Spiritual Transformation: Hype or Hope?
Why are you so downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Let’s be honest. To call any organization “The Transforming Center” is a bold move. Some might even call it pretentious. The first time I heard the term, it sounded like the kind of hype that ministers hear or read about all the time.
I’ve lost count of the number of advertisements I’ve received promising that if I attend so-and-so’s conference or seminar, I and my congregation will be changed forever. Despite the little voice inside my head that warns me it can’t be that simple, I–like many other ministers–have signed on, hoping to find the “silver bullet” that will turn me into a spiritual giant, and my congregation into a powerhouse of ministry.
It’s not just that I hear hype. I can dispense it, too, promising more than I can possibly accomplish on many fronts in order to keep congregants happy, and to maintain the image of success in my sphere of ministry. And if I’m not careful, I can present a picture of the Christian life that far exceeds my own practice and experience.
So when I first heard of the “Transforming Center”, I relegated it to the category of hype. I had tried lots of programs that promised spiritual transformation but had experienced limited results. It became easier just to believe that spiritual transformation wasn’t possible—at least not at the “soul” level where we conduct the real business of our lives.
Such disillusionment is why I, and many others in ministry, live on the edge of despair without really knowing it. Like the psalmist, our souls are privately downcast and disturbed. We are desperate for hope in a world of hype—hope that our churches might be something other than black holes that consume all our energy, hope that our own spirituality could be something other than the dry, dusty deserts they have become.
Invitation to Transforming Community
Almost two years ago, our church invited Ruth Haley Barton to speak to us as we celebrated our reentry into recently renovated worship space. During that weekend, Ruth correctly discerned that I was spiritually and emotionally depleted after an intensive capital funds campaign and facility renovation. She invited me to participate in the Transforming Center’s two-year Transforming Community experience which involved attending eight quarterly retreats over a two year time frame at a retreat center north of Chicago.
It was an intriguing invitation but I have to admit that the only reason I agreed to participate was because the chair of our Personnel Committee also knew I was spent and insisted I go. With my usual cynicism, I was convinced that these retreats couldn’t possibly facilitate a transformation that justified the time and expense required.
I couldn’t have been more mistaken! For the last two years, I have participated in a Transforming Community and as this experience comes to an end, I have discovered that the Transforming Center lives up to its name! My experience with the Transforming Center has generated transformation in my soul that I did not think possible!
A Journey of Mind, Heart and Soul
My earliest clue that this experience would be different from anything I had experienced before came in the first retreat when two things happened that I hadn’t expected. First of all, I was exposed to absolute silence for several hours on end…and believe me, a Catholic retreat center can offer deafening silence! Initially I struggled with the silence, craving some noisy diversion from the free-floating anxiety that hung like a dense fog in my soul. Later, I would come to view silence as my friend, creating time and space to confront the “demons” that held my soul hostage in the desert.
In that same retreat, we also experienced a level of community and trust that I found both frightening and freeing. I learned that others carried similar levels of pain and exhaustion. As time went on, I learned that in a counterintuitive way, intense silence and community not only complement, but feed off each other.
Each successive retreat focused on content that both my head and heart needed to hear. I found the teaching profound. I would be hard-pressed to identify which retreat meant the most—each topic laid claim to my soul and imagination just when I seemed to need it. Sometimes the presentations raised as many questions as they answered, and since my tendency is to process the world through my intellect, I voiced many of my questions. My questions were greeted with gracious, thoughtful replies and encouragement to stay on the journey.
Gradually, through a masterfully presented collage of teaching, worship, small groups, silence, and large group interaction I came to see that the transformation of my mind must also involve my heart and my soul. I was given the opportunity to be with myself and reveal the deepest, darkest parts of myself to God—and found that God still cherished me! Most importantly, I was given tools that enabled me to establish “sacred rhythms” of spiritual disciplines that would slowly but surely transform my mind and heart. These rhythms have helped me reclaim my weary soul, rekindle my passion for ministry, and renew my hope in the Lord.
It would be hype to say my spiritual journey is complete—I still have miles to go before I sleep. The difference now is that I have a well-defined map to guide me, new resources to consult, and new traveling companions for the journey.
I also have the answer to a question that has long lurked in my soul—“Is it realistic to hope for something more in the Christian life?”
And that’s no hype.
Learn more and apply to join the next Transforming Community.
© David Hughes, 2009.
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