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"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole

Teaching/Sermon Material

Spiritual Growth Part 4

Discerning the path - What is a spiritual journey?

Portions Copyright © 1980 Dorian S. Cole

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So far in this series we have looked at the history of faith and religion in the Bible. These were pictures of real decisions based on faith by real people who responded to their intellectual/religious belief and real experience. This article begins a more personal perspective, beginning with a description of what a spiritual journey is.

There are three aspects of spiritual growth. One is in how we understand the leadership of God. The second is our understanding and practice of morality. The third aspect of spiritual growth is the integration of the first two aspects in our lives that results in how we determine our own path in life. Integration is not an event, it is a continuing process. How have I determined my life path?

The journey

What is a spiritual journey? It's primarily a journey of increasing higher awareness that becomes part of our authentic self (see the next heading) and influences our behavior. The journey parallels spiritual growth. I'm tempted to say that everything in life is somehow "spiritual" but I have to be brief. I often refer to the spiritual as a land of ideas. Some of those ideas even seem conflicting. Some compel us to do various things in our lives, and they teach us as we explore those ideas.

Some of those spiritual ideas support what others tell us. Some conflict with what others tell us. Even harmful ideas exist in the spiritual world if we tune in to them. If we're listening to the wrong voices, some of those ideas can lead us the wrong way. The spiritual contains ideas about morality, about God's relationship with us, and about our place and purpose in the world.

The spiritual is about the spirit - not something tangible that you can feel. You can't feel an idea. You can't see or feel an empowering or imperative idea, but you can at some point in time recognize the truth in it. The spiritual is typically not transcendental (meaning beyond ourselves, or contacts the supernatural). Transcendence rarely happens in people's lives. Our eyes aren't simply opened to totally new knowledge - this is very rare. These spiritual ideas are generally things that we know but have not confirmed or integrated in our lives. They haven't become part of our authentic self, or rejected, through experience.

The spiritual is not simply an intellectual exercise. Intellect is part of it - God gave us a brain for a reason... basically so we could invent toothpaste. Ideas are not bounced around and compared for their surface value. Ideas are proven or disproven through experience. The spiritual is both intellectual and experiential. The most important part is experiential.

The spiritual is transcendental in a different way. The spiritual provides our direct contact with God, and we sometimes get confirmation of things through weak or strong feelings that we get (the still small voice) while we are listening in quiet reflection, reading, prayer, listening to speakers, in a crisis, or even watching TV. Sometimes we are comforted and know that things are going to be OK.

Whether through experiences, or through spiritual contact, things are "revealed" to us. We see the truth in things that we know through new experiences, as they become integrated in our minds so that they form a new idea so that we suddenly understand something that we didn't understand before. Sometimes we see something, such as an injustice to someone, and a strong feeling of purpose just lands on us, and we know it is right and compelling for us. Sometimes we are comforted with a feeling of peace by the Spirit of God.

We have to examine feelings because they can have many sources within our own psyche. There can be psychological (mental or emotional conflict) causes. Sometimes our illusions, wants, ideas about power, and selfish desires, or even frustration and confusion about issues, drive us to do things. But even if ideas sometimes come simply from within us, this doesn't mean that they aren't from the God who shapes all that we are and who shapes our desires. In fact, this is the ultimate influence of God in our lives. We are most spiritual when we don't need external direction to make decisions. But we have to learn which situations are meant for us to deal with because the heart that is responsive will also tell us to do everything that comes along - no one can do everything.

The spiritual is also a creative influence. The ideas within the spiritual compel us to create. They inspire us, direct our ultimate efforts, and help form the end product of our work. In a sense, life is about creativity and partnering with God in creation. The person who is free of bondage to bad ideas, can become very creative and productive in ways that improve the world or please others.

The thing that helps make a person spiritual is that the person is listening, evaluating, and integrating knowledge and experiences into their authentic self. Many people don't "listen" very actively, but they still grow spiritually - you can see the mature change in them over time. Spirituality is not the exclusive domain of the religious or the mystic.

We are all spiritual - it's just that some are more aware of spirituality than others. I would say that a religious orientation and guidance help. In contrast, some just have to learn everything the hard way, but it is still a spiritual journey. Some even deny that there is a God, but their journey is still a spiritual journey. God uses every mistake we ever make - sometimes the lessons (mistakes) we visit on ourselves are harsh - but God does not turn away from us and will use our poor judgment to benefit us if possible.

The authentic self versus temporary constructs

By authentic self, I mean the personal characteristics that are cemented in place by experience. The decisions we make create experiences that form who we are. Attitudes come primarily from our authentic self, formed by emotion laden experience and some of our biological tendencies. In contrast, the ego attachments, which represent the irrational temporary valuations we make in life, is full of transitory stuff that is untested, but which influences our attitude and desires. These are things like fame, fortune, power, and appearance that have no lasting value, but often form a temporary self esteem valuation that shapes our desires. These irrational beliefs are more "feeling" oriented.

In parallel with the ego are the more rational ideas and beliefs that we have that come from family meaning structures, laws, religious beliefs, etc. These are things we can debate intellectually, experience, and change. These rational beliefs are in the spiritual realm. They don't necessarily naturally occur, but are products of the human mind and divine guidance.

Experience can cement both the irrational and rational beliefs into our authentic self. We can become an ego-maniacal tyrant, or a religious zealot that kills in the name of religion - unfortunate tragic results. But preferrably by focusing our mind on good things, we gain more experience with the better spiritual ideas and build our authentic self with that. Our character, on display and in action at every moment, is a combination of all of these forces within us.

When a person looks at himself through the eyes of acceptance, compassion, mercy, forgiveness - God's love - their authentic self is seen in contrast to God's love. If they decide to follow the path of love, then they continue to be aware of the things in their authentic self that don't fit, and try to overcome them. This is the process of transformation that occurs.

Religions are about spiritual transformation. It is very commonly suffering caused by their own actions that brings people to look for love, although not so much for people who are raised in a religion and are confronted regularly with spiritual ideas. At that moment of acceptance of spiritual enlightment, the person can no longer see themselves and accept themselves in the same way. They are spiritually "reborn," and are then on a path toward being conformed to love. For many this enlightment begins as a child. For some it is a series of acceptances as they come to fully see their authentic selves over time. For others it is a moment of crisis. For some it is accompanied by dramatic change.

Next: My early years - how do you know? (See index in next heading below.)

Let's talk about it. Social Media and One Spirit Resources Blog below. - Dorian Scott Cole.












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