To describe how spiritual formation takes place in the heart, Henri Nouwen, in his book Spiritual Direction, uses the example of how Michelangelo forms a statue:
“There was once a sculptor who worked hard with hammer and chisel on a large block of marble. A little child who was watching him saw nothing more than large and small pieces of stone falling away left and right. He had no idea what was happening. But when the boy returned to the studio a few weeks later, he saw, to his surprise, a large, powerful lion sitting in the place where the marble had stood. With great excitement, the boy ran to the sculptor and said, “Sir, tell me, how did you know there was a lion in the marble?” "I knew there was a lion in the marble because before I saw the lion in the marble, I saw him in my own heart. The secret is that it was the lion in my heart that recognized the lion in the marble.”
According to Nouwen, spiritual formation is obediently submitting to God, the Master Sculptor, and submissively allowing for the gradual chipping away until the inner lion is revealed. One way this formation is developed is by opening spiritual ears in order to hear the voice of God. Of course, conflicting and contradictory voices always speak, but prayer and meditation have the power to stifle these negative voices.
Recently, I experienced emotional challenges, and negative voices began to whisper in my ear. These voices grew louder when my husband had to undergo surgery after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Yet, the voice of God spoke with clarity, reminding me of who I am in Christ, and with my spiritual ears, I heard God say, “You are my beloved.” Then, Isaiah 43:1-3 came to mind: “…He who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Reading these verses provided me with needed reassurance and faith over the fear that attempts to keep me in a cycle of worry.
Being the beloved children of God is the core of our existence, and our spiritual formation is a journey of “becoming” and recognizing the lion in our hearts". God is the potter; we are the clay, and we are the work of God’s hand. Our spiritual formation is a continuous process of being developed into the image of Christ for the glory of God and for the sake of others; it is a life-long and holistic formation guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all areas of our lives are to be submitted to God and placed under His authority because we are the work of His hands.