By Karl Ruch
During Ordinary Time this year, I will endeavor to share with you “snapshots” of a pilgrimage that I took during 2015-2017. For that two-year period, I was part of an exhilarating, life-changing program run by The Upper Room called “The Academy for Spiritual Formation”.
Over a decade ago, I was introduced to two works that have focused and framed my spiritual path ever since: Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours and Robert Benson’s A Good Life. I was turning thirty, I was in the thick of graduate school, and though I would like to more elegantly call it a “dark night of the soul”, in reality, I was experiencing the deepest emotional anxiety and spiritual crisis I have ever known. However, through the power of close Christian community and the recommendation of these two books, I began to experience not only profound healing but also a call towards a new and expansive understanding of what it truly means to live in Christ.
During this time of identity crisis, my pastor pointed me towards the idea of fixed-hour prayer. The notion was that if I didn’t have the strength to put together words and phrases of worship and supplication, perhaps I could trust someone else to help me do it. And The Divine Hours did become that lifeline for me: a way to keep praising and praying to my God during a time when I couldn’t come up with the words myself. As time went on, however, I realized that I had entered into the stream of something far more powerful than simply personal prayer. I began to learn (and love) that I was joining the church throughout space and time. Praying the office helped me, for the first time in my life, truly frame my daily existence in worship and prayer. It was also during this time that I was introduced to Robert Benson’s work and the Rule of St. Benedict. I had begun meeting with a spiritual director because of my distress about calling and purpose, and he recommended reading A Good Life. This was over ten years ago, and I’ve read that book probably thirty times since then. What praying the office did for my daily life, the Rule of St. Benedict (as explained by Benson) did for my longitudinal journey. I resonated with the idea of considering one’s life in terms of prayer, rest, community, and work. I soon discovered another of Robert Benson’s books, Living Prayer, which is not only a lovely collection of thoughts on the various ways we might go about living lives of prayer, but also a history of Benson’s life-changing encounter with The Academy for Spiritual Formation.
So for over a decade, a deep desire to go to the Academy grew in me, for many reasons, including what the program’s prospectus states: “…to be a part of a community of seekers in order to learn the spiritual traditions of the church, to be open to God’s spirit in new ways and to be further formed for Christian living and ministry.” My cohort of about 70 people gathered for 5-day retreats every three months for the two-year period. The structure of each day was built on the Benedictine model of prayer, community, work, and rest. But each week, we had two lecturers that would teach us: one on a “Historical/Institutional” topic, and the other on a “Practical/Theological” topic; Year One of the programs was devoted to the “inner journey”, and Year Two was focused on the “outward journey”.
As a manifestation of this continued outward journey, I would like to share with you, in essay form, what I learned at the Academy. We hope to publish my essays on this Trinity UMC blog, and we will make notice of new postings in the newsletter and/or announcements. Between Pentecost and Advent – the season we call “Ordinary Time” (this year: May 21 through Dec 1) – I hope to write about the first year’s 8 topics.
Historical / Institutional
Traditions of Christian Spirituality
Spirituality in the Hebrew Community
Spirituality of the New Testament
Roman Catholic Spirituality
Attentiveness to the Word
Liturgy and Spirituality
If that goes well, then we will continue on into what I learned during the second year. My hope is that you too will be inspired by the Academy’s definition of spiritual formation: “…to be formed in the image of Christ, for the sake of the world.”