Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spiritual Formation - New Age or Christ Centered?

I saw a post on The Website of Unknowing from a reader troubled by the idea of Christian spiritual formation practices, seeing them as "new age movement" that had trickled into the church. She thought of it as dangerous, even Satanic. Here was my posted response.

I too am very much in favor of keeping centered on Christ, and I share your concern as someone who is radically Christian and who believes Christ is the way, truth, and life. I am by vocation a minister of the gospel and have been a Christian since I professed faith in Christ on a church retreat at age 10. But for me, this focus on the centrality of Christ is precisely what Christian spiritual formation is all about. To say that all spiritual formation is from the new age movement, imposed on the church, is to throw out many centuries of Christian prayer experience and spiritual flow … all because some pray using these practices who are of other spiritualities.

For me, Christian spiritual formation is going from a world of seeing religion as “doing” back to experiencing Christ as the true vine, and we the branches. It is letting God in Christ be a transforming presence in my life, changing me “from one degree of glory to another” as Paul said, so that I bear the fruit of love, “fruit that will last”.

I think that there is certainly new age spirituality out there, and I admit that I prefer to think of it not as Satanic or false doctrine but as partial truth. However, I’m concerned about what is probably some rhetoric you may have heard, dismissing all spiritual formation efforts, because we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Jesus himself was a spiritual formation teacher. His sermon on the mount was a reflection of God’s alternative values that change us, tranforming us into the image of Christ over time. He spent time in contemplation and silence and prayer as evidenced in the scriptures, even as people were clamoring for him to do things. And his prayers in the book of John indicate a real contemplative spirit. He was a faithful Jew, so he prayed the psalms letting the ancient words shape and form his prayer life, which is one reason he quoted them so often. Naturally, if particular prayer practices are not helpful for your spirituality than that’s okay. But it concerns me that spiritual practices rooted in Christ, that might be experienced differently for different people, would be dismissed, rather than accepted as part of the Holy Spirit’s movement in bringing forth the gifts of prayer among those called to a more contemplative life. For me, it enriches my spirit and deepens my roots, drawing me ever closer to Jesus Christ. It is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of love. Having said all that, I do think for those concerned about purity of spirituality have a good point. Christian spirituality needs to be rooted in Christ, but I would say only fear would cause us to neglect to experience the breadth of spiritual practice, when Jesus promises his presence in the Holy Comforter who would teach us in the midst of all our spiritual exploration.