward, or conversely that spirituality is simply a matter of how we treat our fellow human travelers on this earth. We have a tendency to want to simplify and exaggerate the complex realities of life. But the spiritual life is not an "either/or" proposition. It is "both/and." It is literally true that we cannot love God and hate our neighbor (see 1 John 4:20). We must hold together the inner life of adoration, praise, and the honoring of God in our hearts with the self-offering of love, respect, and kindness to all God’s children. They are integrally related, and we need to experience the connection vividly to understand the fullness of the spiritual life.

If we take God’s own self-emptying as our example, we will be better able to grasp the whole truth. God, in Christ, "emptied himself" (Phil. 2:6-7) both in the Incarnation and on the Cross. These are powerful images of God’s love poured out for us — liberally, lavishly "wasted" on us sinners. Some receive this love with gratitude, others do not, but it is poured out nonetheless for us all.

To love this kind of God, and to have the love of such a God in us, means we are not at liberty to pick and choose who we will love or not love. This lack of discrimination is very hard for us, because our hearts are hard. As we said in the last letter, "An outpouring of love comes from an ego-emptied, God-filled heart." It is the giving up, the letting go of the ego and its insatiable felt needs that is so difficult for us. But this is precisely what the Holy Spirit continually devises opportunities for us to learn and to practice, practice, practice. As we practice, we gradually get shaped and formed into the human being God intends for us to be: open to God and to each other. This process can be painful at times, but it is good pain — a cleansing, bracing, enlivening pain — the birthpangs of the new creation in Christ!

Companions in Christ aims to foster this kind of spiritual formation. So if parts of it seem awkward or uncomfortable, allow them to be signs of the Spirit’s labor for you and your group. We frequently hear that groups who were convinced they could not or would not want to try something new received a great blessing when they opened themselves to experience it. May you and your group be greatly blessed in your willingness to allow each exercise and exploration to be a means of God’s grace for your formation and transformation.