Last week I found myself in the middle of a delightful conversation when a group of five women gathered for lunch and a discussion to plan the upcoming Lenten Program for our church. I knew all five, two were parishioners, and two will be presenters at the Lenten program, and me. It was however the first time the others had met each other, including the parishioners. So, it was really wonderful that the conversation went so well.
In the course of the conversation one of person raised the idea of “Formation.” This lead to a conversation about what it is. What is Christian Formation? Her idea, the one who raised it in the first place, is that formation is the way God speaks to us and we respond. Over the course of time God speaks into our being and our efforts to respond to that movement of God in us, is formation. I didn’t ask this at the time, but I suppose this is particularly true when we decide to be intentional in that response to God, when we intentionally work on our formation.
Offering opportunities to work, intentionally, on our formation, is what this group had gathered to do. How to create an interesting Lenten program, one that will appeal to the people of our congregation. How to do this when the common denominator between the five nights will be prayer. We all acknowledged that a theme of prayer would not be a draw….so, one said, “How do we make prayer “sexy.”
That of course led to all kinds of fun. Which presenter would lead the teaser? Which presenter would be foreplay (reflections on the Wisdom of the Desert Mothers and Fathers)? Which presenter would take us right into the heart of the matter (reflections on centering prayer and healing prayer? How would we organize the climax, a Taize service? You get the idea. Five women howling at the metaphor of Christian Formation as sex, as making love with God.
From our conversation it would seem that Christian Formation brings with it a kind of intimacy and vulnerability. Christian Formation asks us to bare our selves to God. Of course for it to be truly formative it also means that we anticipate God baring God’s self to us as well. Making love is much more fulfilling when it is between two beings, each being equally vulnerable, each willing to enter into that most intimate of all relationships.
I wonder how many of us really think of Christian Formation with this kind of anticipation, hope, and desire? It makes me think of one church who said to me, in the interview process, that the adults of their community were “done” with formation. It was OK to form the kids but the adults want to come to church for worship only. They’d rather spend time together having dinner and going to the opera than in an adult ed. class. The idea that at some point we are “done” with our formation leaves me feeling so sad and discouraged. Formation is one of my passions, I love to turn people on to God. I love to turn people on to exciting ways to experience God. I love offer people opportunities to enter into the mystery of God. We spend so much time in the didactic, preaching and reading…and so little in the experiential, the mystery. I love to offer this to folks in a variety of ways.
Christian Formation is more than just reading a book or having a discussion. Christian Formation is about a life long relationship. Perhaps this relationship, like others, ebbs and flows, but hopefully it also grows through the changes and challenges.