Spiritual formation means different things to different streams of faith. Some have more stringent programs and processes to confirm learners to their understanding of spirituality while others might call it discipleship or disciple-making. Most belief systems have some process to form their disciples into a more cohesive group that believes and understands the same things about God and how the world works.
I come from a tradition that called it discipleship and every Tom, Dick and Harry had an idea how to do that. They incorporated the Bible, but there were multitudes of other books that hovered around their statement of faith, attempting to get everyone on the same page. One of my friends (a pastor) bragged about spending an entire year teaching through The Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement (right before his church folded). I’m sure none of that was his fault.
All these efforts can have some value. Talking about what we believe reveals our hearts and hopefully gives us opportunity to share with others the the things that matter. Helping each other look at things differently opens our minds and clarifies complicated subjects. Personally, I hope this leads to people healing their trauma, even though I’m skeptical that it rarely happens in religious circles.
The statement that troubles me most is, We should do (this practice) because it helps us be properly formed.
I have heard the statement from many people in different streams of Christianity especially. Suffice to say it is most likely a variation of the idea that some people have which are deep inside religion that if everyone would just believe like they do, the world would be better. So, they assume, if we can just form people effectively, they would fit the mold we have decided upon based on our tradition. This is liberal, conservative, religious, not-religious, deconstructing, and even nomads like me. I’m sure they assert that God is doing the forming, but let’s be honest.
The problem with norming, conforming and forming is that formation requires us to take a certain shape and hold that shape. It may not be as extreme as concrete, but if we realize we need to change the shape at some point in the future, it can be quite traumatic. Once I become set or fixed in my understanding, it is easier to block out all other voices that might be trying to teach me what would help me better understand and flourish in this life.
To be honest, when I say the words in the title of this blog, I don’t want to be properly formed, it scares me.
Part of that fear has been ingrained in me since birth. Society applauds the people that went outside the box, but the bulk of the population is geared toward getting on the same page and mass producing (replicating) that understanding. So, when I stubbornly declare that I want to stay in my discovery mode, I understand there will be a certain amount of understandable avoidance from the general population.
I’m not saying I don’t learn things from other people’s creeds and belief statements and way of perceiving the world. I just want to keep questioning what I currently understand until it becomes a little more clear. I have discovered that superficial beliefs and understandings take a lot of time and energy to justify, while the deeper things like presence sometimes just need to be felt.
I discovered this in my book, Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity. Even as I was writing it, some understandings became very clear. In the chapter entitled, Being with the Divine, I felt like a few things became understandable and very simple as the words moved from somewhere within me to the pages of the manuscript. Throughout the book, I came to understand presence and authenticity as being where I am and being who I am.
But these discoveries don’t happen when I’m properly formed. They don’t happen when I’m sure about what I believe or thoroughly confirmed in my belief system. They occur when I am playing the role of the adventurer and asking good questions and even challenging my already held assumptions.
I’m not trying to avoid beliefs, I just want to have purer ones.
I’m not hoping to avoid all responsibility, but I’m also not bowing to the established norms.
It’s a little hard to explain and, like I said, it scares me a little so I wrote a poem.
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!