As I have pondered my experience of participating in the Marketplace Institute internship this year, the word formation comes to mind. Prior to coming to Regent, I associated “spiritual formation” with the individual practice of spiritual disciplines. Reading Richard Foster’s A Celebration of Discipline as an undergrad opened me to a rich tradition of contemplative disciplines. The problem I was left with, though, was the individual present in the individual practice of spiritual disciplines. While I could willingly participate in practices like meditation and centering prayer and simplicity as part of a class requirement, when the course was over, I still struggled with the same old attachments that made consistent practice of such disciplines difficult. It was like trying to hold the God I loved in one hand, while holding all my false comforts in the other. And since those comforts were pretty socially acceptable, it was easy to tell myself that this was just how the Christian life is, for those of us who aren’t giants of the faith.
In Desiring the Kingdom, James Smith lays out an anthropology that considers humans to be primarily desiring animals, whose behaviours are driven by our desires and whose desires are shaped by our practices and liturgies. Jonathan Wilson, in Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World, writes that “one of the mistakes of the Enlightenment [and perhaps of the Church] is to think that moral action and moral community are simply the product of the decision to act morally. That is, in spite of my previous history of acting immorally, I can, in the moment, decide to act morally and actually do so.” Wilson goes on to assert that it is our practices, within intentional communities committed to a form of life “faithful to the gospel,” that enable us to grow in Christian maturity.
When I first read the ad for the Marketplace Institute internship last year, I didn’t give it a second thought. As someone neither oriented toward business nor possessing an entrepreneurial spirit, clearly any internship associated with the Marketplace Institute— whatever that was—was not for me. But I had been praying for the opportunity to live in community, and so, after being advised by a couple friends, I took another look and discovered that the marketplace emphasis simply referenced life lived within the public sphere.
This year’s internship has been my first experience of the kind of intentional community that I think Wilson is alluding to and I have been truly surprised at how formative it has been. Part of the internship has involved living in a house with other MI staff, interns and core community members. Our practices include communal meals, evening common prayer, weekly house meetings, and the extension of hospitality to others – all in all, a seemingly simple list. But these practices have given a greater sense of weekly rhythm, and there has been something about doing life together with others committed to being formed in the image of Jesus that has provided a greater accountability and has made growing in discipline more of a way of life.
This sense of rhythms and of doing life together has been augmented by other components of the internship, such as workshops and weekly book discussions. In the first semester, a workshop was provided on the rhythm of seasons in time management. Through the identification of being in a personal season of winter, I was able to exercise discernment in paring away unnecessary involvements while investing in the kind of creative pursuits that foster growth during a season of stripping away.
Participation in a book study of Bonhoeffer’s Life Together brought the insight of human relationships needing to be mediated through the cross of Christ, helping me to understand how good relationships could become part of the false comforts that I was holding on to, as well as how I might relate differently moving forward. (On a side note, I have also participated in Living Waters—a whole other kind of intentional community—this year, and that likely has also had a great deal to do with my experience of spiritual formation.) But it has been through the above internship involvement in intentional community and shared wisdom over this last year that I have been encouraged (even without being a “giant of the faith”) in the painful process of living with hands a little more open. I offer this as support to others here at Regent who may find themselves wishing for a way forward on a similar path.