Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spiritual Transformation: The Dialectical Movement from Solitude to Community and Back Again

Mugs and pots, by artist Gary Wilson

My method in teaching spiritual formation and transformation is this: foster a dialectical movement from individuality (solitude) to community and back again, and again, with the forward thrust being spiritual and corporate transformation. As individuals are transformed, so is the community; as the community experiences transformation, so are (inexorably) its individual members.

My focus is on the deep ontological realities lying in the human heart, individually and corporately. (Henri Nouwen called them "movements of the Spirit.") For example, Trust vs. Control. This focus is why, I believe, I have been invited to teach spiritual formation and transformation in a variety of cultural contexts. Significant yet superficial differences disappear as we move into the deep waters of the human heart. (Proverbs 20:5) The deeper we go inside persons, the more we are all the same.

Individual God-encounters are needed (e.g., Jesus regularly went alone to pray), and corporate sharing (to include the kinds of transactions that occur in authentic community) is needed. Both individuality and community are required for there to be formation and transformation. The Christian who is isolated from community will not be transformed into Christlikeness; the Christian who fails to meet alone with God will suffer the same fate.

Ruth Haley Barton writes about the power of community:

"Spiritual transformation takes place incrementally over time with others in the context of disciplines and practices that open us to God. In general, while we are still on this earth, our transformation will happen by degrees (2 Corinthians 3: 18), and we need each other in order to grow (1 Corinthians 12)." (Barton, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, Kindle Locations 113-118)

My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)

and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).