Spiritual What? An intro to Spiritual Formation

By Gina Norman, Oak Life Spiritual Formation Intern

When life is confusing or when it hurts, we are often left grasping at straws trying to make sense of it all. It seems like making heads or tails of life becomes all consuming, because we are looking for some kind of relief. Relief from past trauma and current circumstances that becomes a big ball of pain inside.

Life too often begs the question-what is happening? Why, life? 

This is where Spiritual Formation comes in. But it isn’t the only place for it come in. It can come into your life during hard times, yes, but also if you are a new believer. If you have been a believer for decades. If you are in a wrestling period of your life. 

Spiritual Formation and Spiritual practices come into our lives when we want to hear someone other than the worlds voice. When we want to see something other than what’s right in front of us. We want to do something other than what we can do.

Spiritual Formation is at best a way of doing life. But you won’t feel like you’re doing much.

Spiritual Formation was originally used to help train Priests post Vatican reformers in the Roman Catholic Church. Evangelicals started adopting Spiritual Formation in the 70’s and 80’s and it really became normalized, well, as normalized as Christians let it, when Richard Foster’s book Celebration Of Discipline came out in the late 70’s. I remember when I first discovered contemplation and Spiritual formation, I had gotten the Renovare, (which in Latin means “restore” or “renew”), bible for christmas,(all it is is a spiritual formation bible!), and I was so excited I posted on my Instagram. Keep in mind, I started blogging 11 years ago with a group of mostly conservative mommy bloggers. I’ll never forget the first time someone told me my eternal future was in danger because I read contemplatives. I owned a Renovare bible what could possibly be wrong with that? They kindly warned me and encouraged me to stay on the “right path.” 

It truly didn’t matter to me what others were saying about my “witchery”. Anything we are uneducated, or ignorant of, can seem scary, I get that. We often times are afraid to be uncomfortable, especially when it comes to our beliefs or our faith. 

But my life was being shaped and formed in such a profound way! It was the internal rhythms of my mind that truly started to shift. And eventually, in my heart I could feel it. A peace. A calmness. Simplicity. Oneness with my Maker. This is the essence of Spiritual Formation, the internal life being shifted, changed. It’s a paying of close attention to what’s going on beneath the surface of our lives. It is a process through practices and it is always progress. It will deepen a person's faith. It will help one grow. It is educational endeavors such as study, reading, retreats, speakers, conferences and even school. It is engagement; with yourself, with God, with others. At the heart of it all, and it is about the heart, it’s an internal movement that will help one become more aware of God working in their life. Spiritual Formation allows a person to be open to the activity of God.

How would it feel to learn to cultivate a way of life where there is no competition, no right or wrong, no judgement? A space and place to be the raw you? 

When I first found this incredible way of life I was so smitten. For me, it all started with the book Practicing The Presence Of God by Brother Lawrence, which will be on the resource list because I highly recommend it! When all I could do for three years was lay on the couch due to illness, that book saved me in so many ways. Brother Lawrence was a Monk, and he became a dishwasher at the monastery. He shares his journey as a dishwasher and it’s mundaneness, but also its beauty. And what an offering that is to God. A dishwasher! Many of us in the Bay area are out there slaying it with high paying jobs, and striving for “success” and we still feel like we aren’t enough. Brother Lawrence is smiling as he gets the grease and grime off the pots and pans and considers it an act of love, an act of worship. An offering. Good enough. More than enough. Beautiful. Can we find beauty in the mundane and feel full of purpose? 

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Brother Lawrence

I shared my new job description as an intern at church a couple of weeks ago. I shared a bit about how I found Spiritual Formation, what Spiritual Formation is and what that will look like for Oak Life. I wanted to actually do a Q & A because that would have felt more authentic for me, but for times sake, I wrote a five minute very polished introductory!

One of the strongest points I made that morning with the congregation was that Spiritual Formation hopes to turn us into be-ers, instead of do-ers. We are all quite good at do-ing! We’ve done a lot. Yet somehow still feel like we haven’t done enough? If we take an honest look at ourselves and our lives, I think we’ll find we need more of learning to just be. Be-ing focuses on the present. Too often we are pulled to the past, or the future.

Which leads me to the spiritual disciplines that will help you on that path. Which is often a healing path.

A few of these disciplines are:

Meditation-even if you give yourself 5 minutes at some point in the day that is a good place to start. There are many physical, mental, and spiritual benefits to meditation. It most literally quiets our systems, helps put us into parasympathetic.

Prayer-this can look different than traditional prayer you might be used to. I think it can be common for prayer to look like asking for things from God. But prayer is so much more than that. It’s conversation with God, and it can be continual conversation all day long!

Contemplation-this can hardly be put into words on paper or when speaking. This is a way of life. With all of creation. It’s the deepness of noticing. Deep reflection that comes from the center. 

Welcoming Prayer-this is a type of prayer that helps with emotions. It’s a guided way to learn to welcome your emotions and feel safe to feel them.

Centering Prayer-a type of meditation of not only emptying the mind, but finding the Divine while you do it. It might not seem like anything is happening, but after just months of practicing this, your mind will feel a lot less empty. This changed my life!

Lectio Divina-latin for divine reading. It is a monastic practice of a way to read scripture. It’s looking at the bible as a living word, not a studied text. 

Solitude-mostly self explanatory, and there might not seem like a difference between meditation, centering prayer and solitude. But each have their own place. Solitude doesn’t have to have a “plan”. It can be quiet time during the day by oneself and staring out the window. It can be a walk in nature to think. It can be sitting in a chair in silence. It is mostly learning to be alone. Spiritual Formation gives us a place to see the difference between rejection and solitude. Another blog post!

These practices will hopefully create change for you in your life. They will help you become more aware and they will help you remember. We easily forget simplicity in a world that is overly complicated and stress-filled. The disciplines were created to instill intentionality into your life and bring you into a closer relationship with God.

No matter what you’re going through or where you’re at in life, God wants to meet you there. When Spiritual Formation found me, I was able to enter into a newness with God, myself and with others. The practices helped me to see the deep workings in my life. It all helped me become who I already was.

If you are open to seeing the possibility in the impossible, then spiritual formation will do wonders for you. If you are open to discovering who you are in the deepest of ways, beneath all of the worlds images and the images you have picked up along the way of yourself, then spiritual formation will do wonders for you. If you are open to seeing the spiritual in your life, and willing to be shaped by God through your experiences, then spiritual formation will also do wonders for you. It’s truly for everyone, it just needs to be embraced.

-Prayer/listening team
-WITH Spiritual Formation Group once a month
-Worship Prayer Nights a few times a year

-Prayer nights once a month/Prayer Circle
-One on one spiritual formation guidance 

-Throughout the coming year there will be Spiritual Formation incorporated into services. Please bring ideas or something you want to share!

-Service outreach within community

-Resources on the blog 

Resources for a Spiritual Formation journey and contemplation:

-Henri Nouwen-Spiritual Formation (book, thinking of starting a book group on this), and Henri Nouwen Society

-Richard Rohr books and his website Center For Action And Contemplation

-Incarnation Monastary in Berkeley

-Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA

-Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA

-Contemplative Communities East Bay

-Sacred Rhythms book by Ruth Haley Barton

-Practicing The Presence Of God by Brother Lawrence