Ongoing Formation for Formators Long on the Job
“I bow to the Divine in you and may our minds and hearts meet.”
Today I am asked to share on the topic: Ongoing Formation of Formators who are already long on the job. I take my hat off to all of you who have continued to say “Yes” to accompany your Congregation’s new and younger members as they blaze their own paths. “Hatless” you see that my head’s pepper has given way to salt. I, too, have made the commitment to walk beside our ICM young ones from way back 1973, going through many invitations and cycles of growth.
Our plan for this hour is to look at WHY seasoned Formators are invited, called to grow further and the challenges inherent in the call. To help me do that, I will begin by sharing the movements of our planet Earth based on scientific study which truly fascinates me.
The first of earth’s movements is its ROTATION around its tilted axis. Second is its movement of REVOLUTION in its elliptical orbit around the sun. Third, the earth participates in the GALACTIC movement of our solar system in its orbit around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.
What has awed me is the absence of felt movement. Even though we perceive ourselves as stationary, we know that it is simply not true. We see the night giving way to day and the seasons giving way to each other. Periodically, we see meteorites and comets in our night skies. (For a few moments, we imagine the unfelt yet real movements and dance with the Earth.)
Why the image? As formators I see us dancing in three different and simultaneous orbits like our planet. We shall see the why, the how and the what as we unfold the topic.
The WHY of On-Going Formation
We can get caught focusing on the What and How of formation, yet what is essential is the Why.
It was Simon Sinek who popularized the concept of Why in his first TED Talk in 2009. He gave the example of Apple computers, and Apple’s success over their competitors. They were just a computer company who had the same access to resources as other computer companies yet while their competitors focused primarily on the what and how of their products, Apple started with the Why. He said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy Why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”
Another example is the 2017 movie “Hidden Figures” which is based on the true story of three exceptional women in NASA who served as the brains behind one of the greatest human endeavors in history—to launch an astronaut into space and return him to earth safely. The Why was clear: to be the first to orbit the earth and beat the Russians in the Space Race.
From my experiences, the Why, the main purpose of Formation is: to experience the God Who calls and to respond to the call. This process involves the naming and purifying of one’s motivations and confirming the interface of one’s personal charism with the charism and spirituality of the Congregation. It is a lifelong process. The Formator’s role, then, is to create the suitable atmosphere and permeable structure or “container” for those in formation to make the free decision to cooperate with God’s dream for them. The Formator accompanies the youth as Mentor and Friend in finding the Why and experience the joy of responding to their call.
To facilitate this, the Formator endeavors, of course, to understand and take into account the different contexts of formation, i.e. the person’s “inner reality,” “the world of those being formed,” and the global realities that affect all which is the “locus of mission.”
Let us go back to our planet’s triple movements and take it as an image of growth—our continued, on-going growth as Formators. The planet’s movements are happening simultaneously in its tilted axis, its elliptical orbit around the sun and in the galaxy. So, does the Formator move in his/her simultaneous personal, communal, and global invitations to growth.
Three-Tiered Movement of Growth
Let us begin by focusing on the locus of the first movement, the Personal Axis. The image is that of the Earth spinning on its axis.
To help those in formation, the Formator needs to be constantly aware (the Why) that “the best is still to come.” In this first level of movement, the Formator is growing towards his or her Real Self, is blossoming to his or her potentials, and is learning to humbly accept his or her limitations. She or he is moving towards true Generativity, Transcendence, and deep Gratitude for being God’s Beloved. This movement is a labor of love that is constant. It involves a constant and on-going deepening of relationships on at least three levels.
Relationship with True Self. The Formator makes friends with his or her Shadow and hope to recognize his or her egoic patterns and compulsions sooner rather than later. She celebrates her beauty, her goodness, her responses to the Spirit-at-work. He prioritizes his many loves and attractions and let’s go of what is not life-giving.
Relationship with God. The Formator recognizes God as the One who weaves the fabric of her being and of the whole Universe. He acknowledges that God trusts him, a loved sinner, to co-create in renewing the face of the Earth. Formators carve out time to be with God and to listen to the movements of their heart – either drawing them towards or away from God.
Relationship with the Congregation and the many people encountered in the work as a Religious-Missionary and as Formator.
Learning never stops. There are skills needed in Formation. Enhancing these skills, both “hard” and “soft” skills, is undeniable in the formation ministry. What are some of these skills?
Hard skills pertain to technological knowledge or abilities required for the ministry. While formators may train for these skills, many of them may be and are learned “on-the-job.”
Spiritual Direction, Discernment, Mindfulness, Visioning, Processing, Critical Thinking
Familiarity with Scripture
Fundamentals of Psychology to help individuals and the group in their developmental processes: Psycho-Social, Psycho-Sexual, Psycho-Spiritual
Evaluation of Content and Process of a Formation Program
A “Good Nose” to ‘sniff” and “sift” the bogus from the authentic
Teaching to recognize and use “teachable moments” when they arise
Ritual-Making. Because it is of value, we talk a bit about it.
Rituals serve as a bridge between our outer and inner worlds, between the profane and the sacred, and between the ordinary and the extraordinary. On many levels, rituals give our lives a sense of meaning and purpose. By engaging all of our senses through the use of ritual elements inherent in the ritual process, we are able to bypass the intellect in favour of our intuitive, instinctive knowing. Rituals help us balance the work of our outer and inner lives and allow for the full expression of our soul and spirit.
Some examples would be lighting candles on occasions like birthdays or moments of discernment; floating paper boats or flying paper planes to ritualize letting go of something or starting anew; making and flying a kite concretizes rootedness while soaring to greater heights.
Soft skills on the other hand pertain to interpersonal or people skills. These are skills that help the formator to work with others.
Listening, Speaking, Dialogue, Giving and Receiving Feedback
Practicing Compassion which is knowing the real need of the person and then doing whatever it takes to respond to the need.
Dealing with emotions; coping with stress
Community-living dynamics, dealing with inevitable and multi-leveled Conflict situations which are caused by differing information, goals, strategies, values. Managing or living with conflicts in inter-generational and inter-cultural living
Process of Forgiveness
The next focus is the second simultaneous movement in formation which is the Global Axis. It involves growing in the Communal, Social and Ecclesial realities of the World. The image is that of the earth revolving around the Sun.
Growth in this area means knowing the context of today’s formation, the “world” of the new members, and their new ways of responding to God’s call. It requires formators to trust, believe and support the young religious’ hopes and dreams. Pope Francis describes this as “having a great heart for young people.”
Growth in this area can happen through participating in the renewal of Religious Life, in understanding and witnessing to the dynamism of a vowed life, and deeply immersing in the Congregation’s Charism. It means Pastoral presence in God’s Mission among the Poor, with a special attention to Mother Earth, the new poor. It means initiating and participating in the responses to the Environmental crisis. On the whole, it is witnessed as a growth in the love of God’s people, the Church both local and universal.
And now for the third movement, which is on the Galactic Axis. The image is that of the Solar System orbiting around the center of the Milky Way which is being pulled towards Andromeda amidst the large-scale structure of the Universe. It is so easy to be bogged down by the mundane and the myopic. A broader, galactic perspective is needed so that Formators do not get lost.
What does it mean to grow as Citizens of the Cosmos? Growth in this regard will necessitate a new understanding in at least five areas:
1.New understanding and experiencing of Self.
Humans are a species whose genetic and cultural endowment carries 13.7 billion years of creativity. Human beings are the Universe come to self-awareness. “To become fully mature as a human person we must bring to life within ourselves the dynamics that fashioned the cosmos. We must become these cosmic dynamics and primordial powers in new human form. That is our task: to create the human form of the central powers of the cosmos.” (Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon)
2.New understanding of Creation, the Cosmos.
The beginning of a New Cosmology is available to us now which reveals creation as a “singular unfinished event.” The new cosmology tells about the 13.7 billion evolving story of the Universe, tells about the nature of everything and humanity’s place within the great scheme of things. It allows human beings to recover a sense of belonging and connectedness. The New Story can bring about conversion – in relationship with oneself, with other persons, with the Earth Community, and with God.
3.New understanding of and response to God.
Humanity is invited to take a “long and loving look” at evolutionary Creation. God will come to us with newness and depth when we can see God with new eyes. Here are some new images of God suggested by Fr. John Surette of Spirit Earth Ecological Center in Chicago
God Within All: God is within everything in a vibrant, empowering way so each can move on to better forms.
God, the HUMBLE Creator: God uses the way of evolution whereby creatures co-create with God. This dwelling in limited creatures and sharing with them God’s act of creation are expressions of God’s humility.
God, Profoundly Faithful: God has committed himself to this creative process for 13.7 billion years! It is said that in God’s universe, breakdown is also breakthrough. And so, though our world may be in almost mortal throes now, we are not without hope. If we do our part, we will not only survive but even enter into greater life. We can trust the Universe because the dynamic of God’s faithfulness to its processes permeates it. So too, therefore, does God’s faithfulness permeate our individual lives.
God, the Promise of More. At the Big Bang, the charged particles and energy contained the promise of atoms, and after million years of cooling, it happened. Atoms of hydrogen and helium contained the promise of stars and galaxies, and it happened. One of these stars contained the promise of our solar system – and it happened. Earth contained the promise of life – and it happened. Early life contained the promise of human life – and it happened. And humans—we contain the promise of becoming more than we are now – and it will happen! The evolving unfinished universe is essentially Promise. It is always more and more. And so, it is in our individual lives. Every stage of our life is the fulfillment of the promise of more of our previous stage.
We pause briefly here to recall the stages of our lives. Every stage of our life is the fulfillment of the promise of more of our previous stage. So truly, in every stage of our life – now – is the best time of our life, if we know how to look beneath all the things happenings at our present.
4.New understanding of the Eucharist.
The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of ‘nuclear fission,’ to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all.
(Pope Benedict, Sacramentum Caritatis)
Nuclear fission is a process whereby a heavy nucleus, bombarded by neutrons, produces a steady supply of energy, resulting in the emergence of new realities. It is a powerful image for the Eucharistic transformation. Because of the interweaving of everything in the universe, within bread are the wheat fields, the sun, rain, soil, air, yeast, salt, sugar, people who planted and harvested, millers, cooks, and on and on.
When, over the bread at the Eucharistic table, the Church pronounces Christ’s words “This is my body,” these words, like a bombarding particle, sets the process of nuclear fission going. Chain reaction links all the components of the universe. The words do not just go over creation, but “penetrates to the heart of all being,” deeply into the galactic skies and everything it holds, every element, every form on earth, every species; all becoming, in time, the body of Christ, a “radical change” taking place in creation. As Pope Benedict says, it is a process of transformation until “God will be all in all,” the divinization of creation. At its deepest level, creation is the body of Christ. As such, all creation is holy. Only Christ can do this! In the new cosmology, this is the Why Christ came into the planet.
5.Deeper awareness of the unity and interconnectedness of all.
Embracing the interconnectedness of all life, we can again weave together the rift between the sacred and secular, the Totality will be seen as sacred.
“On the cosmic scale, we are members of God’s universe, a Universe that is permeated with an energy of attraction into community. That energy shows itself in the gravitational attraction by which everything and everyone is attracted to everything and everyone. This need for relationships, the longing for love, the allurement into community, is the most lasting blessing of our lives.”
(John Surrette, SJ)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “God wills the interdependence of creatures…” To be is to be related, to “inter-be” according to Thich Nhat Hanh.
Indra’s Net in Hua’ yen school of Buddhism symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos.
“In the god Indra’s celestial abode, a wonderful net is stretched in all directions and there is one glittering jewel at every node shining brighter than the stars because the polished surface of every jewel reflects all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number so that the process of reflection is infinite.”
Everything that exists in Indra’s Net intimates all that exists, has existed and will exist. This kind of analogy has been suggested by science as a theory for an essential characteristic of the cosmos.
The Challenge in Ongoing Formation
We look at a Mythic story, the “Rebirth of an Eagle” as we look at the challenges of Ongoing formation in our time. It is a myth so we do not take it as factual but take its message.
The eagle has the longest lifespan of its species and can live up to 70 years… but to reach this age, the eagle must make a hard decision. In its 40th year its long and flexible talons can no longer grab prey which serves as food, its long and sharp beak becomes bent and its old aged and heavy wings, due to their thick feathers, stick to its chest and make it difficult to fly.
Then, the eagle is left with only two options; die or go through a painful process of change which lasts 150 days. The process requires that the eagle fly to a mountain top and sit on its nest. There the eagle knocks its beak against a rock until it plucks it out. Then the eagle waits for a new beak to grow back.
It will pull out its talons and when new talons grow back, the eagle starts plucking its old aged feathers. After five months, the eagle takes its famous flight of rebirth and lives for 30 more years.
Many times, in order to survive, we have to start a change process. We sometimes need to get rid of old memories, habits, and other past traditions. Only freed from the past, can we take advantage of the present, and I add, of the future.
Formation is life-long. The journey through change to Transformation is a journey for the mature soul. In our world of cultural changes happening with great speed, there remains our call together with the fewer new and majority ageing members—to transform Self and the World until Christ is All in All.
I find this as the challenge for formators that have been “re-cycled” through the years, that is, who have been long on the job. We cannot stop moving, growing, changing. The three-tiered movements of growth that we talked about invites us to actively participate in God’s movements in our life, in the world and in the universe. As we grow more mature, the movement is paradoxically, a movement towards more through the process of letting go.
Ignatius’ Suscipe invites us to surrender the “Less” for the sake of the “More.” Take my Liberty….to surrender our false notions of what it means to live free to receive God’s freedom, to live for the whole and not for our own little part. Take my Memory….to surrender my database of “programs,” making today’s choices using yesterday’s data… to be freed from the power of old hard-wired memories so as to choose the more loving way appropriate to the situation. Take my Understanding… to surrender my own limited understanding of things, my certainties… to be open to your Mystery. Take my entire Will… to surrender my determination to make things fit my needs…to be able to refocus my gaze, moment by moment, on your Dream for the whole of Creation.
Let us open our hands in a gesture of surrender and pray: Take, Lord, everything I have and call my own. Give me the grace to surrender all that is partial and fleeting (my “less”) and become free to receive your wholeness and completeness (your “more.”)
To bring this presentation to a close, let us think back on how we began with the awesome images of the unfelt yet real movements of our planet; weaving these movements in the life of Formators as we enflesh the “why” of formation, and being open to the Universe’s conspiracy to face the future with hope in our on-going growth I kept asking myself why I accepted Peter’s invitation to speak on this topic among experienced Formators.)
In the process of preparation and time-travelling from 1973 till today, I felt a sense of fulfilment in being able to share my life-long labor of love. I felt awed at being mysteriously involved in God’s eons-long labor of love, calling us and gracing us to respond to his desire to make a home among us, in our hearts, in the whole of creation.
So, with gratitude WE STAY IN THE CALL, STAY YOUTHFUL IN SPIRIT AND STAY BLESSED.
What are my sources for this talk? … my mentors’ life-examples and of the soul friends I met along my path. This includes the many authors of books, articles that I have digested and made my own. Among them: Anthony de Mello, Brian Swimme, Ignatius of Loyola, Cynthia Beourgeault, Pope Francis, Judith Canato, Teilhard de Chardin, Richard Rohr, Ron Rolheiser, Joyce Rupp, Margaret Silf, John Surette, Perla Macapinlac and so many others. My thanks to them all.
I wish I could offer more precise citations, articles, books, pages, lectures… But at this point in my journey, I can hardly to do that, that is my limitation. Because out of these sources, I have made a personal quilt, patchwork, or better still, the truth and beauty of these sources have passed through my being these many years. They have melded together and were colored in different hues with my evolved experiences of God, of creation, of formation ministries, of my dreams – it has become my own, and all I could offer to you today was a splash of those intermingling colors on a wall that now waits for you to create your own mural.
(Gift from Orbis Books to Sedos Library)