By Sam Gutierrez
Over the years, I've collected numerous books on spiritual formation. Although each book tends to emphasize something unique, I've come to discover that most touch on similar themes. Spiritual disciplines or "practices" have to do with sanctification – allowing God to shape us into the image of his Son. I've taken four authors - Don Postma, Henri Nouwen, Adele Calhoun, and Richard Rohr, and I’ve arranged their work thematically as Space, Place, and Face.
First, space. In Space For God, author Don Postma highlights the importance of “creating space.” In the first chapter he explores this idea, saying, “This book is for busy people who also want to be deep people. It is a book that explores spirituality: a way of living in depth. Spirituality has to do with being in touch with our spirit and with the Spirit of God. It is a way of being awake to the world around us and in us, of making space for God.”
Henri Nouwen, in his forward to Marjorie Thompson’s book Soul Feast, names the importance and difficulty of making space by saying, “Our busy lives make it hard for us to create free time or space for God.” He then goes on to say that, “spiritual disciplines are nothing more and nothing less than ways to create a room where Christ can invite us to feast with him at the table of abundance.” Nouwen expands on the idea of making space by giving us the image of a room – a place where we have fellowship with God around a table of grace.
Second, place. In her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, author Adele Calhoun expands on the notion of feasting with Jesus at a table by writing that the spiritual disciplines are mainly about “keeping company” with Jesus, and that, “spiritual practices don’t give us ‘spiritual brownie points’ or help us ‘work the system’ for a passing grade from God. They simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to his word to us.”
And finally, face. Richard Rohr writes in his book Things Hidden that sanctification is a process in which God is creating people “who have faces… that Yahweh who is uncovering and showing himself in the Bible desires not just images or ideas, but persons with whom God can be in very concrete and intimate relationship.” Rohr goes on to say that “one way of reading the entire Bible is to note the gradual unveiling of our faces, the gradual creating of personhood, from infants, to teenage love, to infatuation, to adult communion. Biblical spirituality has the potential of creating ‘persons’ who can both receive and give out of love, and love that is perfectly free.”
Taking into account these four authors, I would venture to define spiritual formation as “creating intentional space so that God can expand our capacity to receive God.” When God sanctifies us, God is deepening us and getting us ready to receive the lavish abundance of his love and grace. Because God is love, God is truly getting us ready to join hands with the Trinity, fully participating in their endless dance of love. This is good news.