Where are you on your spiritual path? It’s hard to determine when the beginning and the end of that path can be vague and varied. Did it start when you first spoke to God in meditation or prayer, when you were baptized, during communion or confession? Maybe a revival meeting. While acknowledging the relevance of mountaintop experience, perhaps your focus is not on a specific moment, but on progress, which doesn’t happen linearly, but has it’s ups and downs.
And what is the spiritual goal of your journey? If we can’t define it, how can we gauge our progress or even know if we are going in the right direction?
Brian D McLaren, in his book Naked Spirituality, describes four phases of spiritual maturity based on his experience and study. He makes it clear that we will have transitional periods that look like a mixture of two phases. I find that, although I endeavor to reach his fourth phase, I find myself between phases, with some issues in one and some in the other. What does your experience suggests?
Phase One of Our Spiritual Journey
In our spiritual infancy we see in a dualistic way. Everything we see is immediately categorized in relation to our ego. It is evaluated in relation to self-interest: good and evil, us and them; advantages and disadvantages; superior and inferior; benefit and cost; right and wrong; in and out; pleasurable and painful; safe and dangerous; acceptable and unacceptable; winner and loser; ally and enemy; and so on. At this stage, our comparisons and contrasts are our absolute judgments, end of story, case closed.
Phase Two of Our Spiritual Journey
As we develop spiritually our dualism begins to break down. We move from black and white to shades of gray. We go from seeing the world in terms of twos to seeing the world in multiples. We go from fixed categories to arrays and ranges. We move from binary categorization to sophisticated classification, and sound judgment and analysis becomes more complex. In this stage we begin to be able to see some good in what we had previously thought was evil, and some evil in what we had previously thought was good.
Phase Three of Our Spiritual Journey
As we further progress in our spirituality we see in a relativistic way. We take the scrutiny we have developed to dissect the opinions, perspectives, and beliefs of others, and we turn that scrutiny on our own opinions, perspectives, and beliefs. We self-distance enough to self-examine, and self-critique. The philosopher Socrates rightly said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. So we give everything a second thought; in other words, we repent. Like leaves falling off trees, our previous certainties and judgments fall to the ground, until the only absolute left is that there are no absolute.
Phase Four of Our Spiritual Journey
When we reach stage four, the chattering, hyper vigilant consciousness – that first judged in stage one, and then analyzed in stage two, and then self-examined in stage three – now goes silent. When we open our eyes in this space, we begin to see and know with the meditative mind. What you look for determines what you see. What you focus on determines what you miss. The way you see determines what you are blind to and what you render invisible. So, this meditative kind of seeing accepts the limitations of earlier ways of seeing, and it practices, in their place, a new vision.
The Spiritually Transformation
It’s not that everything is good. It’s that there is good in everything or there is potential to bring about good out of everything. It’s not that everything is the same. It’s that everything both differs and belongs, everything can be redeemed, everything can be forgiven. It’s not that everything is relative, with no firm or fixed identity, but that everything is related, so its identity is bound up somehow with the identity of everything else.
Brian McLaren writes:
We used to look for evil to judge, evil to name, shame, and blame. But that was an easy thing, so easy that we now find the whole exercise rather boring, childish, and small minded. It was also an ego flattering and prideful thing, placing us in a god-like position. We now wish to see without that arrogance, without that air of superiority or supremacy. Now, as we learn to behold the good, the world is bathed in a gentle luminosity of compassion instead of a harsh light of analysis, inspection, and judgment. Before we looked for flaws, which gave us an excuse to reject, but now we look for goodness, which gives us a reason to respect. Instead of looking for dangers to flee and fear, we look for possibilities to pursue and encourage. We turn from evaluating to valuing.
The New View of Other People
This new seeing, of course, includes the way we view other human beings. In our spiritual infancy and youth, we were scorekeepers or fault finders. We stood with the Pharisees, stone in hand, staring at a woman caught in adultery. Now we stand with Christ, in Christ, beholding a daughter needing love. This new way of seeing is so different from our old way of seeing that we now say, “though I was blind, now I see “.
Behold, a new creation! A new reality! And the old flawed, egotistical mindset is gone. We used to see some people as friends and others as enemies, some as superior and others as inferior, some as “us” and others as “them”. We judged their value in relation to our safety, our interests, our opinions, our pride, our profit, our lust, our affiliations, our fear. Now we are able to escape the black hole of old egotistical perspective, described by novelist Walker Percy as “the great suck of self. “ Instead, we rise to see with the living God, seeing others with loving, compassionate eyes. We see the connection and oneness of all souls.
The New View of Myself
Brian McLaren continue:
But my renewed vision doesn’t stop with the faces of others; it continues when I look in the mirror. Up until now I have seen myself as a mix of good and bad, good I am proud of and bad I am ashamed of – again, seeing myself in relation to my own interest in being popular, powerful, approved, successful. Now, if I’m tempted to self-worship, I live with one kind of blindness about myself: failing to acknowledge my character defects. If I’m tempted to self-loathing, it’s another kind of blindness: failing to see my worth and God‘s beloved creature made in God’s image.
The New View of Nature
But there is still more. an empty field was called “undeveloped”, oblivious to the beautiful ecosystem that had developed there over millennia….Now with Jesus, we see the flowers of the field and birds of the air as God‘s beloved creatures, each and every thing possessing an intrinsic value apart from any price put on it in the meat markets of human economy. Martin Luther said, “if you could understand a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder“.
The New View of God
Most wonderful of all, if we dare venture into the new creation, you and I will behold God in a new way. We used to encounter God from our self-serving vantage point – for what God could do for us, advancing our agenda, coddling our insecurities, fulfilling our desires, reinforcing our prejudices. But now, even God shines in a new light. God has been transformed for us – not that God has changed in essence or character, but that our concept or image of God has changed, adjusted, expanded, and corrected, slightly at least, in the direction of the true undefinable God.
Something happens at this stage that is very difficult to describe: we learn as never before to separate God from our God-concepts. We learn that it is one thing to trust our beliefs, believe in our theology, or have confidence in our doctrines and creeds about God. But it is a very different thing to be one with and have a personal connection with God.
How do We Transform Ourselves?
To progress along our spiritual path requires prayer and meditation on spiritual principles . Mountaintop experiences give us confidence in our beliefs and spiritual experiences transform belief into knowledge. To reach the personal connection with God that we desire, we must quietly listen for the still small voice at all times which is made possible through a practice of meditation and prayer.
Spiritual maturity is evident in the ability to tolerate the stress that is often part of the growth process. This includes the willingness to display uncertainty. Confusion and indecision can be interpreted as weakness. But in fact, they are the door to spiritual growth and are nothing to worry about. Good change is a movement toward your best self.
Spiritual growth may come to you quickly or progress throughout your life and beyond. Christian A. Schwarz, in his book The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality, writes “Process spirituality necessarily demands more time. Nevertheless, I am extremely reluctant to see….“duration“ as a quality criterion. This could lead to the fatal argument that quick equals bad, and slow equals good. But not everything that proceeds slowly should be seen positively. Slowness can also be the result of laziness, procrastination, passivity, lethargy or fatalistic attitude. You can run away from God even by means of impressive sounding process vocabulary.”
The Pursuit Can be Challenging but Worth It
What man is striving to attain in his search for God is a state of complete peace and harmony, a state in which we are not at war with one another, but in love with one another, a state in which we do not deprive others, but share with them.
It must be clear to every thinking person that It is our work to establish a relationship of oneness with God. Jesus said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. “ Time and time again he reiterates that it is our responsibility: “You shall love the Lord your God… Ye shall love thy neighbor as thy self… You shall pray for your enemy… You shall bring the tithes into the storehouse”. Nowhere does he indicate that this is God’s responsibility.
In Practicing the Presence, Joel S Goldsmith writes that Jesus has given us the way, the where, the when and the how of this demonstration of unity: The way is prayer; The where is the kingdom of God within us; The when is now; the how is action. Jesus causes us to withdraw our gaze from upward and outward and turn it in the only direction in which we can find peace and harmony – within ourselves.
Through inner contemplation of the Father within, ultimately, “I and my Father“ mold and melt into one. God is love. No God can operate in our experience except through love, and we must become the instrument through which that love is permitted to escape as directed in the commandment “thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thy self “ will have no significance to us except in proportion as we are loving.
This commandment has been known for thousands of years. Today – now, this teaching should be put into action, there should be an end to the meaningless repetition of those words. Now that commandment must be brought down into the heart and lived, implemented by obedience to the Christ’s injunction: “do unto others as you would have others do unto you… Forgive seventy times seven… Do not condemn… Do not judge”.
Knowing the truth with the mind does not guarantee that it will be put into action: it is when truth seeps down from the mind and penetrates the heart that the Spirit reigns, and love is enthroned.
You know what the goal of life is – to be reunited with the Father, to be consciously one with God. You know the way – the prayer of inner contemplation and meditation, the recognition of the Christ, the love of God, and the love of man. Now carry this message in your mind where you will always remember the principles. And in your heart, dwell upon the gift which has been given to you, delivered to you from the Father – the gift of the realized Presence within you. Bless It always that It may increase.
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Cor 5:14-17
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Act 17:11
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality by Christian A. Schwarz
Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren
Practicing the Presence by Joel S. Goldsmith