What Forms You?


by Mary Kay Glazer, Madison Meeting (WI)



hat forms you? What things from your past have made you the person you are today? What influences in your life continue to shape you? Some possibilities are: popular culture, politics, your friends and family, your Quaker meeting, Quaker theology, that book you read last week, your smart phone, the town you grew up in, and where you live now, the food you eat, where you shop, the music you hear. 

How do you respond to the things that shape you? How much do you resist? How much do you yield? Would you like to change some of these influences? Maybe you do some things intentionally to help you be formed in ways that you want. 

Now let’s think about potters, who show up frequently in the Bible. The metaphor of the potter forming clay is a powerful one that describes how God forms us into people of Love and Spirit. For example, Isaiah 64:8: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This is spiritual formation, which can be described as “being formed into the image of Christ for others.” (Robert Mulholland, Christian scripture theologian)

Some other ways to define spiritual formation include the following:

“Being opened to the Good at the core of life and, being filled with Good and formed to Good, sharing it freely with others.“

    Ann Ulanov, Jungian Theologian, and Barry Ulanov, Liberal Arts Professor, based on a passage in Cinderella and Her Sisters

“. . . the wish that we will apply the teachings in our everyday lives and thus free ourselves and others from suffering. . . . Thus the wish is made that we not keep the teachings to ourselves but use them to benefit others . . . ” 

    Pema Chodron, Tibetan Buddhist Nun, The Places that Scare Us

“Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to [all people], and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

    Step Twelve, Alcoholics Anonymous

These quotes all describe how God molds us and transforms us, with spiritual formation as the essence of spirituality—being formed by God into God’s image. Or, another way to say it: The Spirit of the Universe transforms us into the whole and sacred people we are meant to be, leading us into deeper, more intimate, and more holy relationship with God, the people in our lives, the global community, the earth and the universe—the whole of creation. Being formed into the people we are created to be, that is what spiritual formation is.

Why Spiritual Formation

So why does spiritual formation matter? If you are a parent, you may have a sense of why. Parents try to create the environment and experiences their children need in order to grow into their best selves. For each of us to grow into our best selves spiritually, we need the right environment and experiences. 

In addition, spiritual formation is about something much deeper. It is about the soul’s longing for its Creator and Lover. It is about the deep desire that our Creator stirs in us. The heart of spiritual formation is aching, longing desire. 

So, why spiritual formation? To respond to that desire, to the invitation into deeper life with the Divine within community. Saying yes to God’s desire to form us is how we say yes to full and deep living. 

The How of Spiritual Formation

The foundations of formation are disciplines that Spirit uses to form us. It is important to know that this is not a quid pro quo arrangement in which if I do my spiritual practices God will give me good things. Rather, disciplines are part of your relationship with the One who calls you Beloved. They are a response to God’s invitation and your way of cooperating with the divine work being done in you.

How does that feel to you? How do you feel about this sacred invitation into more of who you are? You may notice, in addition to your desire, that you feel some resistance. That is natural, and it is good to explore your resistance and any other obstacles to spiritual disciplines you may notice. But don’t let your resistance convince you that spiritual disciplines are not worth the bother. 

This story might be helpful:

Once upon a time, a group of people from Chicago left their jobs in the high-rise office buildings, moved to the prairie, and bought some farmland. “We’re farmers!” they declared to each other. All summer long they would go to the field to watch their crop grow. But when September rolled in, their fields were filled with goldenrod, wildflowers, and weeds.
 “Where’s the corn?” they asked each other. And they wondered what they could possibly have done wrong.

    The Reading Room at the Water’s Edge, drawnear.org/prayerministries/SpiritualDisciplinesPart1.pdf

Do you see the profound and practical need for good habits? Disciplines support your life choices, your commitments, and your relationships. They are part of how we live with integrity, in a way that aligns with our beliefs and with the Kin-dom of God.

Just about anything can be a spiritual discipline; it just needs intentionality and regular practice. The Quaker Richard Foster describes twelve classical disciplines in his book A Celebration of Discipline: the inward disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service; and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Silence, play, gratitude, hospitality—these and more can be spiritual disciplines when practiced with intentionality and regularity. 

Formed by Friction

Spiritual formation is both an individual process and a communal work. In the friction and yielding of interpersonal relationships we are formed. While this may not always be pleasant, it is deeply rewarding and it yields the sweet fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

The invitation is in your heart. How will you respond?

Take some time to reflect on and pray with these queries and talk about them with people in your meeting:

  • In what ways have you been formed? Who and what have done the forming?
  • What are the obstacles and openings for you as God forms you?
  • What is God asking you to put onto the potter’s wheel for forming, or re-forming, right now?
  • How are we formed collectively, as a faith community? 


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