There are so many churches (denominational and non-denominational) and so many “schools” of spirituality (e.g. Benedictine, Reformed, Wesleyan) that we may have the idea that spiritual formation is like walking through a maze, or a circus “fun house” where the mirrors distort the images and confuse us.
Nouwen turns to this misunderstanding and says there are a few common elements within all the variables. He explores five—the first of which is reflection.
Reflection is determining to “read” the realities of our own lives and to take seriously what we find there. He put it this way, “The spiritual life is not lived outside, before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can be real only as it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now” (p. xxii).
Consequently, we must reflect upon our lives, looking carefully at the ways we think, speak, feel, and act. We must take seriously our circumstances—some of which bring us consolation (joy) and others which bring us desolation (sorrow).
We cannot settle for a vague interest in spirituality. It will lead us nowhere, except perhaps into superficiality, artificiality, boredom, and hypocrisy—what Nouwen refers to as a “generalized melancholy” (p. xxii).
Instead, we must read the story of our lives. Spiritual formation does not begin in books. It begins in the soul.