University Congregational Church
Feb. 26, 2017
“Making Space – Progressive Christian Convictions: The Journey of Faith”
Finding your spiritual journey is the pathway to discovering your life and your spirit. It is the doorway to knowing God. We are observers and participants in the changing of thoughts and ideas about life, death and everything in between.
I think that one spiritual activity each of us should do periodically is to map out our spiritual journey. You can do it on paper in a variety of different ways – with a chart format, or with sticky notes, or even as a collage. Across the bottom of the page, you can write your incremental ages from birth to the present. Use the axis on the side of the page to mark the spiritual experiences from high to low. And then begin filling in those experiences that formulated your beliefs. Both good and bad and everything in between that offered you perspective on what it is to be a person of faith.
Telling a friend or a spiritual guide – or even a spouse – the key aspects of the story of how we’ve connected with God or felt alone in the journey is important. It helps us to integrate our lives and open ourselves further to the work of God’s Spirit. It also enables us to be more helpful in our relationships and our everyday life.
If you haven’t done this before and are interested in seeing some examples, check out soulshepherding.org. If you’ve never done this you’d be surprised at the emotional healing and spiritual enlightenment it can facilitate! When you visually map out your spiritual journey on paper using a few key parameters then the jumbled parts become more orderly and the painful parts can open to grace.
All people have a spiritual path. This includes:
• People of faith
• People of each religious tradition, not only Christianity
• People who are agnostics and atheists
The spiritual path is an inward process of the joys and sorrows and the highs and lows of our souls. Our traditional word for today speaks to the journey of the soul: My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
One of the hardest things about all of the twists and turns of our lives is that it sometimes just feels so confusing and disorienting. It may seem that others are perfectly fine with where they are on the spiritual journey, relationship to church and God. At the same time, we can feel unsettled in our spirits, and can get insecure and sort of wonder “what’s wrong with us?”
In the book The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich the spiritual journey is divided into 6 primary stages. None of these stages are bad or right or wrong or better than another. They are printed in your bulletin under the contemporary word:
1. recognition of God – starting to believe, there really is something bigger
than just me. This process can start when we are young and we may revisit this step as we age. It is the continual awakening within us that life is about more than self; that purpose and meaning come through relationship.
I loved watching our children go through these stages. Their awakening sense
of self and God was so fresh and new. Our son, Adam, who was 4 at the time, tried to comfort me at the death of a family member. As we were leaving the cemetery, he asked if I had seen Jesus there. “No,” I answered. “Did you see Jesus?” “Yes, mom! He was there across the field. He was wearing jeans and he was walking out of the cemetery on his way to heaven.” Adam saw with eyes I didn’t have and described out of the pureness of his heart a scene that was profoundly healing.
2. life of discipleship – beginning to learn more ABOUT God. For many, this
occurs in our families and our churches. We learn about all kinds of things on the school playground – including a spectrum from the birds and bee to God. But it happens on the school playground and late night conversations between friends too. We learn the “good, bad, and ugly” about faith, God, religion, and the church. We begin to sort out what we believe and what we don’t believe. Again, we can return to this stage many times in our lives as life experience and observation changes us.
There was once a parent listening to his child saying prayers. The child began the prayer with, “Dear Howard…” The father asked gently at the end of the prayer why his child called God Howard. The child looked at his father with a curious eye and said, “Well, dad, I’ve been doing this for several years. Don’t you think I should be able to call God by his first name?” The dad, befuddled, asked, “Yes, but where did you get the idea that God’s first name is Howard?” The child quickly answered, “We say the prayer every week, “Our Father, who art in heaven, Howard is your name!” Stage 2 is when we learn God’s first name!
3. the productive life – serving and doing things FOR God. For many of us, this is the stage we enjoy much of our lives. In fact, the majority of Christians live their entire faith journey in stages 1-3. But, then, we hit…
THE WALL – things stop working for one reason or another… what happens to a lot of people, though, is that somewhere along the road they hit THE WALL. This can be a personal crisis, a faith crisis, anything that causes the productive life to stop working. Most everyone hits the wall sometime in life… and some slam into it a little bit more dramatically! All that we once knew is somehow gone or just doesn’t bring life. We don’t feel safe or satisfied or energized in the system we used to give our heart and time and money to. The way we used to experience God just doesn’t seem to be working anymore. We have way more questions than answers. We allow ourselves to feel pain & let God into some places we have not wanted to go before. Sometimes we are bleeding, wounded, and wondering if we’ll ever be whole again. It is the most confusing stage and also the most glorious because it is where we begin to let go of some of the comforts that protected us so well but kept us from deeper, richer, more mysterious relationship with God.
However, many people are taught and trained to dance around the wall and then get back to stage 3 as fast as they can. The goal for many is to get back to “normal” as soon as possible. Far fewer people actually do the hard courageous work of going THROUGH the wall because it requires entering into stage 4, the scary place where it feels like everything is up for grabs.
4. the journey inward – figuring out a new way to do relationship with God, ourselves, others. Stage 4 is when we need good guides, fellow sojourners who will stay with us and remind us this is a critical stage in our faith journey, to remind us to listen deeply and not lose hope when all that we once knew feels stripped away.
5. the journey outward – learning to live, serve, love out of a totally different place. The hope is that we will transition into stage 5 where we are serving, loving, living from a new, free place that gives life not only to us but to others. In the journey outward we live from a more whole, integrated place in our faith and personal lives. We are more vulnerable not only with God but with other people and we are deeply committed to community, a slower pace, and begin to serve and love other people out of deep desire and passion instead of duty or obligation or attachment to an organization or institution. Stage 5 brings with it a greater sense of freedom, compassion, depth and a willingness to not know the answers to everything in life.
6. life of love – so poured out it’s kind of wild. This stage describes some well-known people, including some saints of the church. Stage 6 is evidenced by people who live in love so dramatically that they seem a bit crazy. Think of Mother Teresa choosing to live in Calcutta and risking her very life. Think of Oscar Romero and becoming an advocate for the poor while shaking up the powerful.
These steps are not a formula. You can move between steps and revisit them throughout your life. The spiritual life does not live on a continuum where you start at one place and finish at the opposite end. There are twists and turns and moments of nothingness. There are peaks and valleys and times of great angst.
Thomas Merton said, “Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new.”
The wall is real. The spiritual journey inward is worth it. The healing, freedom, and love that springs forth from all that hard work is beautiful and worthwhile. Our spiritual walk is long, wild and important and at many turns impossibly slow. There’s no doubt, we need patient, safe, challenging people to remind us that God is big, alive, and present with us even in the darkest, most loneliest of days.
Escobar, Kathy. “A Nifty Chart for the Journey”. Kathyescobar.com
Borg, Marcus. “Convictions; How I Learned What Matters Most”. Harper Collins. 2014.