How to Cultivate the Relational Path of Spiritual Formation

by Mark Votava


I love the concept of spiritual formation.  Spiritual formation to me is difficult, mysterious and fun.  It is the shaping of my identity.  In the process of my spiritual formation, I become my true self as I lose the illusions I’ve held onto over the years.

After many years of thinking about spiritual formation, I am starting to understand that it is a solitary experience sometimes but it is also very relational and social too.  I am learning that there should be no dualistic thinking around the solitary and relational aspects of formation, both are important.  It is not either/or, but both/and.

Spiritual formation seems to be one of the hardest things for the church in the twenty-first century to figure out.  I think we have such a hard time with it because we have lost the context of everyday life in a local community to practice what this means to us.  Recovering the idea of parish is so necessary to help us find our way back to context and practice.

  •  Spiritual formation is always profoundly social

Dallas Willard writes, “Spiritual formation, good or bad, is always profoundly social.  You cannot keep it to yourself.  Anyone who thinks of it as a merely private matter has misunderstood it.  Anyone who says, ‘It’s just between me and God,’ or ‘What I do is my own business,’ has misunderstood God as well as ‘me.’  Strictly speaking there is nothing ‘just between me and God.’  For all that is between me and God affects who I am; and that, in turn, modifies my relationship to everyone around me.  My relationship to others also modifies me and deeply affects my relationship to God.”

  •  Our lives affect those we are in relationship with

Everyone undergoes spiritual formation in our culture whether we realize it or not.  Spiritual formation that is good and holistic is connected within a rootedness to place.  It is connected with how our lives affect those we are in relationship with.  It is integrated to the sanity of our souls within the body of Christ in everyday life together.

  •  Learning how to heal the patterns of escapism

There is a mystical sense of discipline we need to develop within us as the body of Christ in the parish.  We need to learn how to heal the patterns of escapism through an undistracted life of mystical discipline.  We often times like to escape everything that does not produce immediate, comfortable results.

  •  Years of listening and faithful presence

But that is not how rootedness in a place works.  Our rootedness will most likely cause us pain and discomfort at times.  There are things that are so complex in our local context that it takes years of listening and faithful presence to understand what is going on.

What is your path of spiritual formation?  What are some of the practices that shape you?