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Thursday, July 25, 2013

"STIR" (Mindy Caliguire)

TITLE: STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships
AUTHOR: Mindy Caliguire
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (192 pages).

It is important to cultivate the inner life. It is necessary to grow spiritually. It is also critical to be transformed inside, that we may be agents of God's transforming work in the communities we are in. The question is, how are we going to go about doing it? Are small groups the answer? While there is no one-size-fits-all strategy, sometimes, we cannot even find a suitable one. In a culture which tends to pay more attention to the external, we often suffer from a lack of cultivation of the internal. This is where Christian spirituality is important. For spirituality deals with a lot of what is happening on the inside. Call it soul care; inner transformation; spiritual formation; or simply spiritual growth, sometimes when we go loud with the questions, answers received are many, but few are appropriate for our needs.  More crucially, the Mindy Caliguire observes that our existing spiritual climate is more "sole (solo)" care rather than "soul care." An entrepreneur with a vision for soul care, the author feels that soul care is not just a solitary exercise. It is about the type of New Testament community as exemplified by Acts 2. True spiritual formation is bound up within the fabric of relationships. For spirituality is relational. Just like the Holy Spirit works in us to help us, the Holy Spirit also works in us and others to help one another. This book is about spiritual formation within communities and for communities. Church is not meant to be an impersonal institution but a group of like-minded believers who care for one another personal. We are not meant to be consumers of religious goods, but community of pilgrims working for the good of the world and for one another. We are not made to disconnect ourselves from people toward individual lives. For we are created for relationships, for community living, and for sharing and caring.

Caliguire, a spiritual formation director at Willow Creek Community Church has discovered that small group programs do not necessarily lead to transformed lives. People can faithfully attend small groups and still not grow in spiritual health. For spiritual health can only thrive in relational communities. Three things are necessary to make spiritual transformation a routine exercise in any Church: "clear vision; strong teaching; right relational environment." This is done through learning together (thinking), journeying together (sharing); and following together (doing).

Part One is about "Learning Together" in contrast to running alone. Caliguire shares about her own journey of spiritual formation that ends with a thud when she realizes she has missed out on the community aspect of soul care. Building her case from biblical examples, she increasingly realizes that God had meant for soul care to be done communally rather than individualistically. Spiritual growth is about moving from one phase to another.  From "core beliefs" to "spiritual practices" to "giving away." In the first phase, there is a higher degree of needing a more "directive" climate, where one is taught and guided. The source of guidance is from the Word of God, and through mature spiritual directors. Even leaders need an environment where they can share and provide guidance for one another. The three core goals in this phase is Scripture; core beliefs; and relationship with God and others. As they grow in God-awareness, in personal encouragement, and openness to the wisdom of God, they will start to notice new behaviours and learning experiences.

Part Two is about "journeying together." On the one hand, we need to travel together as a group, on the other, we need to own our role. At this stage, one needs to be prepared for a fair amount of uncertainty, even discouragement because it can be confusing at first. While taking ownership of our own growth journey, we remember that we are traveling with other pilgrims as well on their own faith journeys. Together, the community discover for themselves they need God more and more. Groups need to set a "AWOL" (A Way of Life) format at this phase. Firstly a sense of ownership will put into practice the learning gained in the preceding phase. Secondly, growing also means discovering the hidden "motives, desires, shame, and fear" in our lives. As the wounds are revealed, healing is allowed to happen. At this stage, it is important to have an experienced director who have been there, a trusted guide. Caliguire also introduces some of the mystics of old, like St John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. The thing about journeying together also means we are to be the guide of someone else within the community. Caliguire provides a chapter to help us be that "desert guide," giving readers 8 signs on how to help others.

Part Three is the third stage of "following together." Here, we are ready to move away from a "directional" relationship toward a more "discerning" relationship. While direction involves creating safe relational environments, strong spiritual place, and an appropriate curriculum, discerning is about four things:

  1. Helping others find connections with God's work;
  2. Praying for inner healing;
  3. Catching glimpses of God;
  4. Recognizing when a person can move on.

Once the momentum has been built, our stories, our services, and our spiritualities converge into a common surrender, abandonment, contentment, and participation in God's will.  At this point, relationships flourish, with free giving and receiving of direction and discernment. Spiritual friendship is formed and continually reforming.

My Thoughts

What spiritual information can do for the head does not necessarily means that it will do the same for the heart. The main purpose in this book is not simply about sharing the different stages of spiritual transformation, or the steps to take with regards to spiritual growth. It is more about self-awareness and communal relationships. It is about deepening our own resolves to own our learning, to share our journeys, and to follow Christ together, through intentional relationships. Our hearts need to be stirred by the Spirit to go beyond mere Bible study toward Bible study with spiritual transformation in mind. We need to journey together with free flowing giving and receiving relationships; with the more mature leading the young, and the mature discerning with one another.

I appreciate Caliguire's efforts in putting together a structure for spiritual formation, which is often something not easily understood. Neither is such spirituality easily grasped. That said, I read this book with cautious optimism, recognizing that even in a community, there are different people of various backgrounds and spiritual maturity. Forming relational groups can be a tricky thing. Some still prefer the traditional Bible study group. Not many are comfortable with spiritual formation groups either for lack of mature spiritual directors, or the lack of interest in spirituality. We are creatures more comfortable with spiritual information, and less clear about what spiritual formation is all about. That is why the move from "directional" to "discerning" can be frustrating for lack of a clear guide. This book can provide a jump start. That said, it needs a mature spiritual director to guide the uninitiated. Perhaps, it is more suited for leaders or people who are ready to take the plunge. More importantly, people need to be "stirred" with interest, before this book will register any interest in them. Once stirred, this book will be great fodder and fuel for the journey.

Be stirred and know that God is God.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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