Crisis and Faith Formation

One of the folks who posted on Pivot Point mentioned that he was intrigued that I had said on a retreat that my own expression of spirituality had changed as a result of a crisis in my life. The crisis prompted me to a more inward journey than before and seeking to be aware of the full presence of God, that I knew to be there because of my Baptism, but yet was not completely revealed. The crisis led me inward to discover the loving presence of Christ that had already been there.

So, the questioner brings up the role of crisis in faith formation and says, “It was interesting to see how you jumped to another quadrant as a result of crisis. I wonder if that is the catalyst that helps many jump if they ever will. I suspect a crisis will do one of three things. Help you jump to another quadrant, get deeper into your quadrant or jump off of the grid altogether [meaning to abandon the faith]” Note: quadrant refers to the model of Spirituality Types developed by Urban Holmes (1980).

Well, great question! So I began to think about this. In psychology we are told that learning takes place at a time of “cognitive dissonance”; a time in which we rearrange our thought patterns and learning about the world. That, in essence, is a learning crisis that brings about change.

Luther described such a time with the word “Anfectung” Luther biographer, Roland Bainton writes in Here I Stand, “The word he [Luther] used was Anfectung, for which there is no English equivalent. It may be a trial sent by God to test man, or an assault by the Devil to destroy man. It is all the doubt, turmoil, pang, tremor, panic, despair, desolation, and desparation which invades the spirit of man.” (Bainton, R. 1950, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Abingdon). Luther asserted that it was this Anfectung that would lead one to the cross and closer to Jesus, thereby bringing about spiritual growth and depth.

St. John of the Cross speaks of “the dark night of the soul” and Theresa of Avila speaks of dryness. In Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta” we read of Mother Teresa’s time of darkness and abandonment where she came to connect with the darkness of those abandoned in poverty and a life with not hope. In all three of these spiritual leaders we hear the same types of stories told by Luther.

So, the faith journey is impacted by crisis whether it be internal or external. Transitions bring growth. Yes, each of these can bring despair. In all of those who write in faith, they describe the deepening of their prayer life as the struggle went on. Satan would seek to have these times lead to despair, yet, the Holy Spirit, present in Word and Sacrament strengthens in the way of faith and grace.

So, I now have much more to think about and to pray about in terms of faith formation and how the Holy Spirit brings that about. Would love to hear the comments of others.

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