formation – noun (15th century): (1) an act of giving form or shape to something or of taking form*
Last fall, I began to contemplate taking a 3 month sabbatical leave. Our rules for clergy within The United Methodist Church allow for such a renewal leave once every 7 years in ministry. I have been in appointed ministry since September, 1998 (I celebrate 11 years next month!), and full-time since July, 2001 (I’m just starting my 9th year). I have not yet taken such a leave.
While I was discerning this possibility, I came upon The Academy For Spiritual Formation, a two year program offered by The Upper Room. (I’ve been blogging from my experience at a session of the Academy this past week.) Along with Lynn and others, I discerned that this program would help to tend to the fire of my own spiritual life, and chose to pursue it in place of a sabbatical at this time.
I’ve now completed 3 of the 8 week-long sessions I will attend over the two years of the Academy, and I’m finding that the name they used is apropos. This is about “formation,” not about renewal, or reinvigoration, or rest, or vacation.
It may not even be so much about transformation as it is formation.
Transform – verb (14th century): 1 a : to change in composition or structure; b: to change the outward form or appearance of ; c : to change in character or condition
I’ve been writing that I’m hoping for transformation, that God will continue the “good work” he has begun within me and my heart, and lead me toward the purity of heart that Jesus demonstrates. That I’ll have the character demonstrated by Jesus and described in the sermon on the mount, which I often equate with a “pure” heart.
A heart and life characterized by compassion, integrity, love, holiness, wholeness, etc. I think such a change is in keeping with the third meaning for “transform” from above, a change in character/condition (because it is more deep than just a change in appearance or structure.)
Transformation is, likely, a process. But formation… I’m thinking that formation is also what God is doing in my life.
I am starting to see that I am already a mass of raw materials for God to work with; that God is working with. Like my hope for transformation – that the things within me that I find troubling would be cleansed, healed, or replaced – my thought is that God is already at work, using the raw materials of my self, my life, and my situation to form me.
The Academy is drawing my attention to this more and more. I’m seeking to be aware of those areas of my life where I need to pause and allow God to be more present; I’m seeking to respond appropriately in those times when I should subsume my own ego/id in favor of the Holy Spirit and likeness of Christ.
Because formation is a process, it isn’t happening right away – and, since I’m naturally impatient, I get distressed at this (why don’t you work faster, God?) – but it is happening. I’m experiencing challenges, inspirations, encouragement, support, and even moments of pain, grief, loss, anger as God works to both transform and form me…
Over the years, I’ve at times found myself disappointed with some other Christians’ behavior. People I’ve known, even within my own church families, who I’ve thought “should have known better.” Often, I have subconsciously ascribed maturity to age, and have been all the more frustrated when someone who was older acted in what struck me as a spiritually immature way (e.g. hurting other people, lacking compassion, being overly critical/judgmental, etc).
As I’m experiencing God’s formation and transformation of me in the context of a group of people of many ages – I’m among the youngest, but am not the youngest – I’m also becoming more aware that age does not necessarily equate spiritual wisdom or maturity.
I’m beginning to be more aware that there are those who, though older than me, don’t necessarily “know better,” and need some degree of compassion and grace extended toward them. Just as there are those younger who are already more spiritually mature than I and, hopefully, extend more grace and compassion toward me.
Granted, this doesn’t immediately alleviate the feeling that I might have that someone “ought to know better.” But it does help me to recognize that greater grace should probably be extended to all. After all, we’re all being transformed from within and formed from without, and no one has yet seen what we will be (see 1 John 3:1-2).
Three weeks in, and I am not sure where I will be come the end of this two-year journey. I hope to be a better husband, son, father, brother, pastor, beloved child (of G0d), friend… I hope that I will better embody the idea of Christian love (see 1 Corinthians 13). I hope that it will help me be quicker to let go of hurt feelings and anger when I feel hurt, betrayed, or vicitimized.
I trust, if I allow God to form and transform me, that I will be moving toward being more like Jesus. And that would definitely be an amazing form.