Spiritual Maturity

Three weeks ago I started my semester at Carthage teaching Understandings of Religion (your basic World Religions 101 sort of class), and I always begin by asking them to write a Personal Reflection paper about their religious background and/or experiences. The good, the bad and the ugly.

It never fails, every time I do this I find myself somewhat saddened by the lack of what I consider spiritual maturity. candlespiralThough, if I’m honest, I probably shouldn’t expect too much more from a group of 18 and 19 year-olds.

The ones most sure about their religious beliefs and their understanding about God are those who can rattle off the traditional theology of the church. They may as well be reciting a creed or reading from a list of cliches. Their papers sound something like this: “I believe in Jesus, the son of God who was born of the virgin Mary, suffered and died on the cross for my sins and was resurrected. I believe in the Holy Trinity. I believe we are all sinners, but that we must strive to be like Jesus and ask forgiveness if we are to get to heaven. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. God has a plan. Everything happens for a reason.”

I’m sad about this because (in my humble opinion) they have been brought up in a church that values indoctrination over spiritual maturity. I’m sad about this because the pastors and people in those churches are convinced that believing this, and living by this, is spiritual maturity. The chance of them learning anything different and actually growing personally and spiritually is slim.

Another set of students had been turned off by the church because something happened that didn’t fit with what they’d been taught. A few named having a friend or family member who was gay or lesbian, but that the church denounced them. A few others experienced the death of someone close to them and didn’t understand why God had to take someone so good and why God didn’t answer their prayers. They were done with church and God. And perhaps I was saddened because they didn’t have anyone to meet them where they were and help them grow through their questioning.

I decided to try a google search on spiritual maturity. Here’s how most people defined it, or promoted it:

  • Obedience
  • Stewardship
  • Surrender
  • Growing in wisdom and understanding Biblical teaching
  • Must have a steady diet of Biblical teaching from one trained in the doctrinal truths and application of scripture.

Wow. My definition doesn’t look anything like that. Where is there room in here for searching, questioning, doubting, experiencing, or feeling?

Too many churches want to give people the step by step procedure to becoming “spiritually mature.” This often includes reading the Bible, going to church, doing what the preacher tells you, giving to the church, maybe attending some sort of classes. This is the magic formula for spiritual growth. Now, I realize I’m a bit cynical, and for some people in more healthy churches, this may in fact be a helpful part of the path. But for other churches that favor obedience over thinking and questioning, this formula simply serves to indoctrinate someone in the “right” ways to think and believe and then keeps them at a kindergarten understanding of God. Honestly, it makes my blood boil with its manipulative, egotistic, self-serving, self-preserving BS. (I apologize if that is too blunt, I’m still working on my own path which may someday include more tolerance of this.)

Spiritual maturity just isn’t that easy. I see it as a life-long path to awareness of oneself and the Divine. There is a clear connection between emotional and psychological health and spiritual health. Inner peace is often named as a characteristic of spiritual maturity. Yet, one can’t claim to have inner peace if they will not address the areas of their own lives that are not peaceful – guilt, shame, anger, grief, insecurity,  passive-aggressive behavior, depression, addictions (to name a few).

Spiritual maturity also requires a great deal of openness to new thoughts, ideas and experiences. This means that there are likely to be growing pains in the process. It’s the struggle to let go of what we thought we knew and leap into the unknown looking for new answers. It’s being disappointed in the old, pat answers. It’s occasionally doubting there even is anything resembling a God out there. It’s becoming comfortable with saying “I don’t know.”

Richard Rohr speaks of spiritual ripening in the same way I think of spiritual maturity. He says, “If we are to speak of a spirituality of ripening, we need to recognize that it is always (and I do mean always) characterized by an increasing tolerance for ambiguity, a growing sense of subtlety, an ever-larger ability to include and allow, and a capacity to live with contradictions and even to love them! I cannot imagine any other way of coming to those broad horizons except through many trials, unsolvable paradoxes, and errors in trying to resolve them.”

In a nutshell, I believe spiritual maturity involves letting go of our ego-centric needs and desires. It involves tons of self-reflection and dealing with our baggage. And it calls us to embrace the journey, the questions, the conversations that make us think, and the ambiguity.

Blessings on your journey,


Why Worship?

In the Old Testament, just about every time someone had an experience with God, they built an altar there. They didn’t believe God was everywhere. For them, God lived above, up in the clouds somewhere, and had certain dwelling places that God frequented on earth. Let me give you a few examples. Moses and the Israelites traveled through the wilderness with the Tent of Meeting where Moses and God met “face-to-face”, the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctum of the Temple in Jerusalem, was where the high priest (and only the high priest) met with God. Jacob set up a stone monument where he had the dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder and he called the place “Bethel” meaning “House of God”. These were not only places for God to dwell, but for mortals to convene, or be close to God. They were places of worship.

So, this got me thinking. We understand God differently than they did thousands of years ago. worship 7-14-13We don’t believe (at least I don’t think the people in this community do) that God has to have a dwelling place when visiting earth. Did you know that Catholics can’t get married outside of the church because (historically) that is where God was. Instead, we understand God to be everywhere we are at all times. So, why do we worship??

(For the full audio version, click here.)

I looked on-line and the overwhelming answers to “Why do we worship?” were these:

  • God is awesome
  • God alone is worthy of worship and devotion
  • To show our loyalty and adoration
  • To show gratitude for forgiving our sins and saving us
  • We were commanded to
  • Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: “We were planned for God’s pleasure so your first purpose is to offer real worship.”

Those answers just don’t work for me. I don’t believe in a narcissistic God with an inflated ego who created humans so they would worship Him. Nor do I believe in the Santa Claus God who is watching us – to see if we’re following the rules (including worshiping every week) – then making his list and checking it twice to see who gets into heaven. I don’t believe worship is required. I don’t believe we need to prove that we love God, if the Divine Spark is in each of us (as I believe) then God knows my heart. So, why do we worship? Why do I lead worship? Believe me, I’ve asked myself this over and over again.

For right now, it comes down to this. I believe the Divine is in me and in you, it is the very essence of our deepest truest self. Because of this, we are not alone in the universe, but connected to all that is. However, forgotten this and become distracted from this reality. We get caught up in our egos, our fears, our annoyances, our arguments, our struggles, and the daily grind of life, and that becomes the only reality. We get caught up in the societal cliche’ “every man for himself” and believe in independence and individualism to such extent that we’ve forgotten the common thread of our humanity. Worship is a place and time to remember who we really are (if only for a few moments) and to re-member the scattered distracted pieces of ourselves. This journey to our authentic selves is the spiritual journey – to love ourselves, heal ourselves and become whole. It is also the most difficult journey any of us will take. In worship we take that journey together. We learn and grow together, we support one another. And together the journey is less scary.

James Luther Adams said, “Church is a place where you get to practice what it means to be human.”

We often hear the phrase, “I’m only human” as an excuse for why we’ve messed up, why we’re not perfect. Oddly enough, that makes being human bad, whereas to recover our humanity is really to remember the Divine within us. We use ego to define humanity, but ego is false humanity.

Worship is a container for our experience of the Divine. It is a place to negotiate our spiritual journeys with grace and dignity. It’s a container to immerse ourselves into to reconnect with the Divine. A container to hold our experiences of the Divine.

Yes, I have my more cynical moments where I wonder what this is all for. But when I think about the most profound worship experiences I’ve had, I don’t remember what was said or sung, I remember the feeling. The feeling of connecting – to myself, to God and to everyone and everything. I’m not ready to do without that place of grounding and remembering.

Love & Light,


Show Up and Be Seen

The spiritual path has never been about shutting down, walling up or staying safe behind closed doors. The spiritual path demands risk, it demands authenticity, it demands honesty, it demands opening up and letting go, and yes, it demands vulnerability.

(For a full audio version, click here.)

Brene’ Brown, in her book “Daring Greatly”, defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.  She asserts that vulnerability is subversive in this “don’t-be-weak-don’t-show-your-feelings” society we live in. It is uncomfortable. But, she says, “nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”

On Sunday (borrowing from a story by Rachel Remen) I brought in a pot with daffodil bulbs in it and on top of the dirt, I put a rock with the words “DON’T BLOOM”. I told the kids that I saw that rock and had a little conversation with the rock and the bulbs. It went like this:

“Rock, why don’t you want the bulbs to bloom?”daffodils

“Because the world is dangerous,” the rock said, “they might get eaten, or stepped on or cut off! It’s better that they stay safe.”

“Bulbs, what do you think?” said I.

“We want to grow! We want to bloom! We need to bloom! It is our whole purpose for living,” they exclaimed.

Remen says, “the reason the rock doesn’t want the bulb to bloom is the very reason it is important to bloom.” It is a dangerous world, where we can have our very selves stepped on and hurt. That is precisely the reason we need daffodils. They show us hope, they show us resilience, they bring us joy just by being what they are.

The world needs each of us to risk showing up and being seen. Our authentic selves need to be allowed to bloom, or we don’t fulfill our purpose for living. We resist blooming because of our core fears that we will be rejected for who we are, that we are inherently flawed or rejectable. But we know deep inside that unless we bloom, unless we show up and let ourselves be seen, we won’t really be free.