Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the SpiritThis is Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird second compilation (in a series of three books) of Nouwen’s works The first in this series is “Spiritual Direction” which you can read a review of here. The 3rd book in this series of Nouwen’s “Spiritual Trilogy” is “Spiritual Discernment” which I have already began reading among some other books currently.
This book is compilation of a variety of Nouwen’s previously published and some unpublished pieces on the topic of spiritual formation to create this seamless book as though Nouwen himself had penned it.
This compilation is very beneficial for understanding the process of spiritual formation against the grain of a progress-oriented culture. Christensen, in the appendix, describes how Nouwen’s concept of spiritual formation is not progressive and linear, but rather a progressive journey. “The journey implies that progress is possible, but not in a measurable upward way, with cumulative results” (129).
Christensen also points out that nearly all of Nouwen’s works describe movements between various attitudes or stages. Spiritual Formation contains seven movements along the path of adult spiritual formation.
The major movements, according to Nouwen, are from opaqueness to transparency, from illusion to prayer, from sorrow to joy, from resentment to gratitude, from fear to love, from exclusion to inclusion, and from denying to befriending death. (Kindle Location 70)
All these, among the many other movements that Nouwen has written about, are the journey, and “the journey is not to be found in the pursuit of perfection but in the practice of contemplative prayer leading to community and mission.” (135) Nouwen’s understanding of progressive spiritual formation rests on one’s ability to know God more intimately and engage the Kingdom of God.
“In a society that overvalues progress, development, and personal achievement, the spiritual life becomes quite easily performance oriented: “On what level am I now, and how do I move to the next one?” (Kindle Location 136)
In the first part of the book are two movements. These are called “Early Movements” Movement 1: from opaqueness to transparency
The Spirit of God shows us how to move continuously from opaqueness to transparency in three central relationships: our relationship with nature, with time, and with people. (Kindle Location 404)
One of the most impactful for me in this movement is creating a shift in thinking from time as Chronos to time as Kairos.
Once we discover that writing letters, attending classes, visiting friends, cooking food, and even doing the dishes are not a series of random activities but contain within themselves the transforming power of re-creation, we move from time lived as chronos to time lived as kairos (right time, the real moment , the opportunity for change, the chance of a lifetime). When our time becomes kairos, endless new possibilities and opportunities open up to our vision. (Kindle Location 450)
I also liked among the various spiritual practices that are incorporated throughout this book is one which was new to me “VISIO DIVINA” (sacred looking based on images not text).
In the 2nd part of the book there are three movements called “Midlife Movements”:
- From Sorrow to Joy
- From Resentment to Gratitude
- From Fear to Love
I find it interesting how these three movements can be very interconnected. Sorrow, resentment and fear can all stem from the same pain and easily become progressive. But same with joy, gratitude and love. I believe the understanding of our journey in the context of community with others is central to these transitions:
Sorrow to Joy: When you begin to feel the pain of your life in relation to other people’s pain, you can face it together. This is where the word compassion comes from (com-passion = passion, to suffer, to suffer with, to suffer with other persons);
Resentment to Gratitude: Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope.
Fear to Love: Discipleship goes far beyond personal piety or communal loyalty. Whole nations, not just individuals, are called to leave the house of fear, where suspicion, hatred, and war rule, and enter the house of love.
In the 3rd part of the book are called “Mature Movements” and include:
- From exclusion to inclusion
- From denying to befriending death.
Community can be lived well only if it comes out of communion with God. (Kindle Location 1703)
If you believe that you are beloved before you were born, and will be beloved after you die, you can realize your mission in life. You are sent here just for a little bit—for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or sixty years. The time doesn’t matter. (Location 1867)
You are sent into this world to help your brothers and sisters know that they are as beloved as you are and that we all belong together in God’s family. (Location 1868)
Both of these movements are profound and continue to build upon the other movements mentioned above in parts 1 & 2 of the book. All of these movements can benefit anyone in any stage of life to help put life in proper perspective as we form true community with God and with others.
In the Epilogue Christensen notes, “All told, twenty-six movements can be identified in the works of Nouwen, though seven seem to dominate.” (Location 2102)