Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Liturgical Year and Spiritual Formation

Don’t you love it when you read something that describes perfectly what you’ve been thinking or feeling? I’m reading through The Brazos Introduction to Spirituality and the second chapter is on “Exploring Christian Spirituality.” The chapter looks at Christian spirituality as an interdisciplinary exploration. That is to say it looks at “six realms of experience which provide us information about what relationship with God is like.” (39) One of those is personal experience. The author, Evan Howard, is careful to note the strengths and weaknesses of each of these realms. But the following paragraph seemed to express exactly what I’ve been hoping for (and fearful of) in my exploration of the liturgical year.

"Second, don’t be afraid of imitating others, yet be yourself. This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not. We begin to become ourselves through imitation. This is true of virtually every kind of learning. Apprentice painters often go through seasons of learning to paint ‘like’ Pierre-Auguste Renoir, ‘like’ Rembrandt van Rijn, ‘in the style of’ Vincent van Gogh. Similarly, scholarship is learning to think ‘in the style of’ those whom we incorporate. Yet in time, one can discover one’s self—distinct from all the imitations. A stroke of the brush, an independent idea, and we find ourselves, never wholly independent from those we have imitated yet with a unique contribution to offer. It is the same in the spiritual life. In exploring the spiritual life, we travel down roads others have traveled before. ‘I would like to try on the mantle of the desert elder for a while.’ ‘Just for fun, let’s experiment with Methodist class meetings for one year.’ And so on. Of course, with this kind of exploration, one faces the danger of ‘dabbling,’ where personal spirituality begins to look more like a shopping trip than an authentic relationship with God. There is also the danger of turning personal spiritual formation into an attempt to become the next Francis or Clare of Assisi. But at the same time, exploration of relationship with God needs the freedom to find itself through imitation." (45)
I read this and said, “That’s it!” My journey with liturgical year is my imitation of those in various traditions for which this is such a vital part of their spiritual formation. But I didn’t want to simply “dabble” with it as if it were a new toy. Howard continues with some very helpful advice and a warning.

"Finally, pay attention. If your personal experience is going to be a tool in exploring Christian spirituality, you will have to be aware of what goes on in your relationship with God. Keeping a journal, or some system of notes, may be helpful in order to record the goings on of your spiritual life. You can integrate this information with that gained from the other resources for exploring Christian spirituality. Once again, in the practice of paying attention, another danger arises—namely, that personal spirituality will become an exercise in analysis rather than a delightful, spontaneous relationship with God. Watch out for this! It is easy to discuss all manner of spiritual dynamics, complete with personal illustrations, and all the while avoid the real work of authentic relationship with God." (45) 


Paul D. Adams said...

This is intriguing, Louis. I've often thought that a kind of theology of imitation should be developed as it pertains to our sanctification and growth in Christlikeness. Jesus gives us clear teaching on this in John 13:12-17 and Paul as well in 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17. Of course, the goal in imitation is to provide a solid benchmark for grounding us so we can move past analysis and into our own unique synthesis of developing an "authentic relationship with God" full of "delight" and "spontaneity." There are many feet to wash but not every washing will look the same!

Andrew R said...

Thanks for this intriguing post, Louis. I resonate with your feelings.