This past Saturday May 2, 2009), Richard Rohr gave a couple of lectures at Trinity University in San Antonio on the above topic. He is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M. Rohr is the author of numerous books including Hope Against Darkness and From Wild Man to Wise Man (a study of male spirituality.
Schemes of spiritual growth are not new, but this one comes to me at a time when I find it helpful. He offers this axiom (as an uderstanding of why some people "get it" and others do not, or even distort and/or oppose "it":
"Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver."
That is to say, whateve is taught or received will be heard on at least eight to ten different levels, according to the inner psychological and spiritual maturity of the listener.
Level l people will misuse the Bible, the Sacraments, pastors, spiritual direction . . . or anything else that is presented to them. Levels 7-9 will make lemonade out of even sour or unripe lemons (although not without price). Level 1 people may believe in the movement and presence of the Holy Spirit but be totally unaware of that experience in their lives. They may even believe the understand "God", flying in the face of Augustine who said "If you comprehend it, it isn't God." Level 7,8 and 9 folks understand faith as "iving with mystery in darkness, joyfully". These people have a high tolerance for ambiguity. Ultimately, movement from one level to another requires failure at each, and a passage through darkness to the next level.
The following model of development shows growth from level one to level nine; however, real life is actually much more subtle.
My self-image and my body is "who I am". Physical appearance is very important. Security, Safety and Defense are issues of highest importance. Gross narcissism is prevalent. Will vote for the candidate which promises to provide security. Thinking on this level is usually dialectical: either / or; black or white easilty polarized. This peson is controlled by fear and anger. "Grace" is an unknown force. The concept of faith is "believing in things that are impossible to beleive".
My external behavior is "who I am." Needs to look good "outside" and to hide or disguise unfavorable evidence from others. On the outside it is important to have a nice home, car, clothings, but to cover up any "shady" activities. One becomes so good at this practice that soon their negative qualities are hidden from themselves. This leads to the emergence of the "shadow self" that is hidden inside the person (psychological denial). Carl Jung pointed to this denial of our fears, anger to the point where we do not even know it is there. It is important to "follow the rules" and anyone who does not follow them is "wrong" or "sinful". The Scribes and the Pharisees exemplify this level showing judgmental attitudes of hate and a lack of love. The Scriptures, whose aim is to brink conversion and growth to this level of person, instead are used as ammunition to convert others. Getting stuck at this level is very common among conservatives.
[Remember: Growth to the next level involves a "letting go" of current values, being able to live with confusing darkness untll the Spirit opens the door to new life.]
My Thoughts / Feelings are who I am We reject conformitative external behavior and possessions as defining of self. Development of the intellect and will--to have better thoughts and feelings and to control them. Hence others will not see my own self-serving motives and my won shadowy character. (Of course, I eventually do not see those traits myself.) Education becomes a substitute for transformation. V ery common among liberals and the educated. We tend to believe what our group believes. Conversion means we no longer believe the "right" words or "doctrines" of level two.
As we move throught the various levels, we retain some characteristics of the previous levels. We surpass those levels but retain some traits (and occasionally regress back into that level). The leap from "three" to "four" is the biggest leap in the entire spectrum of growth. The experience of not being "in control" is a time of psychological suffering. We move into a liminal space, a threshold, a barely perceptible passageway. Liberals will often construct a "new room" to live in, but actually stay on the threshhold, hence remain uncomfortable. NORMALLY A MAJOR DEFEAT,SHOCK OR HUMILIATION MUST BE SUFFERED AND PASSED THROUGH TO GO BEYOND.
My deeper intuitions and felt knowledge in my body is who I am You know yourself in God and God in yourself; but this level is so overwhelming, so helpful and informative that many become stymied at this level. Can lead to individualism, self-absorption. Often find people indulging in self-help books, practicing a new contemplation. They risk becoming isolated from the Body of Christ, having no contact with the transcendent, practicing religion as a technique. The disappoint in this level is that you begin to confront your "shadow self".
My shadow self is who I am. The dark night.My weakness comes to overwhelm me. One comes to realize that "I am the evil I have projected on to others." ONe comes to see that one is not so wonderful and holy as had been thought. One sees the cruelty visited on others, yet claims to be a Christian. One begins to seriously work on one's words of anger and fear. The liminal situation is that one gives up trying to fix things. Begin to see that everything on earth is made up of darkness and light, good and evil. Without prayer, spiritual direction and grace, many go back to a previous level.
God's Waiting Room Almost any attempt to save the self by any superior behavior, tehnique, morality, positive role, or religious devotion will lead to regression. All you can do is wait and ask and trust. Here is where you learn faith, and darkness as the much better teacher. You start turning loose. Defeat is a better teacher than accomplishment. Darkness is greater than light. You begin to sense that the divine presence may be in you and in others. God is about to become real.
I am much more than I t hought I was. Death of the false self, and birth of the True Self. I am who I am. At first, because you are not at home yet, this level will feel like a void. Even if a wonderful void. there is a sense of "I have never been here before." Gentleness and Compassion become a part of your demeanor. You have been patterned to see and act oppositionally, now you drop dualistic thinking (conjunctive: life is both / and). John of the Cross would call this the "luminous darkness"
Until you get to leves 5, 6 and 7, the Sermon on the Mount doesn't make much sense.
I and the Father are one.. Henceforth there is only God. As Teresa said, "One knows God in oneself, and knows oneself in God." All else is a passing ego possession, and I do not need to protect it, promote it or prove it, to anyone.
I am who I am, just me. No need to appear to be anything but who I really am. Fully detached from self-image, living in God's image of you--which includes and loves both the good and the bad. The serenity found in the saints. Totally nonduality. Knowing that the religious finger points to the moon but not to the moon itself.