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Archive for March, 2014

I miss you Grandpa

Today, Grandpa would have been 93. I miss him. I tear up as I write this and the ache in my heart is one that remains strong and painful. Death has a bitter sting – it cannot be undone. On this side of the resurrection, I will never have another opportunity to see him or to speak to him. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking that I spot Grandpa – it’s a strange thing, but other friends who have had loved ones die speak of this too. Elderly men driving or on the subway who remind me in form of Grandpa or who are wearing the same type of hat or look similar in some way. I find myself wanting to call out to these men, or waving as they drive by… and then I realize the impossibility of this. My heart has lead me astray and the dose of reality stings. I miss Grandpa. and Grandma.

As I was walking home from the coffee shop thinking about Grandpa, I found myself listing memories and smiling because of them. So I offer them in thanksgiving for a godly man who loved God, loved others, and loved me.

Memories of Grandpa

… I was a kid who wouldn’t stop talking. Grandpa needed me to be quiet and offered me $5 to be quiet for half an hour. To everyone’s amazement, I earned that $5.

… Grandma and Grandpa were taking care of some of us when my mom was in labour. We played the game of risk which was just going on forever. Grandpa tended to the fireplace in between turns. Finally, he picked up the dice on his turn and dropped them on the board from a standing position, shouting “Atom Bomb” as the tiny men went everywhere.

… Prayer time after breakfast included reading from the Daily Bread devotional and praying for each family member by name and many who were dear to my grandparents.

… “would you like a cup of tea?” – drinking tea together while watching wheel of fortune, jeopardy or some British comedy

… Grandpa randomly slipping me a $20 bill to help me out with school every now and then

… Grandpa was a man of few words… but when he spoke, his words were eloquent, poignant

Yet, probably the most poignant memories can only be understood if you know the context….

… the embrace at Grandma’s funeral
… him naming me as granddaughter
… the quick phone call in which he said “I love you” and called me darling.

I miss you Grandpa.

Sometimes I picture Grandpa up with heaven, beside Jesus, looking down on me and smiling. Smiling because he sees the person I have come and am and has the freedom to know truth. I envision him bursting with pride, telling others who have been promoted to glory that I am his granddaughter, whom he loves and is well pleased.

Showing Up

Last year’s Lenten journey began with a series of difficult questions around what it meant to serve God and the loneliness that would accompany it. I was encouraged by a good friend to pray through these questions over the coming weeks and I found myself contemplating the cross quite a bit. I wrote a piece for school that is my most read piece on here based on the passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which we are instructed to take up our cross and follow Christ. I was told by the professor I hold in high esteem that it was “profound.” Nothing like having your writing guru tell you that your paper is profound. I decided that I wanted to repeat that this Lent – read and write another “profound” piece that would be frequently visited from around the world.

And then my church announced a sermon series and focus on the healing journey. Have I mentioned yet that I am sick of “the healing journey”. I’m done – I want to get on with life, never feel depressed again, never struggle with the lasting impact of traumatic events. So I skipped the first Sunday morning. Quite easy to do actually as we lost an hour sleep that night. But even if we gained an hour, I didn’t feel like hearing a sermon on healing.

then a good friend wrote me and asked if I was coming to the evening service. it was a healing service – a “safe place to lament”. Well, this service sounded interesting – perhaps another tool in my toolkit for when I am involved in church ministry again! I didn’t go because I need healing – but because others need healing and perhaps this would help me help them. I cringe at my arrogance strong capacity to avoid and resist.

The service of lament was rather powerful. we were encouraged to write our own laments. I did – and I launched my heart’s accusations against God. I was so not prepared to confront God that night – or to accuse him of being enemy, not friend. and there I was. I went for annointing and had trouble finding the words to ask for annointing. My pastor prayed for me. I don’t remember much of the actual words other than the reminder that the only way out of our pain is through… and praying that the church community would walk with me as I walk through my pain.

I got back to my pew and I couldn’t stop crying. I became aware of the pain inside in a deep way. The pain I feel is really not so much related to either of my parents – there is still pain and unhealed wounds, but what I mean is – they are mortal and sinners. In that respect I know two things are true – they are a sinners just like me, and in a sense, they also cannot escape the sinful nature that is so deeply embedded in us. The deepest wounds I face are from God Almighty – to whom I prayed for safety, and that prayer took many years to be answered. THIS is the part of my healing journey I have not wanted to face. That night the floodgates to my heart were open and I have known since then that there is no turning back. I’ve asked – no demanded – God to give me answers, answers that only He can give. My theological reading and training enables me to articulate the “right answers” – but they are no longer adequate. God is on trial – is he friend or foe? the healing of my darkest and deepest pain demands an answer.

and since that service of lament two weeks ago, I have felt a great many things. But I have not felt the intimate presence of God that I have known. I know with my head that God is here and never will leave me, and that he can handle the deep questioning that I have started. But at a heart level – I feel empty when I pray. I feel like I am talking to a ceiling, or as I put to some dear friends, I feel like I am talking into the abyss of nothingness. Mother Teresa felt a desolation her whole life of serving God. St. John of the Cross speaks of a dark night of the soul – something that pop culture has taken up but for him, I think it was not so much a state of depression but an shedding of himself as God led him to depend on God alone and not on feelings, blessings, or what-have-you. I’m not sure what it is that I am experiencing these days, but it is a lonely and challenging place to be. I am deeply angry at God. I sit in church as I hear how God is working in and through others’ deep pain – and while others seem to be praising God for how amazing he is, I find myself questioning the God who “allows” more than being moved to praise. Why do we praise the God who heals the wounds he does nothing to prevent? what if – as in the case of the blind man or Lazarus – God causes a state of suffering so that his glory may be shown. I suppose, God – God Almighty, afterall – can do this because, well, he IS God. But how is that fair? We confess sins of commission and omission. what about God and the things he has left undone? To illustrate this question further: I have first aid training. If someone collapsed in front of me, I have a duty in one sense to do something about it. Suppose I watch this suffering person and just remind them that I am there, but do nothing to help. How good is that? What if that is what God does – why is it ok for God to stand by, but not ok for me?

There may not be answers to my questions. Or I may not like the answers. Ultimately, I might come to confess and repent of the bold accusations. But for now – I can’t pretend to an omniscient God that I’m not mad at him, or that suddenly I feel he is friend again and has always been. So right now my spiritual journey has taken a lenten journey that I wasn’t anticipating and frankly, didn’t want. Getting through a day is hard enough with God. getting through without him – that’s not exactly what I wanted to face! and yet, the only way out seems to be through. this journey is hard though. I talk to God frequently in my day – now I don’t know what I want to say or even if I want to say anything at all. Going to church is hard. Praying is hard. My theological classes are hard.

There is an image that keeps coming to mind. Some close friends have had very little sleep over the past few months as their newborn has struggled with colic and insomnia. I have read/heard their frustrations. And yet, they are frequently speaking of how much they love their little boy. The continue to care for him – in the middle of the night when they are totally exhausted. The dad drives him around the block on really bad nights to get him to sleep or give mom a chance to catnap. This is love. I’m not a parent, but I’m not sure that if I was this boy’s mom that I would feel that I love this child after many weeks of chronic sleep deprivation. But love gets up and takes care of the baby whether one feels love or not.

maybe this part of my journey with God is somewhat like this. I don’t feel God’s love, and don’t particularly feel like I love God right now. It’s not that I hate God, I’ve just called everything into question and feel nothing towards him but anger and frustration. But maybe I don’t need to feel in order to be in relationship with God. Maybe my act of love can be more about showing up to meet with God in church, in the privacy of my own home. Maybe this is what it means to love God in this part of my journey.

There is solace in the idea that maybe I just need to show up.

I might not have all the answers I want, but I can still show up.

I might not have the faith that God can come through right now, but I can still show up.

I might not be able to like how God has or hasn’t worked, but I can still show up.

and maybe that’s what this lenten journey is about. not writing some spectacular piece of writing that makes it onto the first page of google searches. not about serving others. not about feeling.

but about just showing up.

Living Water – A reflection on John 4

Streams of Living Water
Somewhere on the VIA Train through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, far from any roads, electricity or anything man-made.

It started as an ordinary day for me. I quietly grabbed my bucket and headed to the well in a town called Sychar. I liked this particular well as it was known as Jacob’s well and it reminded me of my ancestry. It was some connection with my people, sometimes my only connection.

See, I’m not really liked in my community. I’ve had more than my share of relational failures. I’ve had five husbands. People aren’t so interested in my story or my thirst for love that has yet to be quenched. I’m just known as that woman. This is why I come to the well at midday. All the other women come at the beginning or the end of the day as it’s much cooler. I can’t handle their whispering any more or their glances as I walk by to get water. So I come at noon. It’s the heat of the day, but at least not many people come. I quietly come and then I leave.

So on this day, I set out as usual to quietly fill my bucket with water and then return to my home. There was a man sitting by the well. I’d never seen him before but he looked Jewish. That in itself was strange – what was a Jewish man doing at a Samaritan well? He must have been travelling from Galilee to Jerusalem. Traveling through Samaria is the fastest route. However, not many Jews actually wander through our land – they take the longer route around us through the Jordan Valley and Jericho just to avoid us. Jews and Samaritans do not get along. In fact, my people tend to attack Jewish pilgrims – we don’t want them here just as much as they don’t want to be here.

As I went to draw water, this man asked me “Will you give me a drink?” He looked tired and I wanted to help him, but I didn’t understand why he was asking me – a woman. Devout Jews are not supposed to be alone with a woman, let alone talk with her. Oh the rumours that would start if someone saw him talk to me! To make matters worse, I’m a Samaritan woman.  Yet, he was asking me to give him a drink. He didn’t have his own bucket or cup – that would mean he would have to use mine. This would be another transgression for a Jew. In my confusion, all I could utter was, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

This man simply replied: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Right, living water. Water that continuously flowed, like water from a stream. We all know that such water is prized – if someone wants to be cleansed or healed, living water is far more effective than stagnant standing water. Very different from the water in Jacob’s well. This man didn’t have anything to draw water! Where can he get this living water? Also, Jacob’s well has been providing water for many, many families throughout the years – how could this man be greater than Jacob who gave us this well?

The man just said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Never thirsty again? I definitely want that kind of water! I would be quite happy to give up coming to this well in the heat of the day and to not have to face the loneliness and rejection I feel as I try to avoid others each day. So I said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He then got personal – “Go, and call your husband and come back.”

What do I tell him? Will he reject me if he knows my story like all the others have? I want this living water – will he give it to me if he really knows who I am? I decided to be cautious – “I have no husband.”

His response astonished me. “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” He knows me and he’s still talking to me! He hasn’t judged me yet. He said it just as matter of fact with not even a hint of condescension.

I have to say, this was a little too uncomfortable for me. I see He is a prophet. It was time to change the subject. Let’s talk politics – that will definitely steer the conversation away from the ache in my heart! My people have a lot to say on it. When the Jews were rebuilding their temple, we offered to help. But because we didn’t accept all the Jewish scriptures, we were considered heretics and so they didn’t want us to help. Eventually, we decided to build our own temple. The Jews destroyed our temple because there could only be one temple to God and that was in Jerusalem. Let’s see what he has to say to this!

The man then gave a spiel on how a time is coming when we will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. He seemed to be saying that a time is coming when it doesn’t matter the precise location of those who worship. As a woman I don’t have any formal theological training, but I did know that the Messiah is coming and that He would explain everything to us.

And then this man said, “I, the one speaking to you – I am He.”

This man in front of me is the Messiah, the one we’ve all been waiting for. He used the bold words “I am” that the God of my ancestors used.

I ran back into my community. I totally forgot my bucket and what I came to the well for. I also forgot that I was an outcast. I just was so excited – I wanted everyone I met to come and see the man who promised living water, the Messiah who knew everything about me. He knew my heart and its thirst for love and met me where I’m at without judging me. Maybe the living water he provides would purify my heart and heal my deepest wounds.

I wanted to share with them the One who invited even Samaritans to worship the one true God. I wanted everyone to know that He wants to give living water to them too and heal their wounds. That he knows them and loves them, that there aren’t any outcasts in his eyes – he offers living water to all.

This ordinary day and trip to the well turned into one extraordinary day because of this Messiah – because of Him, my life is forever changed!

So will you come and seek the man who told me everything I ever did? Will you drink of his constant, purifying water that will change every part of your life? Will you come to know and believe that this man I met at the well really is the Saviour of the world?

Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup (Adas Bis Silq – a Lebanese recipe)

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  • 1 1/2 cups brown lentils
  • 6 cups cold water (may need to add more later)
  • 8-10 leaves swiss chard
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion (finely chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 chopped coriander leaves
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • lemon wedges for serving

1. Wash lentils well and place in a heavy pan with the cold water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer gently for 1 hour or until lentils are soft.

2. Wash swiss chard well and cut off stems. Slit leaves down the middle and then shred coarsely.

3. Heat oil in a separate pan, add onion and fry gently until transparent. Stir in garlic and cook for a few seconds longer.

4. Add shredded swiss chard to pan and fry, stirring often, until leaves wilt.

5. Pour onion and swiss chard mixture into lentils, add coriander, salt and pepper to taste and lemon juice. cover and simmer gently for further 15-20 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing into soup according to individual taste.

From: Tess Mallos, The Complete Middle East Cookbook – a highly recommended cookbook!

Just plain hard to get

One of my assignments that I am working on is based on journal entries over the past few weeks and see what God is teaching me in terms of missional spirituality. It is fascinating to see themes throughout what at first seemed like random thoughts. There is one theme that speaks of my heart’s deepest questions at the moment. How do I trust God? This was a particularly poignant question as I sought to walk beside a dear friend who is hurting so much. The only answer to my constant worry and fear was to trust God. And I have struggled with this. Seems so basic – trust God. God is good, God is great, God is faithful – I know all these things. Or at least, I thought I did.

Let me explain.

I hear so often in church land “Trust God, and everything will be fine.” I believe that is a true statement. But not in the sense that it is so often offered. Trusting God is not a recipe for an easy life by any stretch of the imagination.

Here’s what trusting God has looked like in my life:

  • Praying as a young teen for safety, staying up reading Scripture hoping that God would protect me. And the abuse continued.
  • Telling a pastor couple that I need help which resulted in a phone call to children’s aid as there were young children in the home.
  • Trusting that I did the right thing and that God was at work- meanwhile my parents dump my belongings in the back parking lot of where I worked, long hurtful letters from my mom and other relatives, and a birthday present wrapped in a red plastic bag with the inscription “We won’t be needing this anymore”
  • attempting a reconciliation process that blew up in ways unimaginable and therefore put an end to a process that I thought God wanted me to pursue
  • after prayer and consulting many, I pressed charges. While I have wavered in whether this decision was right, I don’t have any doubt any more. One of my most intense experiences of God’s presence in my life was in testifying. After testifying for 3 full days, I needed a break and told my friends that I simply could not continue. Somehow (and I believe this was God) I got back up there and the defense closed the cross-examination when his last line of questioning proved to be based on an argument that was proved false. As I stood up there, I had a powerful experience that God was there with me. Doesn’t make sense unless you’ve experienced this sort of thing in impossible situations but God’s presence was unmistakeable.
  • decisions to keep pressing on and trust God through a lengthy appeal process. I wandered from God several times during this wait and faced many dark days. But when the decision came in and the lengthy account of the panel of judges’ account said everything I had hoped it would, I knew God’s hand was all over it.
  • believing that God would work a miracle of reconciliation and restoration and not being able to hug goodbye my Grandma and Grandpa

this is just a glimpse. God also allowed me to make my own bad choices and suffer the consequences. Some of these decisions were more severe than others. In hindsight, I see God never failing to leave me and staying by my side even when I told him to leave me alone. I can see that God answered my young cries in a way that I never asked – protecting the deepest part of me, the most precious aspect of life – my relationship with God and my soul. Sometimes people comment that it is amazing that I am following Christ after all I have been through. Perhaps, but I do believe that God would not let me go, even when I tried to escape him. Moreover, I see how God is using my experiences to help and bless others… and each time this happens, I find myself thankful for my painful experiences as I know how to sit with pain, I know what it is to hurt, and I know what it is like to have God hold on to you and not let you go. I am also realizing that my experiences shed light into what Christ experienced and somehow, there is a beautiful aspect in sharing in the wounds of Christ.

But in the words of singer/songwriter Rich Mullins, sometimes God is “just plain hard to get.” As I watched my friend suffer this semester, I knew that I needed to trust God. But if the God I entrust her to is anything like the God I have trusted in my own life, there is very little comfort. This God allows a whole gamut of things to happen. Trusting God seems to be more about pledging your life to the one who died on the cross and walking the way of the cross than about security and safety. The hope from trusting God is that God can use and redeem anything in this life for His glory. There is peace in knowing that God is here no matter what. But as I wrestle with fear for my friend – or my own life – I am bereft of comfort. For if Christ, the perfect son of God who trusted in God, was despised, rejected and suffered – how can I expect anything different?

Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape? […] Well, I memorized every word You said/ Still I’m so scared, I’m holding my breath/ While You’re up there plain hard to get.

Let’s face it – sometimes God is plain hard to get. And if that’s the God we need to trust, it’s no wonder I have trouble trusting.

But I do know one thing. In my suffering, I have met God. And here the conclusion of Rich Mullins’ song ring true:

You’ve led me here/ Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led/ And so You’ve been here all along I guess/ It’s just your ways and You are just plain hard to get.

Lyrics are from “Hard to Get” by Rich Mullins

Something’s wrong with the world

In thinking about this lenten season, I have been tossing around ideas of things that I could give up or add to my life in an intentional way. there is an abundance of things that I could do. But the only idea that has really struck a chord is actually not all that spiritual in any way – I want to devote the next few weeks to writing. And then I had the idea of reflecting on “secular” music that speaks of themes that come up throughout lent. It’s no secret that I am rather media deprived and whenever I come across a song in the “secular” world that speaks truth, I get excited and find myself reflecting on it throughout my weeks. So much so that I have been thinking about whether we can distinguish “secular” and “sacred”. That is, if something speaks truth, beauty, wisdom, etc – could this be of God, even if the artist is not a believer? that is, if God is the God of all truth, beauty, wisdom, etc – is it possible for these virtues to exist without him? So this lenten season, I am going to reflect on musical offerings. I invite you to join me as I seek to find the sacred in the ordinary parts of our life and not necessarily in the walls of the church.

Something’s wrong with the world. That’s really not hard to see. What is harder to see perhaps is that I am part of what’s wrong. Theoretically, I know I am a sinner and there are moments when my heart faces this reality. But it is pretty easy to walk around thinking that I am basically a good person who has a few rough edges but generally doesn’t do much that is wrong.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of this day on the calendar, realizing that I really don’t know much. So these thoughts are more my own triggered by the Holy Day, rather than being a commentary on the day. We were exhorted to live a holy lent. It is a time of repentance – of turning around completely and surrendering more of our lives to God. It is a time of facing honestly who I am in the presence of a loving God who is infinite in mercy. As I begin to reflect on how sin taints who I am, I am overwhelmed. Sin runs deep. It infiltrates my desires, motives, actions, thoughts, longings – everything. Even when I do good, my motives are mixed. Oh to love as Christ loves!

And then, I think about the sin in the world and how I take part in what’s wrong with the world either by the things I do or the things that I leave undone. The Roots, in their song Dear God 2.0 present a list of the state of the world. Here are just a few things that they mention:

  • Everybody all in everybody’s dirty laundry
  • Air quality so foul, I gotta try to breath
  • Everybody checkin’ for the new award nominee
  • Looking at all the poverty
  • More beef than broccoli
  • Corporate monopoly
  • Stock market topplin’

Does my talk build up people or tear them down in gossip? Do I think about how I consume in terms of using the world’s resources and contributing to environmental problems? Do I spend time focusing on accolades – mine or others – rather than on God? Do I notice poverty, work towards ending poverty, or merely turn a blind eye? Do I feast and have my fill in luxury, or do I care for my body through what I eat? Do I support companies that have unethical practices? Do I invest my money in Christ’s kingdom?

I think these lines from the song are rather poignant:

Lord, forgive me for my shortcomings

For going on tour and ignoring the court summons

All I’m trying to do is live life to the fullest

How much of our sinful lives are driven by our desire to live life to the fullest? How much is driven by a false idea or a doubt that God’s ways are actually what bring us towards healing and wholeness? Like Eve in the Garden, as she (and Adam) thought God might be keeping them from a wonderful aspect of life – the knowledge of good and evil. Sin is so often the the perversion of something good – we desire love, but look in the wrong places. We desire intimacy but sell our souls to cheap sex. We want to make an impact in the world but get enticed by pride, greed and the like.

Something’s wrong with the world. As a sinner, I am part of what’s wrong with the world. Because, so often, all I am trying to do is live life to the fullest. This lenten season has me praying the words of this song:

Dear God, I’m trying hard to reach you

Dear God, I see your face in all I do

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe it

Invitation to a Journey: Some Reflections on Spiritual Formation

 

I took a must needed break from my rhythm of writing on here so that I could focus on two papers that were due this week. I am finding that my wealth of words has turned more into the slow drip of molasses rather than a fountain of overflowing sentences. Still, it has been a rich experience to press on and write what I could offer. Also, while the material in my courses is not terribly hard to understand or grasp at one level, they are deep and full of ways that intersect with my life and training. Those are the fun books to read and papers to write! They are also the most time consuming. Here is one of the things that I wrote this week.

Introduction

In Invitation to a Journey[1], Mulholland invites his readers to a spiritual journey of becoming conformed to Christ for the sake of others. He claims that spiritual formation happens with or without our consent (p. 24). That is, we only have say in what forms us. Society provides alternative answers to Christ as the source of such formation (e.g. consumerism). We are either being shaped into the likeness of Christ or into some “horribly destructive caricature of that image” (p. 23). Christian spiritual formation goes against the grain of societal values of consumerism, individualism and instant-gratification (p. 22-23).

In this paper, I will briefly summarize some important points from Mulholland’s book. Then, I will discuss three ways in which spirituality and mission intersect with each other. His emphasis throughout the book is that our individual spiritual formation occurs so that we can be conformed to Christ and that Christ can work in us to minister to others.

How the Invitation to a Journey is a Road Map for Spirituality

The central thesis of Mulholland’s book is: “We are being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others within the body of Christ and for the sake of others outside the body of Christ” (p. 168). As Christians, we find our primary source of life and meaning through Christ as we seek a relationship with Him through prayer and Scripture. We are not able to conform ourselves to who God wants us to be. Rather, through grace, God works in our hearts and lives to bring us into the image of Christ (p. 26). Our role is to make ourselves available to God’s work in our lives. Underlying this difference is the issue of control – we cannot control our own spiritual formation (p. 25). That is, we cannot earn a higher spiritual level, understanding or gift – our spiritual journey and the wholeness we seek is a matter of God’s grace (p. 26).

In many ways, this is an individual process. God has endowed us with personality, passions and gifts that make us uniquely set apart from any other human being. However, holistic spirituality needs to learn from others and the uniqueness that they bring. We can learn and grow through being challenged by others. Holistic spiritual formation takes place in the context of relationships (p. 43). Moreover, as the body of Christ, our combined unique individualities provide a holistic body of Christ to minister to each other and the world around us.

A key point for Mulholland is that we are conformed into the image of Christ not merely for our own sake, but for the sake of those around us. In fact, he makes the bold claim that we cannot grow spiritually without caring for others. He writes that spiritual formation is “a journey into becoming persons of compassion, persons who forgive, persons who care deeply for others and the world, persons who offer themselves to God to become agents of divine grace in the lives of others and the world” (p. 25). As we become conformed to Christ’s image, we will see that the natural outflow of this will be to serve others as Christ did.

There is much in this book to provide a framework or road map for our spiritual formation. Mulholland writes about various spiritual disciplines, giving both practical and theoretical insight. Moreover, he outlines some of the common features of spiritual formation that many Christians throughout the centuries have experienced. However, I want to focus on three lessons that have been shaping my understanding of “missional spirituality.”

Lesson 1: Holistic Spirituality

                Mulholland speaks of what he calls “creation gifts” – aspects of our personalities, talents and make-up that God has endowed to us through creating us as unique individuals. Using psychological research, he outlines the Myers-Briggs personality dimensions that people find themselves on a continuum. The four designations are: Introvert (I)/Extrovert (E), Intuitive(N)/Sensing (S), Thinking (T)/Feeling (F), and Perceiving (P)/Judging (J). Our four-letter combination speaks to our dominant ways of interacting with the world. For example, my dominant way is INFJ. He then details the strengths and weaknesses common to each combination plus our tendencies and vulnerabilities in our spiritual formation journey (p. 66). As an introvert, I tend to be reflection rather than action oriented. My preference is for solitude, private prayer and individual study of scripture and I tend to emphasize the individual experience. As intuitive, I rely on imagination and insight rather than concrete or sensual aspects to inform my decision making. I thrive with metaphors and symbolic explanations and get frustrated with a purely literal approach. I tend to be spiritually aware, and, according to Mulholland, struggle with serving others. I am slightly bent towards feeling and therefore rely on subjective values including feeling and memory, focus on relationships and devotion. Lastly, I tend to score slightly higher as judging, which means I have a preference for order, what we ought to do, and systematically approaching issues.

What stood out for me in Mulholland’s account was how we need those who are different from us to complement to provide a holistic approach to spirituality. That is, I need people who have four-letter combinations with E, S, T and P in my life and that we should be intentional about spending time with people who differ from us. In my early days of living in an intentional community, I struggled with the member of our house who was extremely extraverted. It wasn’t until we showed hospitality yet again to a large group that I recognized how extremely beneficial he was to the mission of the house and that he complemented me quite well. Mulholland has made me take this thought a step further – relationships with those who have different personalities are vital to my own holistic spiritual formation. That is, I need others – and specifically others who are different from me – to challenge and encourage me to grow in other ways so that I might become whole in Christ. Moreover, I cannot holistically minister to others if I do so only out of the preferences endowed by my “creation gifts.” Others can show me different ways to grow in my relationship with Christ as well as form me in ways that can minister to others who are different from me.

Lesson 2: Spirituality for the Sake of Others

Not only do I need others to challenge and encourage me to grow spiritually, my spiritual formation is for the sake of others. Throughout my church years, I have experienced a separation from spirituality and mission. Spirituality is something that I do in the context of my home while mission is what I do when God calls me beyond my home. Spirituality takes the form of private prayer and studying scripture and spiritual growth is measured by how close I feel to God and whether he answers my prayers and I am sinning less. It has only been in recent years that I have realized that this spirituality really has nothing to do with my neighbour – that’s the work of being missional.

Mulholland looks at what it means to be conformed to Christ. Christ “gave himself totally, completely, absolutely, unconditionally for others. This is the direction in which the Spirit of God makes us towards wholeness” (p. 41). He claims that we will become who we fully are as we are conformed to the image of Christ (p. 33). Moreover, this is the deepest hunger in our lives (p. 34). The spiritual journey of becoming conformed to Christ will lead us to giving ourselves “totally, completely, absolutely, unconditionally for others” as well.  God uses us to become His agents of grace in others’ lives (p. 154). This seems so intuitive when I think of who we are called to be like, however, I think I somehow missed this message! The gifts and fruits of the spirit might benefit me in some ways, but they are primarily for the building up of the community and for blessing others. Mulholland writes, “Our unique individuality is one of the gifts we bring to the body of Christ. Others need the gift of our preference type in their growth toward wholeness. We need the gifts of others’ preference types in our growth toward wholeness (p. 144).” That is, we cannot be maintain a holistic spirituality without serving and being served by others. Moreover, my privatized spirituality divorced from others will provide a false evaluation of where I am at in my spiritual journey. For example, it is fairly easy to be kind to others if I never have anything to do with them. As we open ourselves to being formed by Christ, God will work in us to enable our spiritual growth to encourage and minister to those around us, sometimes calling us out of our social bubbles and friendships with people who are like us.

Lesson 3: Personal and Social Holiness

In a similar vein, it is not possible to achieve personal holiness without a social holiness and vice versa. Personal holiness is developed through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting as we make ourselves available to God forming us through His grace (p. 166). In my background, personal holiness takes priority. When I first attended an Anglican Church, I was offended by the language of “we” in the confession: why must I say sorry for things that others have done, and how do I know that others truly repent? I am only responsible for me! However, if I as the member of the body of Christ seek holiness, then I also partake in the corporate body of Christ. Therefore, corporate holiness is an essential component to individual holiness.

Moreover, in Mulholland’s words, “Personal holiness […] is conformity to One whose life was given unconditionally for others” (p. 166). Therefore, personal holiness is not so easily separated from a corporate holiness. Corporate holiness calls us to hold one another accountable and to stand up for justice in our world. The sins of the whole church – both present and past – are ones that should grieve my heart as they are ways in which we have failed to be or misrepresented the body of Christ. Our binding together enables us together to be the “agents of God’s healing, transforming, and yes, disturbing presence in the life of the world” (p. 162).

Conclusion

In conclusion, spiritual formation is a journey that can be directed through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study. Spiritual formation is a path of God’s grace conforming us to the likeness of Christ. Each of us brings our unique individuality to spiritual growth, however we are challenged and encouraged by others who have different gifts and personalities. We need each other for our own growth and formation. More importantly, we are being conformed to the likeness of God so that we can be agents of God’s grace to others.


[1] Mulholland Jr., M. Robert. “Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation.” (Downers’ Grove: IVP Books, 1993).