Christian spiritual formation is, broadly, the development of an inward life of prayer and meditation that imitates, so far as possible, the holiness of Jesus Christ. Historically, the first Christians to address their spiritual progress were desert monks in the early centuries of Christianity. Influential senior monks gave advice to their juniors on how to pray, resist temptations, and be helpful to others.
In the Reformed Tradition, spiritual formation became severed from monastic life, and centered much more on the relationship between individual Christians and God. Common practices that foster spiritual development include prayer of all kinds – from petitions, to praise, worship, thanksgiving, and owning one’s dependence on God. Also included are meditation, lectio divina, silence, and the use of icons and incense or candles.
Though forming a sound spiritual practice appears to look mainly inward, the outward results can amaze. Being deeply in touch with God enhances one’s ability to aid others in their sufferings, and rejoice with them in their happiness.
In his first book, Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle introduced us to Homeboy Industries (HBI), the largest gang-intervention program in the world. Now, after the successful expansion of HBI, he returns to reveal how compassion is transforming the lives of gang members. In a nation deeply divided and plagued by poverty and violence, Boyle offers a snapshot into the challenges and joys of life on the margins. The stories he shares uplift the soul and reveal how bright life can be when filled with unconditional love and kindness.
The Street of a Thousand Blossoms (2008) by Gail Tsukiyama is the poignant account of a multi-generational family in Tokyo during and after World War Two. Two young orphaned brothers, being raised by their grandparents, are beginning to explore their life passions when the war interrupts their normal lives. In language that is both spare and powerful, Tsukiyama captures the courage needed for the boys to survive the horrors of bombings, deprivation and loss. The author’s evocative writing also reveals the soul of Japanese culture as she describes the boys’ relationships with their grandparents, friends, nature, and mentors in sumo wrestling and mask making. A lovely book with a depth of character and meaning.
Made for Goodness (2010) by Desmond Tutu and Mpho, his daughter, Tutu invites all people to reclaim the original goodness with which we were created in God’s image. Archbishop Bishop extends this call to both blacks and whites in his nation of South Africa during the injustices and abuses of apartheid rule. In honest and down-to-earth language, Tutu names the causes and realities of sin on both personal and national levels. With grace and gentleness he then leads the reader toward the goodness and wholeness that God intends for us. This is a book that inspires life examination and transformation.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016) is the author’s account of his diagnosis and battle with cancer. The author is a very successful neurosurgical resident with a promising career ahead when he receives a serious cancer diagnosis. As a doctor and a Christian, he is fascinated with what goes on in a person’s body, mind and soul when faced with a terminal illness. He finds himself struggling to maintain control by managing his own treatment. Hope and denial lead him to apply for future medical positions. He and his wife decide to start a family. As his cancer metastasizes, Dr. Kalanithi gradually surrenders to his mortality and looks to the legacy he will leave, his book. His writing is heart-wrenching in its honesty and beautiful in its transparency of the human spirit. His wife’s closing epilogue is equally moving.
PACHINKO follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.
So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
This novel was written by a personal friend and former member of Rev. Matthew Hardin’s congregation in Tokyo, Min Jin Lee.
–Rev. Matthew Hardin
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009) is a Romeo and Juliet romance story of two teens, one Chinese-American and the other, Japanese- American, who are able to transcend misguided loyalties ad prejudices of the 1940’s to forge a bond of love, friendship and mutual respect. Their innocent love is testimony to the fact that we, as individuals, can show love that transports us away from internment camps and Old World prejudices. This novel speaks to us today and illuminates parallels between the Japanese Internment and the desire by some today to lock our borders. Let us hope that God can show us a path towards agape love, compassion, and mutual respect. Far from being a morality play, this novel speaks to the good in each of us. It is a wonderful read.
This delightful children’s (and adult’s) is an interactive book about immigration. A teacher is telling her class about her great-grandmother’s journey from her country to a new one. She challenges the reader to reflect on what he or she would choose (or may have had to choose) to take with them, and how that choice makes each of us the special person we are.
The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have by Mark Nepo (2000) is a compilation of reflections set up as daily readings, to be read as desired and returned to again and again. As a cancer survivor, Mark Nepo challenges us to be present fully in our lives, and to pause and ponder deeply meaningful and joyful and sometimes painful experiences. I am never disappointed in his ability to do just that. I also often use one of his reflections and the suggested meditation or writing exercise in self-care classes I lead at work and elsewhere.