February 15, 2018—When we say “spiritual formation,” what are we talking about?
For over 20 years, the Spirituality Program has been an active and vibrant part of Columbia Theological Seminary and The Center for Lifelong Learning. But what is it? Debra Weir answered…
How is this different than what I learn in church? Or what I teach/preach in church?
Spiritual formation is about your life, how you live, how you pray, how you know God in an intimate and personal way. It’s about learning and developing a more contemplative stance or way of being. This way of being is perhaps less certain about some things, and more humble in demeanor.
In church we are often concerned with facts surrounding the bible. Biblical knowledge, which is important. And spiritual formation takes things a step further, it invites us to study and also read scripture with the heart, it’s a kind of listening for how God might be speaking to us today, individually and corporately. It is humble seeking a new word spoken. Formation is also about prayer, exploring different ways to pray, and establishing a habit of prayer. The sensibility is that prayer transforms us. I read somewhere that if prayer didn’t change us, then it was no prayer at all. We will be changed from the inside out.
You mentioned prayer. Are there really different types—beyond sitting or kneeling, hands folded or not, eyes opened or closed?
Yes, there are many types of prayer. You mentioned postures for prayer, physical dimensions of prayer which can change any prayer significantly. But there are also different attitudes of prayer, praise, confession, supplication. And also ways to pray with scripture, to reflect and pray with your life and life story, there are forms of silent prayer, centering prayer, or a kind of resting in God. More active prayer forms include sung prayers and murmuring prayers, body prayers. How do you hold people, places and circumstances in the light of God? What is the prayer in you that cannot be named? What might help to release that prayer?
So lots of classes let the students explore new ways to pray. Is it just about prayer?
Spirituality is more than just prayer, it encompasses all of one’s life. It is about loving God wholly, with heart, mind, soul, and strength. In each CSF course, community prayer bounds our days. The topics for each class vary—focusing on Biblical studies, often with topics that challenge our understanding of how we are to live in the world today–practical classes that do teach about prayer or models of discernment, spiritual guidance, and classes about the history or persons who shape our current understanding of a life of faith. Some classes invite us into the causes of justice such as creation care or helping the poor.
This is a spirituality that doesn’t stay in church or in quiet prayer, but moves into an active life in service to the church and world. Such a deep and prayerful spirituality is needed to support the lively, active life of faith, which is risk-taking and pulls us beyond what we know or have experienced. We learn to trust God in all things.
You call the Immersion Experience an “introduction” to the Certificate in Spiritual Formation program. What are some of the specific things one would do in the “retreat?”
The Immersion Experience is an Introduction to a deeper spiritual life. It consists of readings of an historic overview of Christian spirituality and introduces classic spiritual practices. During our time together, we engage many of these practices, so there is an experience of the prayer. In addition to sessions on biblical foundations of spirituality and monastic spirituality, we use guided journaling as a way to creatively reflect on one’s life with God. The practice of a life review lays some groundwork for a season of more intentional spiritual journeying. After all, spirituality is grounded in our own lives.
And, Do I have to be part of the CSF program to take it?
Everyone is welcome to participate in the Immersion Experience, whether or not they continue with the Certificate in Spiritual Formation program. During the class we also introduce the certificate program and its requirements. Anyone who participates fully in the retreat and completes the final integration paper will receive credit toward the certificate. But the class is open to anyone who wishes to learn more about spirituality.
Debra Weir is the Associate Director, Spirituality and Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary.
The next Immersion Experience, led by Debra Weir, Deedra Rich and CTS faculty, is April 12-15, 2018 on the Columbia Theological Seminary campus. Registration is open now.