Meditation: Spiritual progress

Okay, this one I do not get. That has to be because either I was at a fairly advanced spiritual state to begin with or I’ve never advanced beyond some kind of larval stage.

What does it mean? When I was young, it would have meant “growing in Christ” or a “deepening relationship with God.” As far as I could tell, all that meant was burrowing like a Guinea worm deeper into the warm flesh of Southern Baptistry and refusing to be pulled out.

At least, that’s what it meant for my family and those around me. It seemed to me that most (not all, certainly) people who were determined to become bigger and better Christians were merely becoming more severe judges of humanity.

I remember distinctly being in elementary school, either 2nd or 4th grade (we lived in Macon my 3rd grade year), and thinking I was being sold a bill of goods. Someone was lying about something: an all-good God who was apparently eager and willing to condemn 90% of the planet to a pretty vivid damnation? (Remember, I was a Southern Baptist.) The same guy who rampaged through the Old Testament, testy and implacable? As the great theologian Oolon Colluphid wrote, “Who is this God person anyway?”

Other faiths, even other Christian denominations, were dismissed out of hand. As far as I could tell, it was simply because They were not Us. As far as I could tell, we were being told to seek God, and everyone else was going to hell because they were seeking God the wrong way. But it was clear to me that They were all seeking God.

Eternal optimist that I am, I chose to believe that we are in fact loved by an eternal God, that is what they told me, after all, and that those who seek will find.

As far as “progress” goes, I guess I would have to claim the steady unpacking of my Southern Baptist upbringing as being progress. Big white-haired white guy in the sky? Check. Exclusive path to salvation? Check. “Salvation”? Check. As I’ve gone through life and had enough time to turn my attention to these and other concepts, I’ve unwound the bandages from the underlying shapes to see what we might have meant by putting the bandages on to begin with. Every time, I’ve found very simple concepts that are not as scary or as scarifying as what I was brought up to believe. (I once offended my family by referring to myself as a “recovering Southern Baptist.”)

Occasionally I’ll be asked where I’m going to church these days. I’m not, of course, which in SB terminology means I’m “unchurched.” I should probably call it “dechurched.” Progress? I think so.

5 thoughts on “Meditation: Spiritual progress

  1. “Progress” maybe smacks a bit of the American Way ideology. And that we inherited in part from the Puritans–diligent effort, perseverance, sacrifice, all paying off in the end.

    It also allows one to claim special proximity to the destination. And in the American spirit that means you can technologize and commodify the means to get there.

    If matters of Spirit touch upon the Eternal, how can we speak of progress? In Hegel the progress is historical, not personal.

    I’ve heard the phrase “spiritual development” a bit and that seems more congenial.

  2. You both should buy my book, “The True Pathway to Salvation.” It’s on Amazon. In the meantime, I will continue to pray for you.

  3. As you might imagine, this is a topic dear to my heart. I, too, was once a Southern Baptist. I now find my understanding of the teachings conveyed in the Bible (KJV, and to my former instructors dismay, other translations and paraphrases as well) to be incompatible with what I understood them to be telling me.

    If you want REAL spiritual growth, you will take advantage of the readily available commercial, and in some cases electronic solutions.

    Seriously, though, to me there have been several key steps in what I would categorize as my personal spiritual growth: 1) consider alternatives 2) attempt to understand the alternatives 3) evaluate the alternatives in the light of my limited logical and emotional resources 4) select the alternative that stands up to that evaluation 5) continue to evaluate as I: 6) seek a better understanding of the tenets of the selected alternative that maintains internal cohesion.

    Step 5 and 6 are the hard ones. In my experience, it is an unwillingness to (see 5) subject ones faith structure to continued evaluation and (see 6) require some degree of internal consistency in that faith structure that frustrates me most about some of the folks that, like me, choose to call themselves Christian. That, and all the hate.

  4. I don’t think spirituality has anything to do with religion. Our discussions of the “Void” and the “Other” come much closer than any religion. And the fact that we have been having such discussions is an indication of “spiritual progress” in my mind.

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