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Whenever I think back to the births of my babies, I am struck with wonder and amazement. What a gift, what a privilege it was, to experience the miracle of life growing within me, to be so intimately involved in my child's growth and development from the moment of their conception. I still marvel at the miracle of the moment of birth, when suddenly in the room there is another tiny, complete human being. I remember being fascinated at their toes and fingers with their perfect, miniature nails.
However, It didn't take long to realise that God's formation of a new being requires more than weaving them in their mother's womb. In fact, the process of complete formation is a life-long quest. As carers and nurturers, we do our best to guide our developing child through their physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development, towards the independence of a fully mature adult and beyond. Typically, this is a journey of two steps forward and one step back, just as our own adult lives tend to be.
The pinnacle of the formation process is spiritual formation. Spiritual formation starts with an awareness that there is more to life than the physical, but the formation process reaches into every aspect of life and all that we do.
Many psychological therapies and self-help texts emphasise the importance of integrating beliefs, actions and values. The person whose values are well expressed and consistent with all areas of their life has an authentic, solid core which helps them to get through difficult times and establish more valuable and meaningful relationships.
I was chatting recently with a Christian couple who are of a similar vintage to myself. They were reminiscing about their teenage years in the church. They had both been actively involved in their churches, enjoying the worship, the rituals and the fellowship with other Christians. But something was missing. It felt like they were just going through the motions.
Around this time, they started working with Youth for Christ who ran events, rallies, camps and other gatherings for youth, Christian and non-Christian alike. Their approach was that following Christ was a way of life and relevant for all. At last, the rituals and the worship made sense for this couple - and for thousands of others. They got it. Their faith suddenly became intensely relevant to everything they did. They saw that Christianity wasn't about following a set of rules, or being a ‘good enough’ person to enter the Kingdom. It was recognising that each of us is a pilgrim, and like the pilgrims of the Middle Ages, we come to Christ with all our faults and shortcomings.
What we have in common is a desire to know God better, to allow His will and His being to infiltrate our soul and everything that we do. This is how we work towards true formation, towards a way of life where we ‘pray without ceasing,’ towards being ‘in the world but not of the world.’
The book of James could be subtitled ‘A model for how to live with Christ.’ James, the brother of Jesus, would have known intimately the way of life that Jesus taught. James' letter is all about how to become a fully rounded, Christ-centred person. To James, a person with genuine Christian faith expresses that faith in everything they do: their faith and their actions work together. Their actions are an outpouring of their faith.
If you are seeking ways to integrate different aspects of your life, asking God how you can go deeper, then you will find that James' advice is wise and balanced. .
Extract from Janette Phelan’s Spiritual formation: a life-long quest. To read the full article, and more uplifting and insightful stories like this, download the latest edition of ConXion
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