I have been drawn to the ministry of the Academy since I attended Academy #20 from 2003-2005. I came to the Academy after grace had already initiated in me an active spiritual search for depth and wholeness. Though I have been nourished by spiritual growth ministries over a lifetime of retreats and church experiences, this more intense yearning emerged from the early years of pastoral ministry. This calling of the heart first led me to a series of private retreats at the Sacred Heart monastery in Cullman, where I discovered writings ancient and new as well as the joys of the rhythm of the daily office and prayer. It was as if a whole new world of spirituality had opened for my exploration. I also began to develop covenant relationships with others in group spiritual direction through Renovare, which introduced me to one who would eventually become my spiritual director.
As part of this intense period of spiritual growth, I applied for and went to the Academy. My two year experience, as well as continued leadership in the Academy Forum, brought great healing as well as integration into my life and ministry. A more complete statement of my spiritual journey and how I grew interested in spiritual formation studies can be found using the link on the right under the tree.
The Academy is an amazing ministry. It is the one formational experience that I have found that is modeled in a way that seems truly integrated between the head and the heart, between the traditions of prayerfulness and the contemporary call of vocation. It provides a unique learning environment because of the balance of academic learning, silence, daily office and prayer, the Eucharist, and covenant relationships. The Academy not only delights the soul but brings rhythm in a world that is increasingly prone to lack of balance between doing and being. This rhythm patterns the lives of the participants as they go out into the world, thus shaping the heart of the church. The Academy runs counter to a culture focused on productivity and functionalism, in the midst of a church climate that is highly anxious over institutional decline and divisiveness. The Academy stands as an emergent witness for the
The best way I can describe how the Academy touches the lives of those seeking a holistic journey is to briefly share what has become my sacred metaphor, the image of the tree. Before attending the Academy at a difficult point in my ministry, I was on a personal retreat at the monastery. I serendipitously became enthralled with a large Magnolia in front of the building and spent a couple of hours meditating on its huge trunk and large branches. I was overwhelmed by a singular thought. In order for this tree to reach up so high into the sky in praise of God, and in order for it to reach out so far into the world in love for others, it had to have really deep roots. At this pivotal point in my journey, roots were what I had been neglecting. Roots were what I needed. Coming home from that retreat, I began planning my application for the Academy.
This metaphor of the tree is how I continue to understand the ministry of the Academy. Without deep roots, our tree will blow over when the winds come. The Academy enlivens and nourishes these roots. It deepens us in the ground of our being, so that we might reach up to God in praise and out to our neighbor in love. It immerses us in the flow of centuries of spiritual waters. It gives Christian leaders not only a balanced model for indepth learning but a community in which to find healing and wholeness. The focus is not some sense of spiritual “self-fulfillment” but on becoming formed in the image of Christ, just as we were created to be.