Saturday, October 14, 2006

Spritual 4-mation

I had an interesting conversation with a couple of friends about spiritual formation. One of them is interested in attending Biola University's Spiritual Formation Program. But I guess he wasn't spiritual enough. I'm just kidding!

As the conversation progressed I let it be known in my apparently spiritually unformed way that I'm a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. On the surface it doesn't seem like a bad thing for a person to be 'more spiritual,' and seek a closer experience with God. And therein lay the problem.

Can we really get closer to God by some method that we have prescribed? Or is it God who presribes how we can get closer to him? Please before you say I'm setting up a straw-man argument only to knock it down, wait and read. (BTW, isn't that part of spiritual formation to be silent and patient, hmmm.)

First, admittedly this is my limited understanding of spiritual formation. The purpose of spiritual formation is to deepen ones relationship with God through various techniques and experiences such as meditation, prayer, fasting, Christian psychotherapy, and lection divina (divine reading). None of those techniques are bad in and of themselves. The problem is these various methods try to reach up to God. We do these various methods to feel more holy, therefore, we think we're more holy. But that is not necessarily the case. The danger lies in the fact that you could possibly do something, say meditation, that gives you a good feeling. A feeling so good that you start to question "why do I need to go to church?" Or "why do I need to listen to such a boring sermon? I get more out of my personal meditation than that other stuff." But it's the 'other stuff' that God has prescribed for us. It's the other stuff that really works. All we're asked to do is trust God.

The problem is we are never satisfied with what God has done for us. Think about it. Adam and Eve weren't satisfied with the Garden; the children of Israel weren't satisfied with the tabernacle. Christians aren't satified with the (completed) works of Christ. We want more. More Christ. More God. More feelings. More experience.

The thing is, God has given us the means of grace. His Word and sacraments. But they are to ordinary for us. We want the magical, the mystical, the experiential, yet forgetting that it is through ordinary things that God shows his grace. Ordinary wine, bread, and preaching; definitely not the wow-factor.

I just had the Lord's supper this past Sunday and you know what? I didn't feel any different after the sacrament then before the sacrament. But that's okay, why? Because I know by God's Word and through faith that his sacrament is effective apart from how I feel.

This doesn't mean feelings are bad or I shouldn't feel anything. I'm just saying that feelings aren't necessary to the operation of God's means of grace. So when I hear about spiritual formation, I'm skeptical. I'm skeptical because it seems like it dilutes what God has prescribed, we need to do these extra steps in order to get closer to God. But you know what? We can't get closer to God. It's God who gets closer to us.

To God be the Glory alone