I am now halfway through my ‘Intro to Spiritual Direction’ class, the first class in my two-year program to become a spiritual director. I am intentionally participating in a Catholic (Ignatian) program because I want to learn in a different tradition so that I can be pushed to understand a different perspective, different language, and different emphasis. I want my blind spots exposed as I grapple with the translation process. As I read books on Spiritual Direction that are written by Catholic authors, I have to continually evaluate whether what I am understanding is accurate to the intent of the author. Are the words carrying different connotations as I interpret them in my Evangelical lens?
What has been helpful, because I am only taking one class at a time, is to read a couple of books that are thematically similar, but from an Evangelical perspective. That allows me to process related content in different Christian streams at approximately the same time, which creates a conversation.
I have had Invitation to a Journey for a couple of years, but had not read it yet. Mulholland is not directly writing about Spiritual Direction, but spiritual formation, a more general concept. I like both his definition of spiritual formation and how that definition develops throughout the book. For Mulholland, “Spiritual formation is a process of being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others.”
Mulholland is directly taking on the individualism of much writing on spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is not for our own sake alone, although there is individual value. Spiritual formation is not particular methods or structures, but the developing of a relationship with Christ by becoming like Christ. And in the process of becoming like Christ, we are doing that not for ourselves, but for others.
I think that one weakness, which is also a strength within Invitation to a Journey, is the broad perspective on spiritual formation. Mulholland says, “Once we understand spiritual formation as a process, all of life becomes spiritual formation.” That comment, in context, is trying to remind the reader that our spiritual life is not fixed, but a journey. And if a journey, it is a process that develops over time. That ‘over time’ perspective is right. We are never finished growing as a Christian. But if everything if spiritual formation, then it is easy to not pay attention clearly to how spiritual formation happens.
One of the aspects of Ignatian understanding of spiritual formation is that experiences should be understood as gifts from God, and therefore a type of grace. In my early experience with Ignatian understanding of spiritual formation, the difference is the intention. All aspects of life can be spiritual formation, but you need to intentionally work on incorporating all things as grace into your spiritual formation. Practices like the Examen, a prayer method that reviews your day to see where God worked, where you sinned, how your experiences have been a gift, and how you have received them only work when you do them. Ignatius recommended everyone work through Examen at least twice a day to incorporate our daily life into our spiritual formation.
Invitation to a Journey I thought was a beneficial book. It was the type of books I needed to help me process more clearly the different issues in Evangelical and Ignatian understandings of spiritual formation. Both incorporated community well. Mulholland’s quote, “There can be no wholeness in the image of Christ which is not incarnate in our relationships with others, both in the body of Christ and in the world,” feels Ignatian to me.
And one of the strengths of the Catholic tradition is a reliance on Christian tradition as a corrective. Ignatius was not particularly concerned about violating tradition when he thought it appropriate. But he was not a complete radical. Ignatius both submitted to authority and violated authority. But over time, he emphasized tradition and the institution more and more.
“Without a holistic corporate spirituality, there is a powerful tendency to become heterodox or heretical. Corporate spirituality is essential, because privatization always fashions a spirituality that in some way allows us to maintain control of God. Without brothers and sisters to call us to accountability, we will work powerfully to maintain that control.”
My one frustration is that I did not realize that the Kindle edition that I owned was a 2016 edition that was expanded by Ruth Haley Barton after Robert Mulholland passed away. The audiobook, which I listened to, was a 2015 release of the original, not the expanded version. So they are not synced together, and I cannot either buy the older version of the Kindle book or the newer version of the audiobook. I do think I will read the expanded Kindle version at some point. But it is a little irritating the editions are locked away from one another.