In-Formation: The Vision Dynamic

Spiritual formation is the lifelong process of living increasingly into the new creation, responding to grace in ways that cause the old to pass away and the new to come (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Paul’s use of the word ‘creation’ (along with other uses of it elsewhere) is the signpost that directs us to see the vision of new creation in the first creation.

Our predecessors in the faith understood this, and they called creation “the first Bible.”  And the fact is, it was a revelation that existed for billions of years before “the second Bible” (Holy Scripture) came into being!  Our predecessors in the faith recognized that revelation given in the natural order was a sign of what life is meant to look like in the spiritual order. 

St. Paul described it this way, “Though invisible to the eye, God’s eternal power and divinity have been seen since the creation of the universe, understood and clearly visible in all of nature” (Romans 1:20).  Thomas Aquinas later wrote of this and said, “Sacred writings are bound in two volumes—that of creation and that of Holy Scripture.” [1]

And so, we find the major dimensions of the spiritual life in the first creation story (Genesis 1:1–2:4)–light, life, and love.  Today, we look at them together, and then in upcoming posts we will explore them individually.  But at the outset it is necessary to recognize that they “dance” together in a dynamic union, never separated or acting independently.

By the time this series ends, we will have described the spiritual life in many many ways. But they can each and all be placed under one (or more) of the three words: light, life, and love.  These are the igniting and sustaining words of the spiritual life.  The genuineness of our spirituality is discerned in relation to them.

So….what is their message when held together? Thankfully, the writer of the first creation story answers the question.  We are not left to wonder, guess, or try to figure it out on our own.  The revelation is defined by further revelation.  The message of the “dance” of light, life, and love is found in the word ‘good’–repeated seven times in the first creation story.  When the spiritual life is what God means for it to be, it is good. [ 2]

First and foremost the spiritual life is good because it is of God.  We recognize this when we think of humankind being made in the image of God, but our predecessors in faith (e.g. Sts Francis and Clare) saw it in every aspect of the creation.  We live in the midst of cosmic holiness, from the smallest particle to the fartherest star.  We are experiencing sacredness in stardust and soul.  This is why our ecological crisis is essentially a spiritual crisis; we have separated what Godbmeant to be jouned together–that is, all things.

Second, the spiritual life is good because it is righteous in character and conduct.  The union created by God inwardly and outwardly is what we call integrity.  The private and public aspects of our lives tell one story because they are of obe Story.  That’s why Jesus called out hypocrites–“two-story people” whose profession of faith and expression of faith were not congruent.  It’s why James would later say of such folks, “They are double-minded, unstable inball their ways” (James 1:8 CEB) [3]

Third, the spiritual life is good because it is constructive.  When God said, “It is good,” it was God’s way of saying, “This suits the purpose I have in mind for it.  This fits together with everything else I am making.”  We would say that the spiritual life puts us in sync with everyone and everything.  This is why the spiritual life is described in Scripture as a life that edifies, builds up, and improves status-quo current realities.

Before we delve into the details of light, life, and love, we must recognize the goodness they produced in the first creation, and the goodness they produce in the new creation.  Theologically, we call it original righteousness.  It is where natural life began, and where spiritual life begins. Our vision of new creation comes to us through the first creation.  Formation is not a new story; it is the fulfillment (made possible by Christ) of the story God has had in mind for us all from the beginning.

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Sermons on the Two Precepts of Charity and the Ten Precepts of the Law (1273).

[2] The Hebrew word is ‘tōb.’  It used 697 times in the Old Testament whenever some aspect of the God-shaped life is described.  It is a rich word with personal and communal meanings.

[3] The Inclusive Bible unpacks the idea of double-mindedness as, “they are devious and erratic in all they do,” showing that being two-story people not only affects us, but others as well.

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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