I've just finished my first full week of school in the spiritual formation program at Spring Arbor and thought it would be worthwhile to share some of my thoughts and impressions at the outset of this new experience.
First, I am struck by the journey it took to get here. I hadn't thought much about this until one of my classmates posted on the discussion board about his own long journey to this program, a journey that included application and even entrance into several programs over the course of many long years, always to have the journey into each of those places interrupted for some reason or another.
I can really relate to the heartache of that reality. I worked hard to get accepted into the University of Missouri's graduate English program in 2003 and then had to turn the acceptance down. I researched several other English programs in 2004, even flying to visit some of them, and finally narrowed it down to a school that ended up phasing out its master's program in favor of the straight-PhD track (which I hadn't applied for). And in this past year, you've all watched Kirk and I anticipate and take steps toward a huge move to California as we applied for a spiritual formation program there, only to find God nudging us to stay here in Florida. It's heartbreaking, the physical and emotional work that goes into a grad-school decision that ends up fizzling out.
It's pretty much a huge, precious gift to my heart to be finally here, studying a subject that feels like home to my heart.
And speaking of the subject matter, it is hands-down amazingness. Yesterday, I read three chapters in Robert Mulholland's Invitation to a Journey that talked about how our personality preferences impact the ways we approach and relate to God and how important it is to develop a holistic spirituality beyond the one-sidedness of our instinctive preferences. Today I learned from Henri Nouwen in his book Out of Solitude about the importance of making quiet and sacred space in the journey toward serving others. Specifically, I was struck by the idea that Jesus received the work of His ministry through the time He spent in solitude with the Father, so that He was truly able to say, "The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works" (John 14:10).
This has been a really powerful and helpful notion to think about, as this week I've been struggling with the fog. For me, the fog represents a period of active waiting on the Lord for the work He has for me to do. I feel restless and impatient to receive it, and even somewhat ashamed that all I am doing right now is going to school. I feel a strength rising up in me to do something with my life, and yet I have no clear directive to get started now. I am in a greater hurry than God is. But then, how great an encouragement this message from Nouwen's book then is. It teaches me to see this time as a time set apart in a solitude of sorts, speaking to the Father and learning to listen to Him, carrying a conversation from which I can receive His mantle, His ministry, His work, His hands, and His heart, instead of just offering my own.
It's definitely an adjustment learning in an online environment. It took a few days to learn how to find everything I needed and get comfortable navigating inside the portal. But my classmates have made it all so worthwhile. They are a group of such diverse persons, yet a gracious spirit exudes from each one of them. Everyone is learning how to do this together, so there's a real feeling of togetherness and camaraderie about it, despite the difficulties. Above all, it's a beautiful thing to behold the genuine desire each person has to explore the deep waters of our faith at the formative, heart level. I can't help but feel great anticipation for what we will learn together in the three years ahead of us. What's more, I get to meet each one of them in January when we all fly north for a 5-day residency. (Rumor has it we'll be studying with Tony Campolo at Shane Claiborne's ministry, The Simple Way, in Philadelphia. Can it get any cooler than that?!)
And since we're interacting in a flat interface until January, some of us decided to post videos of introduction to share. It makes each person come more alive than their name on a screen with some brief facts about them allows them to be. Just for fun, I thought I would share mine with you. It will give you a sense of how I'm learning to learn in this process.