Family: The Forming Center (1996)

Like all intentional communities, families are intensive crucibles of relationship. Therefore relationships within the Christian family are not merely figures of spiritual relationships but vehicles through which we may begin to live out the new creation in Christ (136).

In Family: The Forming Center, Marjorie Thompson argues that the family is a domestic church, saying that the domestic church and the church gathered are both needed “to recapture a vision of the Christian family as a sacred community” (28). She suggests that family relations are important for spiritual growth and that family members indeed have a vocation to help one another grow in their spiritual lives. In addition to the formation communal worship gives, Thompson states that families need to discern “simple structures, symbols, and rituals” that can be part of their lives together.

She also says that families should be “sacred shelters” by being “a place of acceptance, nurture, and growth that empowers family members to participate . . . in God’s ongoing acts of compassion and salvation” (Leckey qtd. 57–58). Thompson identifies a number of practices that allow families to be such sheltering communities: presence, acceptance, affirmation, accountability, forgiveness, and hospitality (59–68).

Thompson also discusses the centrality of prayer in the family. She affirms that “prayer is the very heart of our encounter and relationship with God. Without prayer, there is no mutual relationship, no communion, no growth” (73). She speaks of prayers power to bond pray-ers together because “prayer draws the mystery of God into what we would otherwise perceive as strictly human interaction” (75). Thus, she encourages nurturing contemplation in the home through practices like breath prayer or the Jesus prayer, saying, “The practice of simple but specific disciplines of prayer prepares us for a more general and encompassing practice of God’s presence in our lives” (82).

Additionally, Thompson suggests families find ways to celebrate the presence of God, especially during seasons like Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. Additionally Saint’s Days that are special to the family may deserve special attention. Such practices of the presence of God can take the shape of family worship or they can be more simple, like praying after opening a window in an Advent calendar. Lastly, she lists major moments in life—birth, baptism, confirmation, first Eucharist, marriage, death—as special times to reflect on God’s presence (ch. 6).

Ultimately, the family has a responsibility to tell stories—both stories of our faith tradition as well as familial stories about “how we got here.” By making the Psalms and Gospel a part of daily life, families keep the framing stories for their life in the forefront. Additionally, telling stories about deceased relatives, for example, keeps special memories of the family alive (ch. 7). The family is a domestic church because it forms its members and helps them become aware of the bonds that hold them together, especially the bonds of faith and love.

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