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By Sharon Lee Song

What is spiritual formation? This term is thrown around in Christian circles, and yet many Christians don’t know what spiritual formation means, and why it is critical to all of us. A good working definition that I have found is from a book called Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by Robert Mulholland. Mulholland defines spiritual formation as “the process of being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others.”

This definition raises another question that many Christians ask. Can we as Christians actually become like Jesus? Based on Mulholland’s definition, the answer is a resounding “yes.” However, as a spiritual director, I hear the same messages from the people I work with over and over that they are “trying” to change, to be better, to be different. These messages are rooted in the ways that the world endorses that you can help yourself to be more positive, to change, to be happy.

These messages are also rooted in the ways that the Church prescribes that in order to be more like Jesus and to work out sin, we must do more by reading the Bible, and praying more. People who initially start out enthusiastically and passionately wanting to follow Jesus are inevitably stopped short when they continue to run into their own sin, flaws, and brokenness, and that of others over and over again, and are at a loss for how change and transformation are possible. They ask of the Christian life, “Is this all there is?” They resort to going through the motions of church and faith life, or some decide to leave the church and faith altogether.

In the Western church, I believe that we are being taught things backwards: we are taught to do more instead of taking the pilgrimage, the journey of learning to be. Ideally, this pilgrimage would explore both doing and being, and they would go hand in hand. In doing the deep spiritual inner work of spiritual formation, we learn to embrace our uniqueness and express it in order to help one another, to help the world.

We are not Christian robots or clones where we all do the same things all of the time. We learn to be like Christ by doing this inner transformative work, and therefore, the expression of our God-given uniqueness moves forth in power in the world, as we then explore and learn to do the things that we are gifted in. This may be the first time you hear this, and it may stir up resistance, confusion, or other strong feelings: There is nothing we can do to transform ourselves into persons who love and serve as Jesus did, except to make ourselves available for God/the Holy Spirit to do that work of transforming grace in our lives. I also call this cooperating with the Holy Spirit.

The theme for this month is one of Aristotle’s virtues: good temper. Good temper is defined by other words like equanimity, level-headedness, mental calmness, composure, and self-control. I thought about the list of descriptors for good temper, and what came to mind was the list of words from Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

The fruit of the Spirit are extremely underrated. The fruit of the Spirit of self-control is one that we desperately need in this world. Without self-control, words are flung around without any thought to how they affect others, without any sense of filter. We are capable of murdering each other with our words; words can be like death without self-control.

Without self-control, we act impulsively, or in spiritual terms, we act out of our “flesh,” and in Galatians, Paul lists that the acts of the flesh are “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Without self-control, brokenness will perpetuate in our lives and in our relationships with damaging consequences.

I personally have experienced the effects of the lack of self-control through abuse in various relationships. I know that I also have lacked self-control with my words and actions by not having good boundaries in relationships. However, as a Christian, I have also seen the power of spiritual formation through the transformation of the Holy Spirit in my life and the lives of those around me.

I believe spiritual formation is the keystone for Christians to live a life walking with the Spirit. Without spiritual formation, we cannot bear the fruit of the Spirit, and without the fruit of the Spirit, we are no different than anyone else in the world. We can’t be formed into the image of Christ if we do not make ourselves available to the work of the Spirit, if we do not learn to cooperate with the Holy Spirit.

We make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit’s transformation through spiritual formation, by engaging in the spiritual disciplines. Simply put, the purpose of all spiritual disciplines is to be with God. This does include reading Scripture, and praying — however, there is a whole category of spiritual disciplines in the contemplative stream of Christian spirituality that focuses on the inner work with God by being with Him, and being and exploring ourselves. There are, in fact, more ways of being in Scripture and prayer than we realize, or what we’ve been traditionally been taught in Church. God has provided ways for us to be free from the things of the flesh by walking in the way of the Spirit. It is possible for us to embody good temper and self-control as we learn to cooperate with the Spirit.

Spiritual formation does entail a fairly big shift in our spirituality as we engage in it. And it does require guidance, especially initially, since being with God through contemplation and other spiritual disciplines can involve unlearning some deeply ingrained ways of being and doing. Are you longing for more with God? Have you felt stuck in your spiritual life? Have you reached a point in your faith where you are asking, is this all there is?

Before I go into recommendations on how to engage in spiritual formation intentionally, I want to make a distinction. I have heard pastors or other Christian leaders say that spiritual formation is basically discipleship. I disagree. Discipleship is the process of guiding people in following Jesus and becoming his disciples; people are committed to following Jesus with their whole lives. This process can include a number of different methodologies like group Bible study, receiving counsel, mentoring, serving in a variety of capacities at church.

In contrast, spiritual formation is about the inner work of our hearts, souls and spirits, and it does often include other people (like a spiritual director), but ultimately, it comes down to and is all about the relationship between us and God through a variety of spiritual disciplines. We can be taught these spiritual disciplines by someone who is discipling us, but the two processes are distinct.

There are many spiritual formation resources available. I’ve already mentioned one good place to start, and that is the book by Mulholland called Invitation to a Journey. Another book that is an excellent place to explore spiritual disciplines is The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun. This book contains a plethora of ways to be with God. Lastly, finding a spiritual director to be a spiritual companion in your journey is a powerful way to grow in the discernment, in learning and seeing the ways that God is always moving in our lives and connecting more deeply to God and that movement.

Spiritual direction and spiritual formation are the reasons why I am still a Christian today because I found that there is always more to God, and we can always go deeper with Him. I am a very different person today than I was 17 years ago when I became a Christian, thanks be to God. Through spiritual formation, I can say that I embody good temper and self-control far more than I did before, and it was because I learned to cooperate and walk in the Spirit.

Sharon Lee Song lives and works in South Los Angeles for Servant Partners, an urban missions organization. Inspired by her own transformation through self-care, soul care, and spiritual formation, Sharon became a Holy Yoga instructor, and spiritual director. She’s committed to using what she’s learned from her training to support others in living healthy, sustainable, urban spiritual lives.

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By Joanne Moon

The collision of social media and motherhood has greatly magnified the collective privilege and the struggle, the beauty and its mess, the mundane, the terror – the terror of the mundane – of raising little children in this day in age. The flood of images and words, cutting-edge information and latest fashion all serve to establish a backdrop upon which we are invited to create meaning in our seasons of loving and living with these ever-evolving beloveds of God.

In this ongoing phenomenon, the word “temper” has become dressed almost exclusively to the behavior of a growing child in all their Instagram-worthy highs and lows. “Temper tantrum” is now a ubiquitous term that we know to roll our eyes over or nod in exasperated agreement, its vision flowing with creative juices to coin new phrases like “terrible twos”, “threenager”, “feisty four” or “fournadoes”… the possibilities are endless with your trusty Thesaurus by your side.  The short answer: temper is a monster, a beast, something to tame from inconveniencing and ruining our sovereign adult plans.

So can temper be good? What is temper – what is the nature of temper? Its broadest definition from Merriam-Webster Dictionary conveys something of a disposition, “a characteristic cast of mind or state of feeling.” It goes on to suggest a “state of feeling or frame of mind at a particular time usually dominated by a single strong emotion.” Most specifically, it is “heat of mind” or “calmness of emotion.” Spiritual and psychological literatures use the phrase “good temper” interchangeably with equanimity or level-headedness, thus adding momentum in the direction of calmness as the dictionary definition proposed.

From there, I am drawn to delve a little deeper into this virtue of good temper. What would it be to go beyond behavioral observance and outward maintenance of its looks? What would it be to peek into its inner motivation and landscape for a richer understanding of this virtue of good temper, and to embody this will of God with joy?

Both Old and New Testament tell us something about this outward appearance versus inward reality in the Christian life, this inside-outside interplay to which we ought to pay close attention. Proverbs 4:23 tells us: “[a]bove all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Jesus affirms this in Luke 6:45 by teaching that “[a] good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Scriptures like these invite us to recognize that living a virtuous life in Christ always and necessarily springs forth from the inside out in response to Christ in us, rather than as a reaction to every changing, ever-changing seasons and terrains on this journey with God.

What would it be to do the long-suffering work of cultivating a garden in our deep places, where the good fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control grow in all seasons, feeding and providing shade for others who are also facing life’s tossing and turning waves? What would it be to live from this disposition of good temper because we are always connected directly to the source of living water that never dries?

Good temper can only be sustained by this ever-present, ever-available flow of the living water. Its life-giving power does not simply restrain our beastly urges but retrains the mind and the heart and the body to respond to life’s stress from a place of abundance, not lack. In deeply honoring this connection with God as a priority, the virtue of good temper looks like spaciousness of the heart that allows me to feel all the things without fear because Holy Spirit is the one that holds space for us, having borne the weight of the shameful, condemning forces of the universe upon His own body, Christ’s body. Then, good temper is not simply a disposition we are born into by genetics or even good parenting, thus excluding many – too many in this broken world – but the result of an all-inclusive gift of spiritual rebirth by which all who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are forever connected to the Eternal God who never leaves nor forsakes us.

Practicing the virtue of good temper requires noticing. First, we must become aware of God who is always with us as revealed in Scripture. Worship, prayer, Scripture meditation, communion and fellowship with other believers surround us with the truth of who God is – that God is with us, always with us. The God who sent his only Son into this messy world full of temper tantrums and tears, He is in our midst today because those things could not drive him away in exasperation or despair; rather, God drew himself closer to us with compassion and love.

Second, Emmanuel, God with us, gives us the inspiration and the courage to participate in what He is already doing. Romans 8:1 states confidently: …”there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God notices our feelings of inadequacy, being misunderstood, or being jealous, and is with us still, not in condemnation, but in love. We no longer have to fight ghostly apparitions that threaten our worth and demand our bow; instead, we are changed by the One who is holding them all back with a mighty arm to save us and love us and bring us back to God.

God is our reality. When we live there with God in full view, we are calmed and quieted in God’s presence. From the rising of the sun, to the setting of the same, through the nights both howling and holy, we are like a weaned child with its mother, like a good-tempered child, come what may.

Joanne Moon is a wholehearted wife and mom who is prayerfully and playfully engaging the world through conversation with God and people. She is in deep study of soul care and spiritual formation and grapples with race, disability and community as a necessary part of that conversation. She loves to write, take pictures and tell a story. She loves to look you deep in your soul and listen to yours, too. Together with her husband and three children, they are navigating the adventure that autism brings with God’s enduring companionship and the support of family and friends.

Photo by I am R.

By Jerrica KF Ching

When I first think of the word “honor,” I immediately associate it with acknowledgment and how individual actions can either acknowledge or discredit one’s self and impact one’s interactions with peers, family, and acquaintances. Continue Reading »

 

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By Melanie Mar Chow

While studying the Greek definition of the word honor —  timi — I came across an interesting discussion. A variant of the word for “honor” — philotimo — has no English meaning but in its original usage is something Greek culture values. It has influenced Greek society for over 1000 years. Continue Reading »

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By April Yamasaki

In her article, “Rethinking Honor with Aristotle and Confucius,” May Sim compares and contrasts what the two great philosophers have to say about “honor” (The Review of Metaphysics 66, December 2012, 263-280). At the risk of oversimplifying her work, it seems that both Aristotle and Confucius understand honor in the sense of behaving honorably and in the sense of receiving honor from others. Continue Reading »

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By Diana Gee

No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame. -Ps 25:3

You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.Ps 71:21

Shame. That dreaded sense of embarrassment mixed with disgust and self-loathing. Continue Reading »

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By Ajung Sojwal

Like many Asian societies, I grew up in what is understood as an “honor culture.” My experience of that honor culture had much to do with earning public esteem and recognition. Looking back, I can see that much of what I did and said were, indeed, guided by the principle of, “What will people say?”

Over the years, mainly through painful experiences, I have come to a place of understanding that true honor is not so much about external validation but much more about personal integrity and a fearless authenticity. Continue Reading »

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