Whatever Happened to Spiritual Formation?: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Whatever Happened to Spiritual Formation?
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.
Strangely enough, the Daily Office is what God has used and is using to keep me in the faith.
It’s strange because prayer has become a place of disappointment and anger to me…the pragmatist in me loathes doing things that seem to have no purpose.
In praying the Office, you pray properly and it has little to do with how you feel.
You praise God whether you feel like praising Him or not.
You pray for others that you don’t want to pray for.
You speak out loud what you believe even if you’re not sure how much you believe it.
When you’re done you believe it more than when you started.
It will sustain you until the storm passes….or if the storm stays.
Pray along with a faithful Anglican pastor…
Morning and Evening prayers keep me on on the Path too, Michael.
Great article, Duane.
I think the practice has fallen out of favor for two reasons.
First, it’s a discipline.
You have to train yourself over time to do it on a daily basis.
Discipline is not in style these days.
Second of all, it’s not about the knowledge of doctrine, it’s about how we live out what we believe.
We live in a time when some think believing the “right” things is sufficient…
I am offering my family’s practice not to boast but to encourage others.
First thing in the morning, we feed all the critters. 🙂
Then my husband and I stand in front of our icons, light up a few candles, and read the morning prayers. We also have a big list of people we pray for on a regular basis. (Many of you are on this list!) The main list is too long so it’s divided up into shorter daily prayer lists.
Then we eat breakfast.
After that, we read the Epistle and Gospel passages from the lectionary. We also read off the names of the day’s Saints. After that, we read aloud from an Orthodox book. Currently we are going through a book on the second coming of Christ.
Then we take the dog for a walk. 🙂
We have our evening prayers on our own.
Our days begin the same…with the critters. 🙂
Yes, it is the discipline, but it is also the willingness to let the prayers and the lessons form you… it’s a daily “breaking and building”…
those words are anointed regardless of how we may “feel” and if we did’nt have faith no matter how little we would not be saying these prayers anyway
I remember one particular ODM that claimed any seminary teaching spiritual formation was apostate. He had an extensive list of safe and unsafe schools on his website, all based on if they offered spiritual formation.
One of my favorite daily devotional books for many years has been Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening
I love the verse 1 Chronicles 23:30, where the priests are instructed to ‘stand every morning to give thanks and praise to the Lord, And in the evening also”…
My personal version of that practice is pretty simple…
Speaking of spiritual growth, formation and progressive sanctification, I will mention again, the immense amount of help I am receiving from the teaching of Rick Thomas’ books, Change Me and Suffering Well. I am very thankful to have found his website and articles, podcasts, books, etc… His teachings have answered many many of my long time questions…. praise God.
Those ODM’s still do the same thing…
I might say that any seminary that doesn’t teach spiritual formation is… “lacking”. (Not willing to call them apostate ?)
As you relate the value and the virtue of the above, what do you say to the mom with a newborn or children that need “herding,” the on call doctors and nurses, the drill sergeant, etc. They are not lesser lovers of Christ. ..?…
I *think* spiritual formation is a requirement for the nationally recognized accreditation orgs. Would have to find that page, but I’m guessing all accepted seminaries were unaccredited.
But I have found spiritual formation to be a critical part of Christian life (whether one calls it spiritual formation or not)
Through the last 30 years I’ve known all kinds of people in various “on demand” occupations who do this. By the way, there was no suggestion that someone who does not say the offices are somehow “lesser lovers of Christ”. I do, however, believe in the efficacy of set aside time and space for prayer…
My life defines the term “on call”.
The safe space in the chaos is carving out a few moments for the offices.
Long time lurker, first time commenter: I’m hopeful future installments of this series will discuss the Education for Ministry program, which both is grounded in and builds on the Daily Office in the Episcopalian tradition. Admittedly EfM spiritual formation does not shy away from exploring doctrinal ambiguities in the Christian tradition to the extent modern interpretations of “Anglican” tradition do, but that’s perhaps a discussion for when your post on EfM appears. 🙂
For clarification of terms, is spiritual formation the same as “sitting down for my quiet time” or “doing my daily devotionals”?
MLD – pretty much 🙂
With due deference to Josh…. No
Glad to have you here. Simple answer is “yes”
While I was obviously being sarcastic, there are certainly elements of quiet, devotion, and daily involved in spiritual formation.
The reason I asked was my only touch with the term “spiritual formation” is the Richard Foster stuff which I studied through back in the 80s and eventually found it wanting and left it at the curb.
Is this where you go with spiritual formation?
And why are daily devotions not enough if they include some regular Bible reading and prayer?
Spiritual formation assumes progressive sanctification…it assumes that we can grow in the love and knowledge of Christ.
It offers ways to help that growth that by the Spirit create real transformation.
Different people will find different methods work for them.
“Morning and Evening” was great but it wasn’t what I needed…
Thanks, Michael, for the link to the Anglican devotions…
I have 3 books called “The Divine Hours” by Phyllis Tickle. It covers
the entire year. It’s really wonderful.
But true confession: I’m not using it much (I’m missing the summer
one which doesn’t help). ):
Along with any habit, utilizing these resources requires some
discipline which I apparently don’t have much of…
Thank you. Far too long a day. People don’t know what they do not wish to know…
Discipline is a tough one for all of us…
All we can do is offer resources…people can choose to use them or not…
Just a thought here…
Since we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind and to become more Christlike day after day, it would seem obvious that it is a discipline. Also, the metaphors used in Scripture compare our walk to a long distance endurance race
Marathoners have to be disciplined for the entire 26 mile race. It also requires patience.
Unfortunately, we are an instant gratification society, we get upset making our instant coffee in the microwave and we want our instant sanctification. If it doesn’t happen, we get impatient (which is not one of the fruits of the Spirit).
Marathoners train for greater distances than the 26.
The first “prayer” of Morning Prayer is a confession of sin. The language is remarkably beautiful:
Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,
we have followed too much the devices and desires of our
we have offended against thy holy laws,
we have left undone those things which we ought to
and we have done those things which we ought not to
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
spare thou those who confess their faults,
restore thou those who are penitent,
according to thy promises declared unto mankind
in Christ Jesus our Lord;
and grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,
that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
to the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Just reading back through – Does spiritual formation have a different definition among Anglicans than others? Surely, one wouldn’t imply that only the readings of the Anglican tradition lead to spiritual formation.
I will say this about spiritual formation among Baptists: It is far too individualistic. Spiritual Formation is largely every man for himself. It is up to each person to find some kind of path and jump on. Far too often, it is too hard and people give up. There are easier options offered.
I try to get the people in my care on board, but to be honest, I am basically teaching them *my* system. I found it through trial and error. I do wish there was more of a consistent system to help people grow in the faith.
“Does spiritual formation have a different definition among Anglicans than others? Surely, one wouldn’t imply that only the readings of the Anglican tradition lead to spiritual formation.”
No, spiritual formation is not exclusive to the Anglican tradition. However, there is a unique view of spiritual formation in Anglicanism which is linked to the Book of Common Prayer and, especially for clergy, it is closely aligned with the saying of the Daily Office. There are other elements as well which I will be looking at in the future. For present maybe it is enough to say that it is a marriage of individual discipline and accountability to others – confessors, spiritual directors, mentors and colleagues.
Now, when a lay person speaks to me about spiritual formation, I guide them toward the same tools that are available to the clergy, that is, BCP, confessors, etc. This has really been the Anglican way for 500 years and a similar “system” existed going back to the fourth century…
Is there any “do” in the Anglican tradition of Spiritual Formation, or is it all “Read, pray, say”? I would assume the daily readings and prayers would lead to action over time, but is there actual action in the discipline itself?
And please, if my questions are bothersome, ignore them. I am just curious. Not seeking argument.
These are good questions.
I’ll throw in my two cents as a newer Anglican.
The discipline to actually “do” the Offices changes the shape of what we do during the rest of the day…
Well, the “do” is the discipline of the Daily Office in the first instance. Included in this is the remembrance of those saints who have gone before us with the intent to imitate the virtue/actions of their lives. In the confession of sin, there is the asking of forgiveness and the resolve for the amendment of our lives. If you go through the offices, it becomes clear that our daily actions are to be shaped by our daily prayers.
Apart from the Offices, a spiritual director may often make suggestions. In my part of the tradition (Anglo-Catholic) if I hear someone’s confession, with forgiveness there is often the suggestion given of something that should be done – like “Repay the money you have stolen!” (crass example, but best I could do!) This is not to “merit” forgiveness, but rather it is the fruit of true repentance. So, yes, the prayers move out into action…
Uh oh… Michael and I are not on the phone… just part of the same tribe ?
Thanks for the answers.
Is there a difference between Spiritual Formation and discipleship?
I’ll go out on a limb here. I think discipleship is the fruit of Spiritual Formation. The second to last prayer in Morning Prayer is this:
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we thine unworthy servants
do give thee most humble and hearty thanks
for all thy goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all men.
We bless thee for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for thine inestimable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we beseech thee,
give us that due sense of all thy mercies,
that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful;
and that we show forth thy praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to thy service,
and by walking before thee
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost,
be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
Note the phrase: “… that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days…” That’s discipleship emerging from Spiritual Formation…
Spiritual formation almost always is guided by those trained in the faith…so there is a manner of discipleship involved.
Duane and I are not on the same computer… 🙂
Well written Duane. Spiritual Formation is making more of an impact in some evangelical circles today.
Hopefully this will address some of Josh’s questions.
Spiritual formation is a process, not an experience. It is not about what we do so much as the willingness to submit to the work of the Holy Spirit in transforming our lives into the image of Christ. Such submission requires time and spiritual practice.
Spiritual Formation is the recognition that we are on an on-going journey in our faith. The spiritual practices, like the Daily Office, centering prayer, even works of charity are the means that transform us. It is not simply a matter of having done something spiritual. Spiritual Formation encompasses discipleship in a holistic way where are changed both inwardly and outwardly.
Many thanks! I was hoping that you would weigh in on this topic…
I use the Treasury of Daily prayer by CPH out of habit and ease of use (once you get the ribbon system and church calendar under control) 🙂
but I don’t know that I get more out of it than anyone using a Bible reading & prayer / meditation plan as some do adding Oswald Chambers or Morning and Evening.
I do know I don’t use it as a stepping stone for progressive sanctification as suggested above.
I think the value of a prayer book is that it serves as an external, objective guide. We tend to gravitate toward the things that we have familiarity with. The are tools that help us extend beyond where we are currently, and help facilitate growth.
I find the same value in using Anglican prayer beads rather than working off a prayer list. I found that using beads often extends my time in prayer, and also helps me reflect upon and worship the Triune God in the process.
I agree. Take for instance the responsive suffrages for Morning Prayer:
V. O Lord, show thy mercy upon us;
R. And grant us thy salvation.
V. Endue thy ministers with righteousness;
R. And make thy chosen people joyful.
V. Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
R. For only in thee can we live in safety.
V. Lord, keep this nation under thy care;
R. And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
V. Let thy way be known upon earth;
R. Thy saving health among all nations.
V. Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
R. Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
V. Create in us clean hearts, O God;
R. And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.
With each intercession is a guide… an approach to the prayer than comes from the heart that extends beyond the words that are spoken….
Good stuff guys, thanks. While this was talked about in seminary, it is *never* mentioned in baptist churches. I came home and found my text from a couple of years ago. Ken Boa – Conformed to His Image. Do you guys know that one? I actually don’t even remember it. May go ahead and read it again since I have a little time 🙂
Is there an audio / MP3 format to the daily office? I am out walking 3 hours each morning (getting ready to go in 20 min) and I like to do my “devotionals” on the road in peace.
MLD – if you call Duane, he will read it to you as you walk.
🙂 🙂 🙂
Was that the one published about 2000/2001? I never read it, but I remember getting it as a review copy when I was doing some writing for Anglican Digest…
That looks like the correct one. It looks pretty good. I think I’ll go back through it while I’m out of school this summer.
Come on Duane, a almost had you hooked up with a daily phone date with MLD ! 🙂
…. and I thought you were my friend ?…
For those who aren’t attached to a Church that has an official prayer book but would still like a little more discipline, read a Psalm or two, say the Lord’s Prayer, and then start in on your prayer list. After that, read some passages from the Scriptures in some kind of organized way. If you have a daily devotional book, use that, too.
Anything would be an improvement over nothing. And before I got my prayer book, it was pretty much nothing most mornings.
Good advice. By the way, which Prayer Book are you using? I’ve seen a few different ones in the Orthodox tradition…
I see Boa has also published a couple of prayer books…
Duane, this is the main one we use, the Jordanville Prayer Book:
Sometimes we use this one, put out by the Syrians:
Funny, I have the Antiochean one (from Gillquist days), but not the Jordanville… at least until next Monday when Amazon delivers ?…
The Jordanville book is larger than the Antiochian book, which is affectionately called “The Little Red Prayer Book.”
By the way, Morning Prayer in the Anglican tradition ends with this prayer:
A Prayer of St. Chrysostom
Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one
accord to make our common supplication unto thee; and
hast promised through thy well-beloved Son that when two
or three are gathered together in his Name thou wilt be in the
midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions
of thy servants as may be best for us; granting us in this
world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life