The Rev. Peter M. Carey
September 2011 “Emmanuel Way” Column
An invitation to transformation
From Christian Education through Christian Formation to Christian Transformation
An often-used metaphor for education is of the pail that is filled; that we must fill the pail with knowledge of readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic, or in churchy terms – the Bible, liturgy, and tradition, perhaps. However, we probably know that God wants more from us than to be “full pails.” Rather, God wants us to be fully alive, living abundant lives and seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Perhaps a better metaphor is perhaps being sculpted, or “formation.” It has become common in church to talk about “youth formation” and “adult formation” and “lifelong formation,” with the understanding that we are all works-in-progress. No matter how well we think we are doing, we can do better. No matter how proud of our efforts, God sees that we have more within us. The nice thing about this metaphor of being sculpted is that we recognize that God is the sculptor, and we are mere stones, and we are contingent upon God’s grace and God’s work in our lives. [You will notice that I am beginning to use the term “Christian Formation” and not “Christian Education” in our various publications and on our website.]
However, I believe that God is looking even deeper. I believe that God is actually seeking “transformation,” for each of us. God is seeking that we don’t just become well-crafted statues, but that we are actually changed from the inside-out. God is seeking us to turn to God, and turn with compassion to one another. God, after all, sent his son to redeem us, and to help us live abundant lives. “I have come so that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10. It is this life of abundance that Jesus is calling us to, and moving us towards, always. This kind of transformation takes work on our part, work to consider the ways that our lives are closely linked with lives of people close by and far way. This kind of transformation calls us to not only recite the creeds and the baptismal covenant, but actually live them out in real ways each day. This kind of transformation will require more of us than we can possibly imagine.
So, how might we engage with this kind of transformation. I would argue that there is an inward journey and an outward journey. The inward journey might include taking on a prayer and study discipline (even thought is it not Lent) that would include reflecting on the Sunday lectionary readings. Our Sunday School will be studying the Sunday readings each week – could we each pledge to join in this effort? Could we step up and “read, mark, and inwardly digest” the scriptures in a deep and dedicated way ~ and then see what might emerge? The outward journey might include reflecting deeply on the places of dryness and hardness in our lives – those places where we’d rather not go. Those places may just be the places we actually ARE called to go! The admonition to “take up your cross and follow” might just include traveling that way that is most difficult. What work do you need to be doing? Who do you need to forgive (perhaps yourself!)? Where is there pain and heartache in your own circle of friends and family? Where is there pain and suffering in our community? This kind of transformation may indeed move us into the mission field in an even more engaged way.
It may be that what we are each called to do is to delve deeply into our very souls, using prayer and scripture as a guide, and then find the outward pathway that might move us each in a new direction. Our transformation as children of God may just be moving us to a place where we haven’t been before, and to a way of life that we haven’t yet already lived. Do we have the courage to do it? It can be helpful to remember that God is guiding us and supporting us at all times. To what is God calling us? Transformation and a new abundant life await each of us!