The Trickle Down Theory of Spiritual Formation

Much of the spiritual formation literature works with what I call "the trickle down theory of spiritual formation."

The two greatest commandments work with a vertical and an horizontal axis. The vertical: Love God. The horizontal: Love your neighbor.

By and large, the spiritual formation literature, with this focus on spiritual disciplines and liturgy, suggests that if we work hard on the vertical dimension, loving God, this love will eventually "trickle down" into loving our neighbors. Ponder the various spiritual disciplines: Prayer, devotional Bible study, Sabbath, fasting, etc. Think also of worship and liturgy. Each of these sends us up along the vertical dimension, the notion being that getting closer to God should open our hearts toward others.

But does it always? Does our love for God "trickle down"?

The argument I make in Stranger God is that it doesn't always. We can become so absorbed in the vertical pursuit of God that we forget our neighbor right next to us. So what we need, as I argue it in the book, is a uniquely horizontal spiritual practice, a practice that gets us moving horizontally toward each other. And one example of this practice, as I share, is the Little Way of St.Thérèse of Lisieux.

I believe, pretty strongly, that if we don't have a robust horizontal formation practice, our love of God will routinely fail to "trickle down" upon others.

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