The Priority of Formation

by Gregory Thompson

The Center prioritizes three objectives: the formation of Christians, the pursuit of justice, and the bringing of peace into the world in the name of Jesus. As we know all too well, this work can only be done by a people of justice, by a people who bear within themselves the miracle of peace. Because of this, the foundational priority is the work of formation; the work of becoming people who are marked in ourselves by the very justice and peace to which we aspire in the world.

And yet how are we to approach this work of formation? For many of us, especially in an age such as ours—an age deeply animated by visions of human perfectibility—the importance of formation is very clear. What is often less clear, however, is the goal of our formation, the means through which we seek it, and the power through which we find it.

The Goal of Formation
At The Center, the goal of our formation is deepening union with and conformity to the life of the Trinity. That is (and this is a great mystery) in one respect the purpose and trajectory of our lives: to live in intimate and mystical communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; to live in conscious and abiding engagement with God’s loving presence. This is the great and mysterious joy of the Christian life. And yet in another respect, the purpose and trajectory of our lives is not simply to commune with God, but to actually be conformed to God’s own life: to see as God sees, to love as God loves, to welcome as God welcomes, to suffer as God suffers, to weep as God weeps, and to rejoice with God’s own holy joy. The goal of our formation, in other words, is a life lived in intimate union with God and communal expression of that union.

The Means of Formation
But how are we to seek such a goal? How are we to find such a life? For much of its history, the Christian Church’s answer to this question has been the cultivation of practices; the deliberate embrace of habits that lead us both to commune with God and to conform to God’s life. Because of this, the formational work of The Center is anchored in this historic practice-based model of formation. Together we seek to give ourselves to practices of mind (of learning and contemplation); practices of heart (of seeking God and searching ourselves in prayer); practices of speech (learning the ways of silence and song); practices of body (of self-care and of self-control); practices of friendship (learning both the beginnings and ends of intimacy); and practices of service (growing into work and rest)–each ordered by love. We believe that it is through these practices—as they are sanctified by God and sustained over time—that we will be formed into a community of justice and of peace.

The Power of Formation
And yet even as we give ourselves to these practices (we invite you to use The Center’s Rhythm of Life for Justice and Peace) we are deeply aware that these practices, important though they are, cannot in and of themselves lead us to the goal of union with and conformity to the life of God. Indeed, the enduring confession of the Church is that this can only come to us by the will of the Father, the intercession of the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit. This confession is at once chastening and consoling. Chastening, because it reminds us that the process of formation is, in the end, not primarily something we do, but something that is done to us. Consoling, because it reminds us that this One who forms us is the same One who loves us. And because of this One, we can be sure that we will finally find the treasure that we seek.

It is in this hope that we invite each of you to join us in the work of formation through a shared rule of life. We believe that as we do so—as we take up these practices and as God animates them by the Spirit—we will together become a people who do not simply work for justice and peace in the world, but who embody these holy mysteries in our very selves.

* Don’t forget to check out our Rhythm of Life for Justice and Peace!

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