Listenings: A Few Common Elements: Reflection

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.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to Listenings: A Few Common Elements: Reflection

  1. genesmith12 says:

    Thanks for posting these reflections as they have given me much to ponder and ruminate on. What Nouwen book is this from? He and Rohr are 2 writers I’d like to dive into in the near future.

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