Unformation: Learning to Experience God in My Darkness

I grew up in Miami and like any Florida girl, I love the beach. The waves. The sand. The stickiness of the salt that has been baked on by time in the sun. Mostly, I love the sound of the waves. They are a cacophonous rush that is simultaneously alarming and calming.

When you grow up by the sea you also know the secret of its strength. If the hurricane siren sounds, you don’t stand on the shore. Those waves are no longer inviting but a looming threat. How can something that contains such violence and force be a sound that is so soothing?

What about Unformation?

We talk a lot of spiritual formation– the way in which the image of God is revealed and shaped in us through our life. But rarely do we talk about what it means to be unformed. As our Missio Community prays toward revival (#PrayMay15) I want to take a look at the work of unformation. What does it mean to be unformed? What is the role of unformation in revival? We talk a lot of spiritual formation, but rarely do we talk about what it means to be unformed. Click To Tweet

I think about the lessons of riptide and scuba diving; of swimming too far out to sea… If you’re pulled into the wave the trick is to give in. Let it pull you back and swim toward the surface. Fighting the current only wears you out. The other option is to dive under, and let yourself tuck under the wave’s pull, but this pulls you into a depth and you need to be able to hold your breath till the wave is done pulling. Unformation is just like those waves.

Unformation is the tension of light and dark. How does Christ say that in Him there is no darkness, when there is so much darkness in me? How do I reconcile the dark weight of suffering and yet see Jesus, the suffering servant as light? What does it mean that my weakness is His strength?

When and With

Unformation is about is about learning to be with God. It’s the dramatic untangling of my soul. Its rewriting the narration of my mind. It’s resorting the ways I thought I knew God. What does it look like to stand in the spaces where He seems missing? I think those silences take us into deeper space. One of my favorite mystics called it the dark night of the soul.

Isaiah shows us unformation through the with and when:

Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.

I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you go through deep waters,

I will be with you.

When you go through rivers of difficulty,

you will not drown.

When you walk through the fire of oppression,

you will not be burned up;

the flames will not consume you.

Isaiah 43

Unformation is the promise of God being with us when darkness happens. Isaiah doesn’t say “if” the deep waters come, if there is difficulty or oppression, but when.  

When hardship comes it is then that I’m faced with a choice: do I let the Spirit into the unformed space in my heart, this space where I can’t find God?

Unformation is being honest about my weakness, fear and hurt.

Unformation is recognizing my suffering as a way to identify with Christ, rather than blame him.

Unformation means creating space for hope in the midst of unbelief.

Unformation becomes a space for revival.

Revival, awakening, renewal–there are several words for the collective work of the Spirit across the Church and within the lives of Christ followers. The common idea however, is that there is a [re]doing of life in our souls. I think of revival as a re-giving of wholeness; a taste of shalom.

It’s a testimony written into seasons and waves and cycles of the earth around the sun– we must die for life to be given. This was the ultimate image of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a glimpse of what revival means for us as believers. N.T. Wright speaks of this in Why Christianity Makes Sense: “God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was “very good.” Rather, he intends to remake it. And when he does he will raise all his people to new bodily life to live in it. That is the promise of the Christian gospel.” We see that revival is a re-doing of the Kingdom here on earth, starting first in the depth of our own souls. It’s a picture of the renewal that will come upon the earth, the shalom that is promised to be restored and the hope we offer the world. But to be revived, we must first be unformed. It means taking a breath, giving into the wave and knowing I will surface with the tide. Unformation is recognizing my suffering as a way to identify with Christ rather than blame him. Click To Tweet

For more on unformation check out St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul. Please note, this work is originally in Spanish, so there are several versions of translations available.