Before I Wake Up, Part 2
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 1 Corinthians 13:11
A common way to name the stages of spiritual growth is cleaning up, growing up, showing up, and waking up. Last week I referred to these as gates through which we pass as we approach unity with God. In the context of this If I Should Die Before I Wake series, I wish to consider what happens if we die prior to passing through the gate of waking up. Last week I reflected on cleaning up. This week I will address growing up and showing up. As I noted last week, these gates are not necessarily sequential. We may pass through the same gate more than once and others not at all. In fact, we may not pass through any of them. Everyone is drawn toward God in their own way.
Just as our physical bodies grow, so our spiritual natures grow too. Our spiritual growth is more subtle and typically in reverse order to our physical growth. While most of us reach physical maturity in early adulthood, we often do not begin to mature spiritually until middle age or later, if at all. Richard Rohr and others refer to this as a second-half-of-life process. In the first half of life we are typically focused on finding our purpose, building an image and a career, and figuring out how we will leave our mark on our days. It is not usually until we are at or beyond middle age that the goals we have been pursuing seem increasingly shallow and troublingly transitory. If we have children, they are now likely adults or approaching adulthood, so our parental responsibilities shrink to a fraction of what they once were. We resign ourselves to the fact that we are not going to become a professional athlete or a famous musician, and those types of aspirations no longer hold the appeal they once did anyway. Rather, our attention refocuses onto relationships and what of our lives will remain after we physically depart. Those of us who were faithful church-goers may begin questioning the faith that brought us this far. Others may turn to religion for the first time or after a lengthy hiatus. We may ask questions like “Who am I?” or “Who is God?” or “What is the nature of God?” or “What is the meaning of my life on earth?” These are questions without earthly answers, but they often haunt us as we age. This is a natural part of spiritual growth and development.
The apostle Paul described the growing up stage well in his first letter to the church at Corinth. He reminded his followers that while they once spoke, thought, and reasoned like children, now as adults they must put away their childish ways. I suspect Paul’s childish references were more about the first half of adulthood than about the first years of life. We seek uses for the hard-earned wisdom and experiences we accumulate as our perspective expands to a more inclusive and eternal view than the limited and individualistic perspective of our earlier adulthood. Our accumulated wisdom and experience imprints on our spiritual nature and fuels our spiritual growth even as our physical nature begins its decline. Growing up requires relinquishing our less-mature goals and desires.
Another of the gates we may pass through on our spiritual journey is showing up. This requires taking what we have been given, physically and spiritually, and finding a place for it external to ourselves and for purposes greater than our individual benefit. Life is no longer about us as individuals, but about us as a collective, as a community, and as a single, inclusive life. Collaboration with others as opposed to individual efforts may come more naturally and be increasingly fruitful with less concern about who will receive credit for whatever good is done. We may find ourselves joining social actions and protests instead of simply sitting back and complaining. Showing up requires that we be actively present to what is happening in the world around us now. A part of spiritual growth is the realization that we are intimately connected with everyone and everything. Nothing we say or do, or refuse to say or do, occurs in a vacuum or is without consequence. We show up because we must, not because we wish to show off.
Spiritual growth forces changes in our physical lives. If our older adulthood is simply an aged reflection of our younger selves, we likely are not growing spiritually.
This is the 50th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
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