How is Formative Spirituality Related to Paradigms of Human Growth?

Formative spirituality has too often become over-identified with human growth, development and potential paradigms. They are clearly related but must be distinguished. Spirituality has much to do with flow dynamics, our letting the Spirit flow through us. So, perhaps a great metaphor to complement that of the body, as used by Paul in I Corinthians 12, might be a system of conduit, which is more closely analogous to that of the vine and branches, as employed by Jesus. Conduit, nowadays, comes in an endless variety of types (more or less flexible or pliable), materials (galvanized steel, nickel-plated, plastic) and fittings (Y-connectors, T-connectors, elbows). Throughout human development, each human person is being variously fashioned, shaped and fitted for a particular role as a bit of conduit. Each human conduit is fitted with a valve, the human will, which opens and closes, alternately facilitating or cutting off the flow of the Spirit. Human growth and development, then, refashion, reshape and refit each person into a particular configuration of conduit. Formative spirituality helps us keep our valves clean and open and makes our bit of conduit ever more flexible and pliable, whether we’re short or long, straight or elbowed, even young or old. I considered using an Internet bandwidth metaphor, which would distinguish persons as various electronic devices (phones, tablets, computers, media servers and such) but that analogy was really much too robust, offering much too fine a distinction between one person and the next vis a vis our relationships to the Source. It’s far more accurate to conceive the magnitude of our differences in value to the Kingdom in terms of differently shaped pipes than in terms of differently designed electronics. This is to suggest, for example, that there simply is no really big difference in Kingdom value to be realized by one who has attained manifold quadrants, levels, lines, functions, dimensions, hierarchies, stages and so on and a child just beginning life’s journey. The former has a different set of valve cleaning and opening challenges, to be sure, which have emerged along with increasing complexity and which formative spirituality must treat. Both otherwise continue to grow in holiness, receiving beatitude and giving greater glory to God, much more so through the cleaning and opening of the valves of their human will and much less so because their respective bits of conduit have otherwise been refashioned, reshaped and refitted, although that certainly results in ad majorem Dei gloriam in its own way (in polydoxic. polypathic and polypraxic terms, contributing to reality’s beautiful diversity). This is all to observe that too many recent religious humanisms have wrongly overemphasized or, again, even over-identified, human growth paradigms with theosis or divinization. All cooperation with grace and docility in response to the Spirit’s gentle coaxings and polite promptings does bring us along various growth trajectories. It is all supernatural and all graced. But, in discerning holiness and fruits of the Spirit, what will be tell-tale is much more the love revealed in each surrender, each yes, each fiat, and each magnificat, as the valves of our will open, and much less what constellation of quadrants, levels, functions we’re employing as we enjoy enneagram redemption, Jungian individuation, Maslovian selfactualization, Keating’s levels of consciousness, Wilber’s integrality, Lonergan’s conversions and such, as

the pipes of our conduit get refashioned. The refashioning of the conduit is a by-product and indirectly indicative of all manner of cooperation with grace. The valve opening is, in and of itself, the endproduct, as the goal of the Spiritual life is directly revealed in the love of Mary’s be it done to me according to Thy word, in the poverty of spirit of St Francis, in the Little Way of the Little Flower, in the practice of God’s presence by Brother Lawrence. Love, alone, is the answer. Each level of consciousness has its own distinct love encounter of reality. Each moment of love, at any stage of human growth and development, at any level of consciousness and in any dimension of reality, is supremely and absolutely valued as it issues forth from an absolutely valued child of God. Should one’s conduit get refashioned through various growth forms, each such love encounter will get assimilated without subjugation by each successive level, which is to say that every valve opening is supremely valued and does not get disvalued or devalued just because a piece of conduit gets redeployed for now this purpose, now that. Finally, each bit of conduit plays its own indispensable role … like a branch on a vine, like a member of the body … We already know this but, sometime, we seem to forget. Those who understand how, in Spiral Dynamics, each value system is not better or more correct, only different, will more easily grasp what I am suggesting herein. Those who understand the participatory dynamics of reality, how each plays a distinct part with none pretending to emulate the whole, will better grasp this approach, too. There will always be those who aspire to and pretend to enjoyment of various stages and level s and dimensions of reality and who’ll defend their attainments with rather arational, gnostic appeals and subtle tautological reasonings, who lose sight of the exquisite simplicity of love as revealed to reality’s little ones, perhaps because an all too human pride and prestige covers some nakedness, which they fear, or even out of simple flawed thinking. For example, there is a creative tension that presents in all of our great traditions between a profound intuition of our intraobjective identity with God, which can gift us with a phenomenal experience of unitary being, and a profound intuition of our intrasubjective intimacy with God, which can gift us with a phenomenal experience of unitive striving. Both intuitions and experiences are relational but the former recognizes no barriers while the latter encounters boundaries. Some overemphasize their experience of unitary being and construct a reality that sees- not only no barriers between us and God, objectively, but, also - no boundaries between us and God, subjectively. Others overemphasize their experience of unitive striving and construct a reality that seesnot only boundaries between us and God, subjectively, but, also - barriers between us and God, objectively. It is beyond the scope of this present consideration to explore the full implications of these errors, but there can be profound practical consequences for the life of prayer and relationships with self, others, world and God for any who’d imagine they completely share God’s subjective experience of reality. So, too, those who conceive barriers between us and God where there are none vis a vis the divine indwelling will experience self, others, world and God in a radically impoverished way. This, then, is a creative tension best held gently and not otherwise to be facilely resolved?

I offer this as a gentle, compassionate call to return to the simplicity of the Gospel message. I think what may confuse some is that the natural trajectory of human development does present us with emergent complexities, which present new challenges for valve cleaning and opening due to the ongoing refashionings of our conduit. Formative spirituality must, sometimes very creatively, then deal with those special challenges, but remains always essentially focused on the valves and their operation, whatever idiosyncrasies may otherwise happen to present in the form of conduit shapes, sizes, fittings and all. Valve opening and cleaning comprises the essentials, the end-products, while valve refashioning amounts to accidentals, the by-products, which are not unimportant, which are quite beautiful. I offer this reflection especially in conjunction with these collections: Among other collections here: And these essays:

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