Progress is like climbing a ladder. The only way to get to the next rung is to move off of the one you are on. That’s relatively easy to do on a ladder because we can see quite clearly what is above us. Climbing a spiritual ladder is a lot like climbing a ladder on a day that is quite foggy. Reason tells us that the ladder continues even into the fog, but we tend to be rather nervous about the fact that we can’t see what else might be waiting for us as ladder fades into fog!
When I was a child, and even as a young adult who was still something of a spiritual child, God was a being who rescued human beings. If, however, a human being became too troublesome then God could quite possible tire of them and abandon them to the (fairly horrible) consequences of their actions. There were more details to the story, but I don’t really have to recount them to anybody because just about anyone who has been even briefly exposed to the company line knows that in that view God rewards the good and punishes the bad. Just to keep things interesting, we can never really be certain that we haven’t completely ticked God off and bought ourselves a one way ticket to the eternal torture chamber so we had better keep going to church and being good boys and girls.
Sooner or later we all are confronted with undeniable evidence that God doesn’t physically rescue anybody, despite a significant number of people who seem to believe God steered them away from danger. I heard a woman last week who expressed relief that God had saved a relative who was running in the Boston Marathon. It seems her relative never gets cramps while running, but during the Boston Marathon she did cramp up and have to slow down. In the judgment of this woman her relative would have been in the area of the explosions had she not cramped and so God caused those cramps in order to save her. That’s really quite a troubling perspective because if it is true then all of those who were victims must have been people God really didn’t care about. Such a view posits a God nothing short of evil, a God whose nature it is to rescue some people and allow others to walk (or in this case run) into destruction. I don’t believe anyone who is capable of impartially analyzing such a view would find it satisfactory, yet the Church has certainly seemed to have a vested interest in not offering alternatives. Can it possibly be that everything but spiritual intelligence evolves? It doesn’t seem likely.
Human beings, especially contemporary human beings, aren’t very patient creatures. Our information age has magnified our impatience, and Madison Avenue thrives by convincing us that we deserve instant gratification simply by virtue of being alive. Gone are the days when the majority of humans worked in agriculture, a field (pun intended) that teaches delayed gratification. You can’t plant a carrot and pull it out of the ground every week to see how it is doing and end up with much of a carrot. Crops are planted in the spring and harvested in the fall in accord with the natural rhythms of life. Women get pregnant and deliver nine months later. Every day is twenty-four hours long and every year three hundred sixty-five with the exception of leap year which is even longer. The natural order will not be rushed without dire consequences, yet we westerners have been convinced that we can demand and receive instant gratification without consequences – but the fact is that those who are successful by the world’s standards also face higher rates of depression and stress related illness that those who follow the natural pace of life.
These lessons transfer to the spiritual journey as well. We must step off the rung of the spiritual ladder we currently occupy, but not before we accomplish the tasks of that level and learn the lessons that prepare us for the next one. No CD, no secret teaching, no esoteric knowledge will accelerate the process – but when it is time to move on we must recognize it and let go of the teachings and ideas that no longer serve us and step forward despite the fact that we cannot be sure what comes next on the journey. Those who don’t remain stuck in tribal spiritualities that are filled with hatred and misconception, for the price of refusing to advance is just as severe as the price of seeking quick solutions.
If our planet is to survive, we must evolve beyond tribal spiritualities that encourage us to eliminate the “other” and come to see that all of creation is inseparably interconnected. We must come to understand that those who grieve the loss of loved ones at the Boston Marathon are no different in substance or experience than those who lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan at American hands over the last twelve years. We must see that Americans whose lives are devastated by tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes feel the same things that those in other parts of the world who experience natural disasters feel. We must come to see that we are more alike than different, and as we see that truth we must boldly proclaim it to those who refuse to see. With insight and understanding come responsibility, and to attempt to avoid it has the same dire consequence that refusing to step onto the next rung of our journey does – we begin to die a slow, agonizing death of the spirit.