I am not sure when it was that I made the connection. I should have seen it far earlier. But there was that time when I watched my neighbour build his retaining wall. He created forms and poured the concrete. The wall came out misshapen and the lesson clear: the form was the thing to get right. Build a good form and you will build a good wall. Build a misshapen form and you would have what my neighbour had created. It was a permanently hard, and hard to correct, lesson in life. Form. Formation. I was a long way into this life of following Jesus and leading others before I made this simple connection: how we live is the form in which we become. We simply cannot learn the life and truth of Jesus, without also learning the way of Jesus. To learn what he said, to discover who he was and is, is embedded in how he lived and what he did.
Jesus is not only the truth and the life (John 14:6). Jesus is the way. In fact, in that set of three -- way, truth, life -- it is Jesus as “way” that is set forth first as a kind of entry point. We learn truth and life through our commitment to a Jesus-way-of-being.
Christians commit themselves to a way of life. The earliest followers of Jesus actually called themselves followers of The Way (Acts 9:2), a piece of history we should not easily dismiss. They did not think to call themselves Christians (Gk. christianos: the name of Christ with a latin ending which suggested “belonging to”, as in slave ownership). It was those who watched them work out their lives who first called them by this name (Acts 11:26). Perhaps we too should be reticent to call ourselves Christians. Perhaps it would be more accurate, more honest and helpful both to us and to those who watch us, to simply say we have committed ourselves to follow Jesus in his way.
We need a recovery of sorts. We need to reestablish the idea that form is the key to formation. For so many of us, spiritual life belongs to the unstructured part of life. It tends to exist in spurts and impulses. You know what I am talking about. This is where our present series on what we call the practices can help us.
There are basic ways in which followers of Jesus learn his life and truth. There are basic ways in which we learn The Way. We call these practices because these are things we do. There is a common core here: prayer and worship, reading and study, giving and forgiving, sabbath and service, hospitality and the shared life. Actually, we might say that genuine Christian life is nearly impossible without such basics.
If you would like to dive deeper into this discussion, let me recommend Dorothy Bass, Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (Jossey-Bass: 2nd edition, 2009). If you have been frustrated by the formless, chaotic nature of your spiritual life, you will be greatly encouraged by the thought that a Christian soul is made in the dailiness of walking the path with Jesus. May Our Lord lead you on.