Spirituality at Asbury Seminary, Adrian van Kaam, and Susan Muto

The seeds of Spirituality sown by Father Adrian and Susan Muto have been cast wide at Asbury. From as early as 1980, Asbury’s faculty have looked to Father Adrian and his institute for guidance.  Now, Asbury boasts of one faculty member taught mentored by Father Adrian, two staff members who have taken the 60 CEU course on Formative Spirituality and many more influenced by his right hand woman, Dr. Susan Muto.  For example, Asbury’s core small group initiative looks mainly to Father Adrian’s model of small group direction for guidance.

I am glad for this.  Read one of his books and you will see why.  In his preface to volume one of his magnum opus (13 volumes on Formative Spirituality), Father Adrian gives this challenge to us all:

“This is the first volume of my series that aims to initiate the reader not only into a new science but also into a way of thinking that is as old as humanity, though perhaps new for many today.  Our purpose here is to distinguish informative thinking from formative thinking.  Most readers may be familiar with the former, but puzzled by the latter.  The informative approach is customary to our culture, our sciences, our daily life.  Its results are most impressive; at times, as in the technological conquest of outer space, awesome.  The results of informative thinking are most useful in many fields of inquiry, including the science of formative spirituality.

However, exclusive dependence on informative thought alone does not seem sufficient for the full flowering of our life and world.  Human thought also has to help people find ways to live more consonant, happier lives, making the world a better place for them and succeeding generations.  To be sure, the majority of informative thinkers and researchers also aim at such improvement, but in a more remote or indirect way.  Their insights and findings contribute greatly to its realization, but the missing link between their informative efforts and the concrete daily life of people is formative thinking.”

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Formability

We have this God given piece of us, just like we have lungs and a spleen.  And the Lord engages it on a daily basis.  It is what we call our spirit.  And just like a physician can learn the anatomy of the body, so can we learn how our whole body and spirit works together.  As a whole, God is ever working to inspire and shape us on a daily basis.  The Psalmist asks it like this: “Where can I go from your Spirit, where can I flee from your presence”

As spiritual creatures, it is our DNA impulse to give and receive form from this world and to those around us.  This is why in our fallen world, James makes this very clear: “with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.”  On this earth we have the spirit power to lift up or put down others and ourselves through every word and action. Everything either forms or deforms us.  Every situation, every disappointment, obstacle, success, has the power to shape us for good or for ill.  And we have the ability to harness our spirits in two ways.

Either we learn to abandon ourselves to God or enact that negative feeling that somehow God has abandoned us.  It is the difference between the spiritual master or the man or woman lost in depression. We give and receive form or deformity every day everywhere.