I spent the weekend at Columbia Theological Seminary (just a ten minute drive from my house!), participating in their Lifelong Learning department’s “Spirituality Immersion Experience,” which is the entry level program for their Certificate in Spiritual Formation. Participants included a variety of both laypersons and clergy from a number of different denominations. Over the course of the event, we participated in classes including a general introduction (“What is Spirituality?”), the spirituality of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, the monastic tradition, and Reformed spirituality. The schedule also included time for small-group and one-on-one interaction, and guided journaling, geared toward a final project of writing a ten-page spiritual autobiography. Morning and evening prayer rounded out the schedule.
Although it was an intensive schedule (I’m used to the rather slower pace of the monastery, so the sheer amount of programming was almost overwhelming), it was certainly a wonderful experience. The classes, introductory in nature, built on each other and provide an overall look at the contours of Christian spiritual practice. The small group and one-on-one interaction provided opportunity for relationship building, which all too often is the key ingredient of Christian spirituality that can be too easily ignored in an institutional context. But for me, the real power of the experience was in the journaling. The exercises made it easy to engage in several hours of writing each day, and the focus was always on writing as, itself, a spiritual practice — with an emphasis on prayer and on discerning the presence of God in the content of our writing. Never mind that I’m a big bad author with a dozen books and a blog — I found the journaling to be a powerful tool for personal reflection.
After the Immersion Experience, the certificate program entails six additional elective courses, a practicum in which students engage in some form of leadership activity related to spiritual practice, and finally, a pilgrimage. Before you decide that this is too expensive for you, check it out. Everything — even the pilgrimage — is remarkably affordable.
While this program leads to certification, it’s not designed to be professional in nature or scope. In other words, it’s not about finding a better job or getting a raise. As the program director said, the point behind the program is to discern what God is up to in our lives.
Future events, including the elective courses, feature some truly exceptional instructors, including Ben Campbell Johnson, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Margery Thompson.
I know it sounds like I’m in “promotional mode” here, and I suppose I am, but nobody is putting me up to this. I think it’s a wonderful program and I think my life may have been quite different if I had discovered this 15 years ago. Be that as it may, I’d encourage anyone who is seeking a structured environment for personal spiritual development to check this out.