A longing fulfilled

On August 28th, 2008, I began a journey 20 years in the making – I started my Master’s degree. What am I studying? I’m glad you asked. I am taking a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership. It is an online degree through Spring Arbor University in Michigan. Responses I’ve received have ranged from mild curiosity to deep fascination to turned up noses! So, why that and why now? Again, thanks for asking.

A favorite Rife family rock band, U2, wrote a chart topping song in the 80’s called, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Since Bono, their lead singer, was widely known to be a Christian, they received much bad press from the church for not speaking in more definitive terms about their experience of faith. However, it was something deeper that he was singing about. Like Bono of U2, ever since I can remember I’ve had a similar unfulfilled longing. You know that gnawing ache inside when you are standing in front of the refrigerator eyeing all the possible ways to deal with it? You can’t sit still. You’re bored but don’t know why. Nothing you do makes any difference. Augustine called it a restlessness. Ah, I knew you were going to ask that…yes, I do know and love Jesus Christ and his loving presence is everything to me. Then, why this “unfulfilled longing”? Let me briefly try to explain and in so doing describe why I’m studying this stuff.

I love the Church. But it makes me sad as well. I believe that we have abdicated our role as “God’s skin in the world” (see “The Holy Longing” by Ronald Rolheiser). Our mad dash toward relevance has squeezed out significance. Our insistence on just the right doctrine has left us with all the wrong lives. We’ve traded in righteousness for “rightness”. We have exchanged transformed lives for informed heads. Often, what passes for faith is a “notebook Christianity” where, with pen and paper, we learn God rather than love and live God. We study and memorize Scripture trying to control and tame God rather than being read by Scripture, thus being brought under its control. We have taken our risen, ever-living Savior and boiled him down to an idea or a worldview. We have a theology divorced from spirituality.

Says Dallas Willard, “we live from our heart.” Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th century Congregationalist pastor and theologian spoke much of “religious affections” which provide us with a “spring of action.” Willard calls the lack of real spiritual formation in the Western church “the Great Omission..  THAT is what I am studying.

I love Jesus Christ. I love the church. I love the rich and varied tapestry of Christian history and I love classic Christian spirituality. I have a longing to help all of us who are victimized by a materialistic, consumer society but who hunger after deeper realities to find wholeness and the re-integration of our fragmented lives. My own life mission is “to draw others to God through my life and work which strive to meaningfully communicate God’s beauty and truth.” Through worship, spiritual disciplines, liturgy and the arts my goal is to become the very Jesus we sing about and help others do the same.

Writer and theologian M. Robert Mulholland defines spiritual formation as “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.. May God lead us to discover all the riches of Christ in order that we are conformed to God’s image for the sake of others. THAT is what I long for.

16 thoughts on “A longing fulfilled

  1. Annie Dillard writes in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

    “I walk out; I see something, some event that would otherwise have been utterly missed and lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell. I am an explorer, then, and I am also a stalker, or the instrument of the hunt itself. I am the arrow shaft, carved along my length by unexpected lights and gashes from the very sky, and this book is the straying trail of blood.”

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  2. Judith Hope

    You have taken care to express your purpose and it rings true … and clear. I am sure you will be blessed in this .. and will bless many. Keep sounding … clear as a bell. It is good that you do.

    I look forward to following your site here. And, hopefully will find my own best way to contribute to dialogue. I do need that … and feel drawn to do so. Like what you have achieve already here.

    God bless,

    Jude

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  3. Judith Hope

    I mean to say, that I do so much like/enjoy and respect what you have achieved here already. (This sentence – as it was abbreviated – sounded like ‘wot you said’ .. sort of thing. So we try again 🙂

    Good on you, Rob.

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  4. Hey Rob,
    If you go to your blog’s ‘dashboard… there is a ‘widget’ link somewhere down the left column… click on that. Then select the widget called ‘subscriptions’ and it will show up on your blog page for everyone to see! At least, I think that’s how I did it 🙂 I’m sure you’ll get lots of subscribers!

    LAE

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  5. Well expressed, Rob. Yearning to become not just be perceived to be smart. I think your mission statement is spot on and I think you are embodying it. Thanks for sharing

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  6. Pingback: A Longing Still Being Fulfilled | innerwoven

  7. John Decker

    I have no other thesis than my spiritual formation fiction. It will have to take the place of what would have been a thesis if I had been somebody else. But I can’t be somebody else, and my thesis has to be narrative with all of the untidy things of life included in: loss, failure, success, occasional mediocrity, flashes of brilliance. When I’m long gone, this work is what will speak to those who are interested enough to not only read it, but let it rattle around in their heads. I pray that its spiritual content will be enough for them, not too much and not too little.

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    1. John, you and I – our stories both lived and desired – are the best possible narrative of the Jesus Way possible to a thirsty and watching world. Sometimes we write them down. Sometimes not. Either way, the work God does in me by the Gospel is my legacy. I hope that legacy is as meaningful and life-changing to others as others’ journeys of faith have been to me. By God’s grace…

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