I’m really enjoying reading Brian McLaren’s recent book Naked Spirituality at the moment. The structure of the book and “seasons” metaphor is proving helpful in describing my spiritual journey, and allowing me to see it with grace, as well as offer direction. Amusingly, even writing this seems to place me, at this time, neatly in to stage two of the ‘four stage’ journey Brian describes (these also came up in ‘Finding Faith’ & ‘A Generous Orthodoxy’).
Below is a diagram I’ve drawn up in order to help me see the journey and stages Brian describes (which has close resonances with the educational psychologist William Perry‘s work (dualism, multiplicity, relativism, commitment). This diagram is also helping me explain it to others. I’ll briefly explain things here, but do chat to me (or read the book!) to find out more.
As with all life, our spiritual life is one of growth. Just as we experience times of young childhood, older childhood, adolescence and adulthood, we also experience various seasons in our spiritual life. The point is not to find the perfect stage and stay in it, but to continue to grow and develop, for this is what a healthy life is. We would be shocked, and perhaps disappointed if our children didn’t grow and develop. As much as we value and love there simple way of seeing the world in their early years, we don’t expect them to stay there.
The journey starts with simplicity, a joyful time of new growth and clear answers, before moving on to a time of complexity as we eagerly learn new things. At this stage we desire to do well (not just get things right) and in doing so develop an new independence. Next comes perplexity a time were we realise that there are not always answers to our questions, and we don’t always succeed, we see things as relative, we can become suspicious of the leaders we valued in stages one and two. Stage three can be a painful season but after a time it leads to a very beautiful season of harmony, where all stages are valued, embraced and transcended, we see everything as “beautiful in its time”.
Of course categories are never perfect, we all have particular words we like and dis-like, we rarely like to be put in boxes, and may leave us questioning: ‘can we really systematise spirituality like this?’. But this approach has many befits, giving us compassion for ourselves and others, respecting each others journeys, and giving us clues on how to proceed.
I can’t express the whole book here, what I’ve outlined here is the basic structure of the book, with in this Brian goes on to describe 12 simple practices to lead, guide and nourish us through all stages of the journey. These practices are the purpose of the book (I may take time to write on these also, (but I do recommend reading the book).
‘spiritual journey (diagram)’ PDF
There is also another visual expression of this process in the illustrated/graphic novel ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson which beautifully follows these four seasons as its narrative arc. Perhaps it has similar influences? (images/extracts below:)
This blog describes aspects of the book well, here’s a snippet:
A semi-autobiographical story, Blankets moves between two phases of the narrator Craig’s life: his childhood days, sharing (and squabbling over) a single bed with his kid brother Phil; and his years as a confused adolescent, finding some comfort in an intense but fragile relationship with a girl named Raina. Through all this, Craig struggles with questions about religion, art, the ephemeral nature of our existence on earth (and whether it will be followed by something more rewarding), the importance of family and the difficulty of achieving genuine closeness with another person. A loner, he feels dissociated from most people around him and struggles in vain to stay rooted to something. Growing up in a staunchly Christian family, taught at Sunday school that God can properly be worshipped only by singing His praises, not by drawing pictures, he becomes concerned that his passion for drawing might amount to blasphemy; he burns all his artwork, but this doesn’t bring him the peace of mind he was hoping for.