When i applied for the "Institute for Spiritual Formation", I think I thought that was code for "School for Mystics".
Mystic misfits, even (think X-men. "John Coe's school for spiritually sensitive mutant misfits").
I have often heard Christian bloggers complain that they are too conservative for the liberals, and too liberal for the conservatives. Too progressive for evangelicals, and too evangelical for progressives. Yes. That. I knew I was entering a conservative evangelical seminary, but what I guess I hadn't realized was how unmoored I had become from that particular strain of Christianity.
It's not that I disagree with anything specifically. I have just found so much more spirit-life as I have moved in mystery these last years, than in the "biblical" boxes I carried most of my life.
When my professor started off our first class period with a reference to St. Benedict, and then the Desert Fathers, and early monastic communities, I was sure I was home. Their lives and writings have spoken to me more than once.
But as these first few weeks have moved by, I have found myself less at ease (which was generally predicted by insightful friends and professors and prophets alike).
For one thing, half of the assigned content (in the way of academic articles and papers presented at theological conferences) so far has been about methodology and seem to be defending the ways they have developed this program. Aside from the fact that I don't need an apologetic - I was sold on this program years before applying - it starts me down the "strategy" road, where I always get the heebie-jeebies. Even reading the first couple of chapters of Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart has left me feeling like spiritual formation is about adopting a certain methodology into my life; instead of what they have spoken aloud over and over again as the actual goal: to open us to God, to the spirit working in our souls.
Now that I can get on board with.
The second piece of it that has been hard for me is this: it is based entirely on conservative evangelical Christian theology. As it should be, I suppose, at a conservative evangelical school of theology.
But, here is where my expectation of joining a group of "mystic misfits" comes into play. I guess I didn't expect to be confronted so early and so constantly by the "biblical theology" i have been successfully avoiding the last few years.
The way i learned to "do life and spirituality" was to assimilate whatever the most trusted authority in my life said was true as though it was my own. I have spent the last ten years unlearning that; first through a very dark time, and then in real-life relationship with a very-real God.
But the more information that is poured into me, the less i am finding myself able to wrestle with it, to hold the tensions. The more lectures and reading that flow through this vein at a hypertensive speed, the more i am finding myself constricting, reverting to those old soul-atrophic ways of being that are more robotic than human.
But i just.can't. Now that i have been invited into freedom, seen what Love can truly be in a life? i just can't go back to that constriction, that self-less-ness, that assimilation.
My spiritual director (whom I adore, and you will probably find 31 references to her in these 31 days of writing through my processing of spiritual formation #sorrynotsorry) suggested today that anytime that "authority trigger" is pressed by what i am reading, hearing (even SAYing, if i'm not careful to be present with what i am processing and how); to let it be a conversation opener with God: "What do you think about the atonement?" "This view of sinful humanity doesn't hit me quite right - can you clarify how you feel about these things?"
Can you imagine what could come out of those questions, if they were met by a real Person interacting with me?
One of my professors commented on a paper of mine: "I am praying for a primary experience of the truth for you." - that I would know what I know for myself, and learn to embrace what is true because I have experienced it as the deepest truth.
That is my prayer, too.