How deeply will I allow the Spirit of God to penetrate my being?
Spiritual direction involves spiritual formation that goes well beyond understanding foundational truths and developing spiritually healthy habits.
Seeds on a well-trodden path, among thorny weeds, on rocky soil, germinate but produce no leaf, flower, or fruit. Ploughed, disked, tilled, raked, fertilized, blended with vermicomposted organic material, slowly nurtured in nature’s womb – rich, fertile soil welcomes the seed, and, with the gifts of sunshine and rain, produces bud, leaf, flower, sustenance for bees, butterflies, birds, deer, and people.
The process of spiritual formation seems arrested in many of us. What hinders the seeds of divine love? Often, it is a fundamental, innate, unconscious worldview that has become the lens through which we see. We begin with assumptions that we absorbed from our families of origin, our ancestral cultures, and the zeitgeist. The seed hits our assumptions, our masks, our cultural identity, and stops growing.
“Enough! Don’t challenge my beliefs, so neatly folded, organized, and catalogued in the drawers of stifled thought. It’s plain to see I am right.”
It takes energy to think. We evolved to conserve energy so there would be enough to hunt for prey and run from predators. Our natural inclination is to shift into neutral and watch television.
Religions rest (non sequitur) on dogma. Secularism assumes (likewise, non sequitur) that reality consists of only what it can see. Paul Simon put it succinctly: “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Whether biologically or culturally derived, humans share a collective unconscious, primitive shared memories imprinted from ancestral biology or experience. That collective unconscious is reinforced by myth and those myths shape our personalities and institutions.
Jung believed that all humans have in innermost longing to be connected with God, their Source, and are unfulfilled until they do so. He identified four subsystems of the personality, which he called archetypes.
1. Persona, the masks we wear in order to conform to society, peers, clans, faith-communities, etc.
2. Anima/animus, the feminine side of males and the masculine side of females; the anima being devalued in a patriarchal culture.
3. Shadow, our animal side, similar to Freud’s concept of the Id – our base survival instincts to eat, drink, breathe, stay alive, reproduce, and so on.
4. Self – the inner, real person we were created to be; our innermost core, authentic being. The goal of spiritual formation is to intimately know, love, and follow God. The secondary goal of spiritual formation is actualization, selfhood, discovering and becoming our authentic selves, the people God intended us to be.
Fundamentalism, in religion, politics, or education, is made up of personas. Masks, smoke screens, rigid belief systems – rightness, absolute morality and ethics, a culturally crafted view of history, infallible texts. No room for deviation. Those masks become hard impenetrable ground. Certitude crushes humility and generates judgmentalism. Love-seeds can’t germinate.
The fundamentalist enjoys a truncated worldview in which all is explained, all is neat and tidy, all is safe. He lives in a box, safe from new ideas, safe from thought. Some folks are content with just enough religion to (hopefully) get them into heaven; others with enough dogma to persuade others to “make a decision for Christ.”
Theological systems may attempt to stuff all truth about God into neat boxes. “The one true church.”
Nationalistic and tribal myths shape our perceptions. “Land of the free; home of the brave.”
Along comes a seed that would, if it germinates, disrupt the worldviews and the myths. To allow it to sink in and bear fruit, I have to let go of the assumptions, give up the personas. That feels like death. It disrupts who I thought I was and challenges my identity. It may put me at odds with family, tribe, or faith community and lead to rejection. My neatly built belief system may unravel, leaving me with a chaotic tangle. My natural instinct is to reject the seed. The thorny weeds want to survive.
Humility includes teachableness, a willingness to change. Jesus began his ministry echoing the words of his cousin John: “Repent!” The word means to change your mind. It has little to do with guilt or regret, even less with self-deprecation. Change your mind – be willing to think differently, to challenge deeply held, tribally sacred, myths. Dying to self has been wrongly associated with asceticism. It is instead a willingness to let go cherished beliefs. The true disciple welcomes the unraveling, scary and uncertain as it may be.
It is so scary that I will not even begin unless I am first thoroughly convinced that God is in very fact, Unconditional Love, and will never forsake me. Only when I am secure in divine love can I risk questioning the unquestionable. Only when I am secure in my belovedness can I risk the rejection that might come from individuals and institutions. It hurts to be rejected by friends and family, or be shunned by your church. Once deeply convinced of God’s love, I can begin to look at my assumptions, cherished myths, and hitherto sacred ideas. It becomes ok to doubt and question, challenge, and scrutinize.
My world is rocked. I am deeply ploughed. The very content of my inner “soil” is transformed. Little sprouts appear. Someday, please, God, they will be beautiful flowers where swallowtail butterflies can feed.