Spiritual formation is not an aggressive forceful act of imperialism, but about becoming a better person, a richer soul. My student’s hair stands on end when I say this to them because “better” is always a matter of valuation and competition for western post-moderns. No, not better “than” rather drowning in the muchness of a good life. Actually, Christian spiritual formation is about living Christ-like lives as embodied individuals in community. It is about living into the fullness of Jesus Christ. No doubt, every religion forms people.
Everyone is invited to subscribe to a belief system, no matter what its origins or content, and in these systems, we develop a customized habitus, an environment hopefully designed for our wellness, growth, and integration of mind, body and spirit.
Spiritual formation requires learning and change within the rhythms of any given life. Our habitus is located in the socio-cultural contexts we inhabit, but can also be consciously shaped by the shared practices and beliefs of any given group or individual. For instance, lament and praise are one method for Christian spiritual formation. Contemplation, meditation and memorization too.
The habitus of our lives take place within time and space and as practices, rituals, and learning that in due time form us, create, and connect the synapses of our brains re-shaping and reforming us as better people, who are pleasing to God.
The academic study of spiritual formation is an empirical, hermeneutical, historical examination of the past, for instance, the desert fathers, mysticism, pietistic practices, practices of prayer and community, among others, throughout history to understand and enrich life with God today. The study of spiritual formation also seeks to understand educational methods within Christianity and other worldviews, and the philosophy of spirituality in everyday life. Throughout the history of Christianity and religions, people have pragmatically practiced, memorized, prayed and fasted, to transcend and embrace their own realities. The study of spiritual formation conducts empirical studies in various environments in which these aspects of the human experience through contemporary research, but also by comparison of these to the past.