I remember when my kids were small taking them to a Ringling Bros. circus. It was so much fun watching them be awed by all the commotion--roaring tigers, trumpeting elephants, fancy-suited bareback riders, brightly colored shouting clowns, comedic acrobats, ball and plate jugglers, jaw-dropping sword and fire swallowers. And then the most dramatic of all--even I was looking forward to this act--the high-flying trapeze artists! There was always that moment (the one everyone goes to the circus for)--that moment of uncertainty and fear--when you could hear the collective breath being sucked in as the trapeze artist made one final swing and then let go of the bar. We watched almost breathlessly as that woman soared through the air, wondering whether or not she would make it to the other bar at precisely the right time or whether she would fall precipitously to the net below. What a collective sigh of relief that erupted into deafening applause when, sailing through that no-man's land of midair, she grabbed a hold of the opposite bar, swinging brilliantly and majestically up to the platform in the sky on the other side of the huge tent.
My kids were truly in awe. I loved watching the expression of relief and delight on their faces. I had the same look on mine.
Spirituality is a Journey of Becoming
Spirituality is essentially the journey of becoming. In Christian terms we might speak of this as becoming our true self in God, becoming like Jesus, or merging and aligning our selves with the divine image in us. In other spiritual traditions this concept is often presented in terms of becoming enlightened, awakening to what's true and highest, or becoming one with all that is. In psychological language it is framed as becoming increasingly integrated, becoming free, or becoming all we can be, more whole and true to who we really are, more fully human and alive.
Early church father St. Irenaeus once wrote, "Man fully alive is the glory of God."
So the spiritual journey is about the process of becoming more fully human, more alive, more whole. The two words "journey" and "becoming" signify two central elements of spirituality. Both terms denote movement, dynamic process, stages of development.
And the reality is that the fulfillment of our God-given humanity doesn't happen automatically. If it did, then the older people became, the more years they lived, the more fully developed and mature and whole they would be. But we all know that isn't a given. The becoming of spirituality is necessarily an intentional path. It takes work, attention, practice, and persistence.
Spiritual Trapeze Artists
And this is where the trapeze metaphor comes in. As in life, also in spirituality, every path has transition points. So spirituality is a journey of learning the art of navigating transitions: how and what to let go of, how to steer through the no man's zone of uncertainty before the new unfolds, and grabbing a hold of the new. If we can't master these stages of transitions, our becoming is stunted.
That's exactly what happens when any one of the stages of metamorphosis for the butterfly is interrupted or messed with. The egg becomes a larvae (a caterpillar which molts its skin 5-6 times) which becomes a pupa (during which it completely disintegrates in order to form a whole new body) which finally emerges in a rather violent and painful-looking process to become a beautiful adult butterfly with wings. Tamper with any one of those transitions of becoming and the butterfly ultimately dies.
Developing healthy and effective spiritual lives are dependent upon our ability to navigate well the many transitions along the path of life. Unfortunately, many people are living stunted spiritual lives because they get stuck in one of the stages of transition--locked up, paralyzed.
The Danger of Stunted Spirituality
I have conversations often with people who are experiencing this spiritual stalemate.
Some have allowed themselves to see this stuck place as their new normal. They simply live with it, even though they're feeling unhappy, unfulfilled, and a bit stale (when they're willing to look inside and admit what they're feeling).
Others are paralyzed by fear--fear of the unknown they see coming if they should let go of the bar and fly through the "neutral zone"; fear of conflict with others should they keep moving ahead spiritually which might lead to rejection or ridicule or other negative judgments by people; fear of disequilibrium, losing their balance and sense of normal; fear of giving up control over every aspect of their lives; fear of sliding backwards, losing ground, and feeling like a spiritual failure. The list of fears I hear from people goes on and on.
But the truth is, the egg-larva-pupa never become the soaring butterfly without going through each stage successfully and willingly.
We have to face our fears. We have to confront our sense of inadequacies. We have to look our weaknesses squarely in the face. We have to be willing to let go of that which is no longer serving us. We have to face uncertainty and manage a sense of insecurity at times. We have to dream of the new, envisioning what could be and who we could become more of, who we truly are. And we have to chart a path for this becoming. We have to want to be more fully alive.
"Igniting the Fire of Your Spiritual Life"
These are some of the reasons why I am having my cycle of three retreats called "Igniting the Fire of Your Spiritual Life." Each retreat is centered on each of the three stages of spiritual transitions: letting go (Winter), uncertainty and planting seeds (Spring), and harvesting and undergirding the new (Fall). Participants will be guided through each of these stages in ways that honor who each person is and what it means to each one to become more fully human and alive.
And since this process of spiritual transition is challenging and sometimes difficult and anxious and uncertain, we're going on this journey in community with others who are hungering for a transformational spirituality, too. We are not alone! And we can reap the rewards of joy and greater contentment and empowerment with others.
I invite you to participate in this round which begins January 25-26. There are four spots left. Here is the link to more information and registration: "Igniting the Fire of Your Spiritual Life."
I Dare You to Trapeze!
My wife and I were walking on the Santa Monica Pier a few years ago when we came across a place where people were being given lessons on trapezing. We stopped and watched. A woman was doing a courageous job of trying to go from one swing to the other. Bless her heart! She encountered one fall after another. I was glad there was a huge net below to catch her every time she fell. But to her credit, and to our admiration, she kept trying. Her instructor kept guiding her, giving suggestions, helping her. And she kept trying. I wasn't sure how long we wanted to stay. But just about when we turned to leave, she swung way out on the right trajectory, let go of the bar, sailed through the air, and caught the next bar. Grabbing tightly, she swung herself up to the next platform, beaming from ear to ear. She had a look of extreme delight, satisfaction, and pure joy! She made it ... and made it well!
That's what I wish for you and me on our spiritual journeys of becoming more human and fully alive. Navigating our transitions will bring us the same exhilaration and satisfaction, too! We just need to hang in there and keep going for it. The egg-larva-pupa will become a butterfly. You and I will become more deeply and fully ourselves in God's image. So why not!