One of my favorite things is to host groups for the sake of spiritual formation. There is a gift of walking through deep and vulnerable conversations in community as people begin to trust seeing and being seen by one another. A beautiful image that represents the flow in this kind of space is a pebble tossed into a still and quiet pond. Rings of water spread out from where the pebble touches the still water. The rings grow into larger and larger circles as they flow out toward the edges of the pond. Once they hit the edges, they flow back toward the center where the stone first broke the surface of the water, reverberating back into the continuing circles still flowing outward. This image represents the flow of the Spirit moving amid the participants in a group as they share vulnerably with one another. Witnessing the grace of this flow is a beautiful experience for all involved.
Spiritual formation is growing deeper in our relationship with God while discovering who God is and who we are in God. We experience God in solitude through the normal giving and receiving flow of our ordinary life, and incarnationally through community as God flows through each one of us. We may think we can do it alone, but to fully understand life, God, and love, we need community – to be in the physical space of the giving and receiving flow of Love.
As we struggle through relationships, we are invited to greater freedom in our relationship with those around us, God, and ourselves. It is in these very relationships that we can experience the love of God more fully and completely than in our individual relationship with God. We are created for connection with one another.
Authentic transformation cannot fully happen outside of this connection in community. The gift of the transformational journey is evident in an increased capacity of love in all our relationships. It changes everything, even our outlook on the world, without striving to make that openness happen. As we begin to notice that there is ‘that of God’ in everyone, we allow ourselves to see the face of God in the other, and when we do, it changes them and us.
Living this out intentionally with ourselves first and then others is true spiritual formation. One of the gifts of safe community is the healing of ourselves as the plasticity of our minds allows us to adapt and to learn as we create new neural connections and pathways.[i] This beautiful work is walked out in relationship with another as we experience something different than we have known previously. This reshapes the narrative we tell ourselves and clears the distorted lens we created from previous experiences.
This process requires increasing vulnerability. It is essential to have people that we can be completely open and honest with, in a safe space. From a spiritual formation viewpoint, I would say that to live our ordinary life well requires being awake to ourselves without judgment and excuse. For this to occur, it requires a safe space with others and with ourselves to allow us to know and receive God’s full acceptance. Our first invitation along this journey of emotional healing incorporates a lifelong journey through all three relationships: God, self, and others. Very much like an image of a descending circular staircase, we go deeper with one as we go deeper in another.
It is not only vulnerable to be seen in this way but to see another as well. We desire this type of connection, and yet, I believe, we do not know how to make this happen within our own American culture. We don’t know that we hide. We are not aware that our false self, how we want to be perceived, isn’t truly our identity. We don’t know how to genuinely be seen or to host the space to see another. But it is in vulnerable community where we can fully experience the love of God, and in living life this way, we become able to experience God’s love deeply.
Experiencing the gaze and embrace of God allows us to show up in our own lives, to wake up to the giving and receiving flow of Love. We discover a centeredness and groundedness that is stiller and deeper than we ever knew possible, regardless of whatever was or is going on in our world. This is the life we are invited to live, and this is the life we can choose.
When we walk it out in community, we aren’t alone in the process. We all desire to see and be seen, know and be known, and love and be loved. A safe community is vital in that journey towards wholeness. If you are interested in finding more information about spiritual formation groups – please reach out. We are forming groups now.
[i] Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, General Theory of Love, First Vintage (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 98.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!