Since the Trinity is fundamental to a Christian understanding of God, Anglicans believe spiritual formation should be trinitarian. It is too often the case today that, in the pursuit of intimacy with God, Christians err in one of two directions: (1) they focus on imitating Jesus and forget about the guiding help of the Holy Spirit, or (2) look to the Spirit to give them inner peace and direction in life without grounding their expectation of Christian life in the example provided by Jesus Christ. And this is nothing to say of the fact that the Father has all but disappeared in Christian discussions on spiritual formation!
How are we rightly to understand spiritual formation in light of the triune nature of God? Firstly, we must recognize the role each person of the Trinity plays in the life of the Christian. This is how the Book of Common Prayer describes spiritual formation that is trinitarian in scope: “We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to confess and submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ, and this confession gives us a right relationship with the Father, who is the source of all life. Each person of the Trinity is indispensable for not only the salvation of human beings, but their continued growth and development after the restoration of their relationships with God. It is the Father who has given us our life, and to whom is due all our worship. It is the Son who has reconciled us to the Father, and whom we receive weekly in the Eucharist. And it is the Spirit who “leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ.”
Secondly, God’s existing as Trinity provides an example for how Christians ought to live with one another, and contributes much to a discussion on what it means to be created in the imago Dei:
“Made after the image of God the Trinity, human beings are called to reproduce on earth the mystery of mutual love that the Trinity live in heaven...Each social unit—the family, the school, the workshop, the parish, the Church universal—is to be made an ikon of the Triunity. Because we know that God is three in one, each of us is committed irrevocably to a life of practical service, of active compassion.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way)
God, who lives in an eternal community of love and self-giving, has created human beings to live in the same way. All of our attention should be focused on living for the other, and not on our own interests or desires. The Christian, who worships a relational and self-sacrificial God, prioritizes her relationships and constantly seeks to serve her neighbor. And this does far more to form us spiritually than a retreat or a new audiobook ever could.
Of course, this is a very difficult ideal to realize in contemporary America. We simply don’t live in a culture that teaches us to think of others (unless, of course, it doesn’t cost us anything). But I firmly believe that living in selflessness, sacrifice, neighborliness, and giving is a goal that every Christian ought to strive for. This is who our God is: the Father, who gave his only Son to us, so that we could enjoy eternal union with him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as we need each member of the Trinity for proper spiritual formation, so also do we need each and every member of the Church to help us reflect that image of the relational God in which we were created.