University of the Desert: An Exploration of Incarnational Living

By Jackie L. Halstead

Scarritt Bennett Center is initiating new learning opportunities in the form of certificate programs. These programs offer the opportunity for in-depth study in the areas at the core of our mission—spiritual formation, empowerment of women, racial equality, and cross-cultural dialogue. The first of these certificates will be in the area of spiritual formation and is entitled The University of the Desert: Certificate in Christian Spirituality.

University of the Desert: Certificate in Christian Spirituality

The five modules that make up the certificate offer (1) knowledge of the core spiritual disciplines (prayer, scripture, silence, and solitude), (2) understanding of the history of Christian spiritual traditions, (3) experience of spiritual formation through practice of Christian disciplines, and (4) familiarity with methods to help others develop a deeper relationship with God.

Each module is offered in either two weekends or a one-week intensive format. The module descriptions are as follows:

1. Spiritual Formation and Guidance

Christian spiritual formation, the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others, calls all disciples of Jesus to incarnational living. This course identifies how God offers himself and how believers respond through spiritual disciplines, scripture, personal experiences, literature and events. The course is both didactic and experiential in the understanding that in order to develop an intimate relationship with God one must both gain knowledge and experience spiritual transformation.

2. Theory and Practice of Prayer

Christian prayer is the sacred right of every child of God. It is the means by which we converse with the creator of the universe. The contemporary church has often relegated prayer to a simple formula of praise, thanksgiving, requests, and confession, but this is only a small aspect of the depth that is available to us in this practice. This course explores a range of prayer forms and seeks to examine the role of prayer—both for us and for God.

3. Christian Spiritual Traditions

History is a conversation with our ancestors. Because these forebearers are in our past we can fail to appreciate their currency and presume that they have little to teach us. In fact, the successes and failures, wisdom and knowledge, of our communion sanctorum is accessible for us, to the extent that we listen with the ear of our hearts and respectfully engage our sisters and brothers of the faith. This module, therefore, surveys the lives, beliefs, writings, and disciplines of notable women and men from Christianity’s two millennia. The goal is not merely to master the content about these ancestors, but to listen in such a way that their wisdom can equip us with resources to serve the Kingdom.

4. Reading Scripture for Transformation

The primary goal of studying Scripture is to become more like Christ, or as Augustine writes, to grow in faith, hope, and love. This module identifies the practices and dispositions that help one read Scripture toward this end. This module is both didactic and experiential in the understanding that in order to read Scripture well, one must both gain knowledge and practice reading strategies.

5. Incarnational Living

Incarnational living is the praxis of spiritual formation. It involves taking the learning of the Christian disciplines back into one’s unique context. This module provides direction to living in this manner. In addition to the other courses in the Certificate for Christian Spirituality, the student will be guided through a year of communal spiritual formation. This is the final module of the Certificate of Christian Spirituality. Participants will meet throughout the year in a seminar format.

If you are interested in participating in the University of the Desert: Certificate in Christian spirituality, learn more here.