Spiritual Life: The Vision Doorway

Our exploration of spiritual formation is not haphazard, nor is our experience of it.  I am grateful to Richard Foster for creating the threefold paradigm that we will follow in this series: vision, intention, and means. [1]

We begin with Vision.  Today and next week we will look at the vision as-a-whole, and then in coming weeks, we will explore each main ingredient of the vision in detail. [2]

Long ago, Solomon wrote, “Where there is no vision, the people are wild” (Proverbs 29:18).  He understood that it is our vision which shapes and sustains the spiritual life.  We become like that which we see.

The Hebrew in the verse is rich and insightful.  The word ‘vision’ is translated as ‘prophecy’ in the NRSV.  It is a vision which is not only seen, but also shared.  The Message is mediated by messengers.  It is not a private/individualized vision; rather, it is a proclaimed/communal one.

The phrase ‘the people are wild’ is equally powerful.  The NRSV translates it ‘the people cast off restraint.’  The CEB renders it, ‘the people get out of control.’  The idea is that without a center, we have no option but to make things up on our own, which in terms of the spiritual life means we take a part of that life and try to make it central, creating a partial, distorted, and deformative vision.

The old story of the blind men and the elephant makes the point.  Each person interpreted their experience (i.e. an ear, the trunk, a leg, the tail) and mistook it for the whole elephant.  We do the same thing with the spiritual life if there is no vision inspiring and informing us.  Without a vision we settle for less than what God has in store for us, thinking all the while that “have it all.”

The history of spirituality is rife with examples of deformative spiritual lives, almost always when an individual’s or group’s experience is touted as the whole picture and totally correct.  This “one stop shopping for all things spiritual” easily leads to partisanship and sectarianism in religion, just as it does in every other area of life when one view is alleged to be the entire one.

Our spirituality must be large if it is to be be genuine.  Vision is the doorway to discovery. Vision invites us into the world of God–a world that is deep and wide.

[1] The ‘Life With God Bible’ (HarperOne, 2005) uses this paradigm, and Richard wrote further about it in the book he authored with Kathryn Helmers, ‘Life With God’ (HarperOne, 2008).

[2] I remind you of something I said in the introduction: I am not in a hurry in this series.  We are intentionally taking a slow, piece-by-piece look at the spiritual life.  This more contemplative, little-by-little is as important as the content.  It will all fit together in the end; in the meantime, I am writing in a way that fits a blog-length style and a lectio divina spirit.  This is a long-haul series, not a quick-fix one.

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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