Narrative spiritual formation

For a long time, I’ve been a fan of “narrative theology,” a way of doing theology in which STORIES are seen as central, rather than merely the timeless principles we can derive from stories.  We can note that the Bible is mostly stories, although we preachers often seem to think it should be full of bullet-pointed theological treatises with application points at the end.  The Nicene Creed, if you look at it, is a story — a story about what God did and is doing and will do.  We all have a story, and our story is bound up with the story the Bible tells, which is ultimately the story of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Anyway, for a long time, I was trying to invent a narrative approach to spiritual formation.  Rather than just telling people to apply various biblical principles and practices in their life, how could I give people the story of God in a way that it could shape each person’s individual story of life?

What I ended up discovering is that the Body of Christ has been practicing narrative spiritual formation for centuries, through the practice of the Christian Calendar and the fixed-hour prayers. 

Because Jesus is the hub of all time, his life is what gives meaning to time.  In the practice of fixed-hour prayers, we experience each hour of the day as a participation in Jesus’ life.  We rise with Jesus in the morning, experience his joy and pain throughout the day, and at the end of the day we commit our souls into his hands (You might recognize this from the classic “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer).

The Christian year is the same thing, just at the scale of a year.  We share in Christ’s birth at Christmas.  He is revealed at Epiphany, and we are revealed with him.  We suffer with him at Lent, die with him on Good Friday, rise with him on Easter, and ascend with him on Ascension Sunday.  All through the long Pentecost season we share in his Spirit-powered mission in the world, and at Advent we anticipate and experiences his Coming.  And since the resurrection is the source of the whole thing, we re-enact it every Sunday morning.

Narrative spiritual formation.  I’m not as ingenious and cutting-edge as I thought. =)

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