Thursday, July 09, 2009

What is 'Spiritual Formation'?

Today I was bombarded by this term 'spiritual formation' since 8am in the morning until 5.30pm just now. And I expect this bombarding to continue for the next few years.

During this morning's briefing on the academic requirement and expectation, Simon Chan said that theological students must learn how to see their academic studies as part of their spiritual formation. For eg. being punctual at classes and in submitting our assignments contribute to our spiritual formation.

And later on at the chapel, Andrew Peh gave a more thorough treatment on what 'spiritual formation' means. He referred from TTC's Spiritual Formation and Community Living Handbook,

"The goal of spiritual formation is the glory of God the Father. The content and shape of spiritual formation is Christlikeness. The author of spiritual formation is the Holy Spirit. The basis for spiritual formation is the Word of God. The context of spiritual formation is Community living at TTC, in the church and the world. The means of spiritual formation are spiritual disciplines and redemptive relationships. The subject of spiritual formation is the total person." (Bold removed, p.2)

As vague as some 17th century creeds.

Anyway some clear tangible examples were given. These activities contribute to spiritual formation:

  • No plagiarism.

  • Be punctual at events.

  • Be engaging in classes.

  • Participate in family group.

  • Submit assignments on time.

  • The field education (internship and visitation to other organization).

  • Participate in College Retreat.

  • Regular quiet time.

  • Join study/discussion group.

  • Journaling (my language: blogging).

  • Submitting Medical Certificate or Leave of Absence to the Registrar and Dean of Studies respectively if unable to attend any classes.

In summary, Andrew listed 4 major words that include all that contribute to spiritual formation:

  • Presence. (Given examples are all TTC's activities)

  • Participation. (Given examples are all TTC's activities)

  • Punctuality. (Given examples are all TTC's activities)

  • Practice. (Given examples are all TTC's activities)

So from the whole presentation, I perceive that spiritual formation is just doing everything according to an institution, as long as we think that it is for the glory of God, etc, etc.

Now I realize that corporate organizations across all the various industries out there, including public schools, have great spiritual formation programs for their staffs and clients. Seems like I'm in good hand. And seems like my spirit will have a wonderful time being formed.

On a more serious note. In ridding off the distinction between 'spiritual' and 'non-spiritual', what are left are only two conclusions:

  • Everything is spiritual, or

  • Everything is non-spiritual.

Think about it. Both consequences flatten everything, and hence making distinction and recognition impossible. In the case that everything is spiritual, then even my staring blankly at the mobile phone next to my laptop is an exercise contributing to my spiritual formation. And squashing the tiny bug that is resting on one of the book is also an spiritual exercise.

Is 'spiritual formation' merely a sort of merged disciplined living with many other meaningless deeds baptized in religious rhetorics?

On the other hand, does that also means if I am not punctual to attend classes or don't want to attend some of TTC's events, my spirit is deforming? That's what the rhetorics hint at.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

Thanks for this. Interesting. What are your thoughts about the passage your quoted? It seemed to divide up the Trinity quite a bit - in other words - I'm not so sure that the Spirit is just off forming us and the Son is merely passive in the affair. The "means" language is equally curious, not wrong, but as you said, a little too vague to be helpful. Have you seen the new "A Call to Spiritual Formation" document put out in the States? I did a series of posts on it at It might be a little more what you are looking for - although, as I argued - not without its own drawbacks.