Listenings: A Transition Point

If you are following along in our focal text (Nouwen’s Spiritual Formation), you will know that we have come to the end of his first phase of formation:  “Early Movements.”

You may want to go back in the archives of these posts and review what we have been saying.  But whatever the case, we need to pause today, step back and see where we are on the larger path.

The “early movements” of our spiritual formation are (according to Nouwen) meant to open us to God—the experience he describes as moving from opaqueness to transparency.  Without this, we cannot see God truly, or allow God to deal with us fully.  When the psalmist prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” this was a cry for such openness.  It is where the spiritual life begins—what the old gospel song calls, “nothing between me and my Savior.”

This is not a one-time experience, but an ongoing process of “clearing the way,” so that our communion with God can be honest, realistic, and transformational.  Without this, prayer can become a superficial “spiritual game” that denies its very purpose.

Within the “early movement” in our formation, we also trace the journey from illusion to prayer.  This is obviously related to what we have just described, in the sense that prayer is means to reveal Reality—in God, in us, and in our relationship.

There’s no better place to see illusion than in the Pharisee’s prayer (prayed on the street corner to be seen by people), “Lord, I thank you that I am not like others.”  That’s the ultimate illusion—because the fact is, we are exactly like others.  And if we ever lose sight of that, we become spiritual pretenders.

As we have seen in the past postings, prayer is given to us (in relation to the fact that we are made in the image of God) as the means to say (in whatever ways) what the publican said nearby the Pharisee, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Prayer is the means for entering into and experiencing God’s mercy.  And the first movement of our spiritual formation is (as Nouwen wrote of it in another of his books), “a cry for mercy.”

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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