Today’s blog explores what I have learned (in my humble opinion) is missing is most expressions of institutional religion. Where are we given tools through which we can have a personal encounter with the Divine, come to know the Divine in our hearts, discover who we are, what our gifts are and how we are called to use them?
Religion as I knew it
Once upon a time there was a good little Catholic girl who grew up going to mass on Sundays (and actually liked it), went to CCD (aka Sunday School) and learned the catechism (teachings) of her faith, participated in the sacraments and rituals of her Church, learned how to pray the rosary, do the stations of the cross, etc. She enjoyed her Catholic faith, but in the end, something was still missing. She longed for “that which she could not name”. She thought Jesus was cool, looked to the saints as models of “Christian virtue” (kinda like they were Superheros), and tried to live a good life…but something was still missing. Sound familiar? If so, then you are in the majority. Many people move through the experience of the religions of their youth, doing what they are told and either loving, are neutral or hate it…..but for most, regardless of their personal like or dislike, something still seems to be missing. This was me…..UNTIL I had an opportunity to learn something different.
The experience of the “Good little Catholic girl” (aka Lauri) describes what would technically be known as Religious Formation. Religious formation is the process through which we learn and practice the traditions and beliefs of a particular faith (Catholic, Lutheran, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Methodist, etc.). Religious formation is a process of the mind…we learn, we obey (or not), we do. Religious formation is how we learn to go along with the other participants/members of that particular tradition. It is how we learn to comply, to fit in, to be obedient to the outside perceived authority chosen by that particular faith. Religious formation has its place within the context of a chosen faith community, but if this is all that is offered to the community, there will always be a sense of something missing.
What the Heck is Spiritual Formation?
Spiritual Formation is the missing link is the vast majority of institutional religions today. Spiritual Formation is the heart-piece that is missing in religious formation alone. Through spiritual formation, we are given the tools to SEEK, discover and come to KNOW the Divine in a very deeply personal and intimate way. Through spiritual formation we are given permission to ask the tough questions, to seek God until we experience the Divine in the very center of our being…in our hearts where God truly lives. Through spiritual formation we don’t just know ABOUT God (as defined by our religious institutions), we KNOW God in our very heart. And…in coming to know God in this way, we come to know ourselves and are then given tools through which we can discover our own unique giftedness and be open to how God might be calling us to use those gifts in the service of love in the world, thereby making the world a more peaceful, harmonious and loving place. COOL!
Spiritual formation, in my opinion, is what is missing in most expressions of institutional religion. I discovered this in my own journey when I had an opportunity to learn and practice the rich tradition of sound spiritual formation of the Catholic Christian tradition. The PROBLEM is that these tools, are locked away in monasteries and are reserved for the exclusive use of men and women in religious communities (monks and nuns). Us lowly lay people, rarely, if EVER get a chance to learn or practice these tools. What is interesting to me is that it is only through sound spiritual formation that we can ever become “true disciples” that which most religions claim they want their members to become. HA! The problem is that in sound spiritual formation…..we have to be able to ask the tough questions, challenge our faith traditions, confront hypocrisy, challenge the tension between the God that reveals itself to us in our hearts and the Divine that is contained within the constructs of our religious institutions. And….most institutions can’t handle the questions, the rebellion, the confrontation of uppity lay people who might discover a God that is slightly different than what they want them to believe in. So, sound spiritual formation is ignored or flat out denied and the participants of institutional religions are left to “pray, pay and obey,” never knowing the richness of the intimate personal experience of God, self and service. (except in the rare exceptions where God breaks in and reveals God’s self to the individual, in spite of the lack of spiritual formation…just saying…God is bigger than even the limitations of religious institutions.)
Where have you felt that something was missing in your experiences of religious institutions?
How are you being called to not just know ABOUT God, but to KNOW God in a very deeply intimate and personal way?
Authentic Freedom Ministries