Discipleship Series: Formation

By Gina Bottom

My best friend had a baby last year, her first. I was there to celebrate with her in the hospital as she brought her beautiful baby girl into the world, and I was witness to her first year of life. She is much different now that she isn’t an infant, but her growth has been surprisingly slow. That’s because my friend decided she was only going to feed her daughter one big meal per week instead of the hassle of regular meals throughout the week. That sounds insane, doesn’t it?

Well that’s because I made it up. I do have a best friend that did have her first baby last year, but baby girl is healthy, growing, and strong-willed. Sister devours anything you put in front of her – bananas, peas, chicken, pizza, burgers (not joking), and every kids’ favorite – cheese. Of course, my friend is a wonderful mother who would never withhold meals each day from her child in favor of one big meal every week. Perhaps you didn’t believe me for a second because you know there’s no way a child could be happy, healthy and growing in mind and body on one meal a week, no matter how large. And yet, that is what most of us choose for ourselves when it comes to our own spiritual formation.

Formation and growth take place in the consistent practices that we participate in every day.

This week we’re talking about formation. Formation is defined as the way a thing is formed – so we’re talking about the way our spiritual selves develop. In going back to my analogy, most of us decide to attend church once a week on Sunday, participate in the occasional community event, but perhaps little to nothing with the specific purpose for spiritual growth. Consequently, like the growing child on the one-meal-per-week-diet we experience a malnourished and barely surviving faith.

Formation and growth take place in the consistent practices that we participate in every day. Every day, my husband makes us coffee. Every day, I clean out the cat’s litter box. Every day, we make our bed. In the years that we have done these consistent practices, we have been shaped into people who love coffee, have a house that smells good and looks nice and put together. While some would argue that drinking coffee is a spiritual discipline, I would say that there are a few other practices that are more effective in producing a robust and healthy faith:

Morning and Evening Prayer
If you’ve spent any time with Fr. Bottom, you know that this is his mantra. Naturally, it has to be first on my list. Morning and Evening Prayer are the bedrock of spiritual disciplines, the practice of turning your heart, mind, and prayers toward the Lord at the beginning and end of your day. It’s a consistent recalibration of your heart toward God. What a beautiful and simple way to effectively submit your soul to the One who made it.

In a culture where excess is king and none of us has to truly do without, it can be incredibly humbling and effective to practice self-denial. Whether it’s food or television or anything you regularly consume, going without, in consistent small doses, is a great way to make you aware of what you depend on rather than the Lord for sustainment. It’s a simple and effective way to once again, turn your heart back to the Lord.

There is so much noise in our worlds, you guys. Music, podcasts, television, internet, social media… how in the world are you supposed to hear your own thoughts, much less hear the voice of the Lord? Silence is hard, but it absolutely necessary if you are going to make room for the Holy Spirit to speak to you and for you to hear him. Any way that you can make time for a few minutes of quiet, do it. Perhaps while you enjoy that first cup of coffee. Or maybe the first half of your commute, turn off that podcast. I especially find that when I put on my make-up in silence, I not only make room to hear the voice of the Lord, but often solve the world’s problems and have a particularly cringe-worthy memory come up all in the span of ten minutes.

Of course, participating in the sacraments of confession, Eucharist and reading Holy Scripture are essential as well. These that I’ve listed are just a few ways that we may actively participate in the formation of our faith through daily routines. Ultimately, and perhaps counter-intuitively, having small but consistent spiritual disciplines in our daily routines is the life of faith. It is through the small daily decisions where we trust God’s Spirit to grow and form us in wisdom and maturity. These practices are like the continual dripping of water on a rock, one drop does nothing to the hard surface, but over time He produces in us something significant. Just as we eat and drink and exercise our bodies (or we should), the benefit is not only in a goal we attain, but in who we become in the process. Strong, healthy, able to rise to challenges and thrive in the ordinary – this is who we want to be spiritually. Crunch time isn’t when we should scramble to get ourselves together, the time is now.

Let’s make choices today that benefit us in who we want to be right now and in the future. Let’s learn to make these habits a part of our daily routine and trust that the Lord is using them to shape us, to form us into healthy and mature children of God.

Theological Virtue: Love

by Jonathan Clark

English is a beautiful, poetic, and strange language. Most people who care about such things say the English vocabulary is the largest in the world; and yet, despite this lingual depth, many of the commonest English words are imbued with inherent ambiguity. There is probably no better example of this than the word love. Case in point: I can, with equal passion and fervor, say in one breath that I love a good hamburger, with the next that I love my wife with all my heart, and be telling the absolute truth in both instances. And what an oddity it is that “love” should be so ambiguously defined, for it’s love that lies at the very heart of our civilization, both sacred and secular. But, as one might expect, while the same word is used, its meaning could not be more different.

Deus Caritas Est

The Roman Catholic Church defines love (or charity, as they would call it) as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” Like the other theological virtues, love is a grace divinely imparted to us by God, and it requires an act of will on our part. In other words, God gives us love, but it’s incumbent on us to return it—not only to Him, but also to our fellow man. And like the love God bestows on us, there’s no upper limit to the love we’re to bestow on God and our neighbors. Indeed, as is and has been the case with so many of our brethren, the love we are called to give may require our lives.

As Christians, we have in Jesus Christ the perfect model of the theological virtue of love. While on this earth, he loved the Father by obeying Him and fulfilling His purpose; he loved us by dying on a cross. And his followers have been tracing his steps ever since. From St. Teresa of Calcutta, to volunteers at Our Daily Bread, to the brothers and sisters martyred by ISIS, our modern world is replete with examples of Christians living out the virtue of love and bestowing it upon both God and man.

From Jesus to John Lennon

Contrast the above to the more common, secular notion of love. The vast preponderance of secular thought devoted to love is relegated to the sphere of romance. It’s variously thought of as a gift from “the Universe”, the result of a chemical reaction in our brains, or the unfortunate by-product of a hookup. Apparently it’s all you need, but it’s also something to fear and an easy target for cynicism. Mostly, though, love is a very nice feeling, but one that inevitably fades with time.

Perhaps that analysis is a bit uncharitable. However, even if it is, a pattern emerges: love—in the general, secular conception—is a force that exerts influence upon people. The feeler feels love, they do not do love. Sure, feelings of love may prompt a lover to virtuous acts and romantic deeds, but that often holds only so long as the lover has feelings of love. After that, all bets are off.

I do not think it means what he thinks it means

To Hellboy and Back

In Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the titular hero says, when speaking about his significant other, “I would give my life for her…but she also wants me to do the dishes.” Many people, myself included, frequently find themselves in a similar conundrum. It’s easier to envision a heroic sacrifice—a last stand for love, often with explosions in the background—than actually pausing Netflix to take out the recycling. Sometimes the virtue of love requires the heroic sacrifice, but more often than not I suspect we practice the virtue of love through mundane acts of loving kindness and service.

So, use your gifts to God’s service. Pray daily and think on Him. Don’t blow off the people that exasperate you most. Be kind to the lowly and exalted alike. Take a moment to help someone if you see they need a hand. Be a good neighbor. It may be that love will require you to go to unimaginable lengths. But it’s just as likely love will ask you to do the dishes.

Theological Virtue: Faith

by Fr Jacob Bottom

Faith has a bad rap these days; even in Christian circles. Faith healings, or the lack thereof and phrases like, “Just have faith,” have narrowed our understanding of the word into some small cattle corral of meaning, where it sits scared and unsure of the future. Faith, to many modern hearers, simply means to believe without thoughtfulness or nuance; to hold a blind conviction about biblical propositions. The leap of faith is the only way to defeat doubt.

Seen in this way, and during a time when doubt is so culturally prevalent, faith can seem unsophisticated, dogmatic, and dangerous.

Mumford & Sons captures the sexiness of cultural doubt (uncertain faith) in their song “Believe.” Whether about a girl or God, or both, the repeating mantra is, “I don’t even know if I believe…your world’s not all it seems.” As if to say, the view of the world presented to the songwriter was not sufficient to take in all the complexities with which experience had constantly bombarded him.

Yet faith ≠ simplistic, unsophisticated thinking. If Dante had any true grasp of reality as a poet, the virtuous pagans in Limbo suggest that natural intellectual operation is, in fact, the lacking faculty, not faith. Virgil explains to Dante the pilgrim, “That these [the virtuous pagans] of sin were blameless; and if aught they merited, it profits not, since baptism was not theirs, the portal to thy faith.”

The virtuous pagans had achieved, to full measure, everything that the faculty of the mind could offer. Yet they failed to understand that all thought, all rationale, led to and was completed by faith, i.e. Faith in the things God had revealed about Himself. Living a virtuous life is not an end of itself but simply a means to the end of knowing God more.

F.P. Harton, at the beginning of his chapter on the theological virtue of faith, states, “It is important to realize at the outset that faith is a spiritual virtue, not a natural intellectual operation; therefore, it does not oppose the rational processes of the mind, but completes them.

A Brief Distinction

As faith should provide clarity in uncertainty, so too we must strive for clarity in our thinking. Apart from the meaning mentioned above, the word faith can mean two other things, both of which are interrelated and therefore I wish to speak of both.

  1. Faith can mean the content of Christian doctrine; this meaning usually signified by the ever-helpful definite article, as in “the Faith.”
  2. It can also mean the faculty of the soul; a gift infused into the Christian’s substance by the Holy Spirit. This use of “faith” is also known as a Theological Virtue.

Harton again brings conciseness and insight stating,

In the spiritual sphere, the knowledge of God is an intuition granted to the soul through [the Theological Virtue of] Faith…Faith is indeed far more than mere knowing, either rational or intuitive; it is the virtue by which we are united to God…In purely human relationships we have faith in a person whom we believe to be true, honourable and of sound judgment, and because we thus believe in her we have faith in what she says and accept her word with our intelligence even though we may have no means of proving the truth of her words for ourselves; indeed, if we have a real faith in her we should not desire to prove her words at all. The same is true of faith in God. The essential part of faith is a spiritual movement towards God, not, as many think, an unaccountable disposition to believe certain, mostly indemonstrable statements.

Do not doubt, therefore, but grow in faith. To grow in faith is to grow in the Spirit. Faith is not a staunch certainty but a habit of trust. It is seeing His faithfulness and believing what He says, both about Himself and about the condition of the world. Faith is a supernatural movement towards God by the power of God Himself.

The evil one is cunning indeed, to shape an entire culture that views faith as the enemy and doubt as the desirable trait. May the mantra, “I don’t even know if I believe” change to “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief!”

Cardinal Virtue: Justice

by Dick Wells, Jr. Warden

Another Word re: the Virtues

First, here’s just a follow-up on Father Bottom’s previous clarifications and thoughts about the Cardinal Virtues.  As we know, these are not the only virtues, but together they are the foundation for all others.  The word cardinal comes from the Latin cardo (pertaining to a hinge; applied to that on which something turns or stands or a cardinal point). The Cardinal Virtues remind me of the two commandments on which hang all the Law and the Prophets.

Thus, the four Cardinal Virtues provide a base, or hinge, or hanger, we follow in order to live by the other virtues.

The first use of the word “cardinal” to describe these virtues is in St. Ambrose of Milan’s commentaries on the Gospel of Luke.  It also appears in writings of St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Thomas Aquinas. As Christians, we need to understand that these virtues are more than just the gift of God.  There is among some “modern” Christian groups a misunderstanding that righteousness (and thus living the Cardinal Virtues and more) just automatically comes with accepting Christ.  We know otherwise because we must walk in the way of Jesus; that is, hard human work is required to practice and carry out the virtues.  What is required of us is that we have a responsibility to participate in the life of the virtues by the power of God’s Spirit.

As Dr. Peter Kreeft writes:  “God’s word says that ‘faith without works is dead.’  The works of virtue are the fruit of faith, that is, of a live faith. … (God) makes his power and grace available to us once we are joined to Christ. But if we simply sit back and let that spiritual capital accumulate in our heavenly bank account without making withdrawals and using it, we are exactly like the wicked and slothful servant who hid his master’s money rather than investing it, in Jesus parable of the talents (Mark 25, 14-30).”

Leading us to The Cardinal Virtue of Justice.

Justice gets high praise in the Scriptures.  All 10 of those oft repeated Commandments are concerned with justice.  And Jesus, the Most Just of all, died for the unjust, bearing our sins so that we could be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Yes, Paul, too, is telling us to get off our collective duffs and do the work of God through Christ.

Then Justice is the virtue that lets us take on our Christian responsibilities and to give to others what is due them.  Justice means that we respect others and all of God’s creation and fulfill our obligations to people and to all of God’s creation.

Even ancient philosophers recognized the importance of justice as a sort of perfect balance in which ALL parts, all things, are fairly balanced in relation to the whole.  Much later, Thomas Aquinas said justice (and the other three Cardinal Virtues) form the moral development in all people, and among Christians those Virtues can only be understood and fully achieved through the Grace of God.

The Individual and Justice

I have freely used the word “we” to be inclusive for us Christians in talking of our rights and responsibilities in living the Cardinal Virtue of Justice.  But for Christians, Justice is individual before it is group.  Each of us must understand that we are just or unjust to ourselves before we are just or unjust toward others.  However, don’t be misled in thinking about this individual responsibility as a sort of “moral relativism.” Moral relativists (or ethical relativists) might maintain that justice is established by the individual, and that morality is created by human beings and subject to them alone. This means objective moral truths do not exist.  Moral relativism would says that what is right today may be wrong tomorrow and that all things are subject ot change – even truth and justice. But traditional Christian worship shows us that morality (and justice) is objective and fixed in our guidance from God.

Kreeft says:  “The human body has a structure that is inherent, not socially changeable, and the laws of its health are equally inherent and unchangeable, objective.  The same is true of the soul.  Virtue is simply health of soul. Justice, the overall virtue, is the harmony of the soul, as health is the harmony of the body. Justice is not just paying your debts, not just an external relationship between two or more people, but also and first of all the internal relationship within each individual among the parts of the soul.”

When we let the Word of God guide us and we act upon the Word we will have justice for ourselves and for others.  We are assured that what is just today will not change and be unjust tomorrow. By being guided by God’s Word and obeying him, we will build our individual lives and work to ensure a just foundation within our society.

Some Anglican Guidance about Justice

Excerpts from the Prayer Book Catechism at the back of the BCP:

Q: What response did God require from the chosen people?
A: God required the chosen people to be faithful; to love justice, to do mercy, and to walk humbly with their God.  …

Q:  What is our duty to our neighbors?
A:  Our duty to our neighbors is to love them as ourselves and to do to other people as we with them to do to us; …To be honest and fair in our dealing; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God. …

Q: How does the church pursue its mission?
A:  The church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love. …

And lastly, one passage that resonates especially with me, primarily because of my work in many nations around the world, is part of The Baptismal Covenant (see page 305):

Celebrant:  Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
MeI will, with God’s help.