Whatever Happened to Spiritual Formation?: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
We live in a culture of the immediate. We prefer our entertainment to be “on demand”. If, for some reason, our computer slows down or our internet connection fails, we feel our world beginning to crumble.
We love the convenience of the immediate. We want a book, we go to Amazon, one click and, if we want, we can have it the next day. We can have a question and ask Siri or Alexa and, if they get it wrong, we can always resort to Google. Our research, so-called, is immediate with instant results.
Yet, there are parts of life in which the immediate or instantaneous do not apply. For instance, one may fall in love, but a relationship that lasts for decades will require more than a couple’s first exhilaration at having found the other. It will certainly require love, but it is a love that is linked to patience, self-sacrifice and a whole range of attributes that grow through the years.
This is also true in the life of the believer, and especially so in the life of clergy. In the Anglican tradition, the growth in such attributes is called spiritual formation. The term itself speaks of growth and of a sense of shaping or molding. It implies that regardless of our knowledge or the urgency of our call to ministry, something else is required, and that something else will require patience. It is not about the immediate. It requires time. It is not even about a “pastoral skill set”. It is about the shaping of pastoral character. Before I entered the world of Anglicanism, I had already had some years of experience as a pastor in evangelical circles. Yet, when I spoke to my mentor about ordination as an Anglican priest, his first advice to me was not about education, my background, or even the process moving forward. Rather, his advice was concerning spiritual formation, and that formation started with The Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer.
Now, Morning and Evening Prayer may be said privately, with your family or with a community of faith. The person who leads Morning or Evening Prayer in a community, need not be ordained. That being said, in most of the Anglican communion it is a canonical requirement for a priest to say morning and evening prayer every day. In many places, the promise to do so made up part of one’s ordination vows.
Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are not difficult once they become familiar. They derived from the payers and readings that had been in use in the monasteries of western Europe for almost a thousand years before the Reformation. They consist of passages from Scripture, a Confession of Sin, Psalms, one or two longer readings from Scripture, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, other prayers of supplication and thanksgiving, and a closing Benediction. Either can be said in fifteen or twenty minutes on your own, or slightly longer with others.
So, what’s the big deal? How does one equate thirty or forty minutes a day with spiritual formation?
The answer is that it is “regular”, that is, it becomes part of one’s life. Everyday, morning and evening, I confess my sin… and everyday that confession seems new as I consider the day before me or the day that is ending. Everyday, morning and evening, I confess my faith in the words of the Creed, I give God praise in the psalms, and I pray for the Church and the world. It forms one’s priorities and one’s outlook on life. Your view of the world, and your life in the world, become shaped by what you pray. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi – As we Worship, So we Believe, So we Live…
Additionally, you have the knowledge that as you pray, morning and evening, you are praying with untold thousands around the world. You are reading the same lessons, you are saying the same responses. At the end of the workday, as I say Evening Prayer, I am conscious that I’m praying with my friend, Michael, in Oregon; with my friend Jeff in England; with my friend, Darryl, in Texas; with my friend, Barb, in New York… It is truly “common prayer”, and it truly forms one’s spiritual life, whether as a member of the clergy, or as a lay person. For me it is the base upon which everything else is built, and without it, a so-called “pastoral skill set”, means little.
In closing, I should point out that Morning and Evening Prayer are not unique to Anglicanism. Similar forms are found among Lutherans, Orthodox and Roman Catholics. It is a common inheritance and, as such, to be valued.
This, however, is not the sum total of spiritual formation, but, at least for my Anglican tribe, this is where it has to start. I might also say, it is always shocking to me when I encounter Anglican clergy who either have never been told about the obligation of Morning and Evening Prayer or, perhaps worse, simply do not engage in it. Identity, like spirituality, is not a given. Both are acquired by the patient forming of heart and mind, through confession, listening, praise and prayer… and they are not acquired immediately or instantaneously.
There are certainly other aspects of spiritual formation which I’ll touch on in the future, but, it seems to me, this is where it starts.