First there is a mountain then there is no mountain then there is
Caterpillar sheds its skin to find a butterfly within
A few weeks ago, I heard a long-time friend declare that he no longer believed in God. I had known some of this friend’s spiritual struggle, as we struggled together for a time, so this news was not surprising. Nevertheless, hearing it out loud did cause me to ponder. At a different time in my life, such news would have been distressing. Perhaps it is the times, or the time in my spiritual course, or both, but I had a different reaction to my friend’s declaration.
I also recently upgraded the iOS on my iPhone that came with the new Apple Music. After signing up and selecting my preferences, one of the first playlists offered was Intro to Donovan. I have always liked Donovan. I highly recommend him if you are into 60’s and 70’s folk rock. Although I never bought one of his Albums during my teens, I certainly heard a lot of him at the time and enjoyed his music. As I listened to this playlist, Donovan’s catchy tune, There is a Mountain, came up. As I listened, my thoughts immediately went to my friend. The convergence of these two events has triggered some reflection.
Spirituality, like other human qualities, develops through stages. In the early stages, we are often taught and can only absorb things at the level we are capable. I recall my teenage daughter becoming upset when she heard me give my explanation of a common bible story.
“What?!?!,” she exclaimed. “That's not what I remember being taught about it. How come you never told me that’s what it meant?“
“Because you were 5 years old at the time. Now you’re a young adult so I can explain it in a different way now.”
We can only understand what we are developmentally capable of understanding. As we develop, earlier conceptualizations need to be discharged and we need to wrestle with our new understandings. Much of our certainty is unsustainable. Understanding the nature of existence must be wrestled with over time. As we do, old ways of perceiving will pass and new ones will arise.
All types of existential crises, including crises of faith, have been part of the human experience from time immemorial. It's what it means to be human. It has been written about for ages and is a part of all religious heritages. Current beliefs and behaviors are always at risk as a result of these crises, and there are no guarantees that one will progress or be better off as a result. But attempts to avoid such inevitable crises by distraction or denial are equally perilous, if not more so. The path to an authentic breakthrough and transformation of belief and behavior is through such crises. A church worth its salt should anticipate, teach, and uphold all stages of spiritual development, including crises of faith.
I am not discouraged about my dear friend’s declaration. My feelings are more like apprehensive anticipation of his course and what lies ahead. I am all too familiar with this feeling. We are all riders on the storm.
I hope to respond to my friend no differently now as I should have before, with steadfast love, support, and patience. I will mourn if my friend’s spiritual development becomes a casualty of this existential process. I maintain hope that my friend’s current spiritual place is right where my friend needs to be at this point in development. And I will celebrate the goodness and new understandings that will come as a result.
The lock upon my garden gate, a snail that’s what it is…