"This spiritual path is more than a desire and an idea. It’s a calling for complete surrender, forgiveness, and freedom. There’s no holding on. At least not forever. It is a progression, for sure. It’s a realization that when we think God is far that really He/She is always there."
There is a letting go, a death of sorts, without the new person often immediately emerging. There’s a gap. Again, this "third space" between the trapeze swings where we linger. It’s easy to point to the church and talk about its need to grow and stretch and trust, to make room for us “less traditional/wanting more seekers,” but this thing really is about personal growth.
Hoping to find something that talks about this transitional growth period, I remembered the familiar scripture about "putting away childish things," and decided to google it.
Growing up a child of the pulpit, I can quote scripture. I even have the gift of knowing what scripture a preacher is getting ready to bellow just based on how he/she’s leading into it (annoying); though, I admit, this isn’t the same as knowing scripture.
So when I searched on Biblegateway.com, “childish things,” and I Corinthians 13 popped up, I was a little surprised. The “putting away childish things” scripture is in the same chapter that talks about love? Hum...
And there it was. Paul, in his letter to the church he planted in Corinth, which was dealing with being who God had called them to be in a land that was doing the opposite, gives us the passage that is read at almost every wedding in American (I'm guessing). And, right in there. Between talking about what love is and it being greater than hope and faith, Paul also writes:
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for
tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we
know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes,
the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I
thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I
gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then
face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I
have been fully known. (I Corinthians 13: 8-13)
Wow! I couldn't let the passage go and so I added it to my meditation mix. Particularly, “For now we see in the mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
What’s the now? What’s the then?
I began to think, is the “now” life as we’re experiencing it? The empire model of thinking many of us have adopted as our own and are still believing as truth? The going through the motions of life not being fully awake and aware? The separation we sometimes feel with God?
And, could the “then” be when we see Christ? Not after our physical death but as a result of our spiritual maturity? When we put away childish thinking and put on the Mind of Christ? When we awaken to God within? When we accept love as our and as others natural makeup?
As we are called into spiritual maturity, our vision changes. Not just of the outside world but also of our internal state and of our relationship with God. We see what is holy. Unfortunately, most of us have become used to seeing the mirror dimly and think what we see is right or at least normal. But there’s more to what we are to see and experience.
This is what Jesus was trying to teach us. His parables weren’t riddles to confuse the disciples or to have us scratching our head, but to help us think differently. To get us out of looking at the dim mirror thinking we can see it clearly, calling what a lie is as truth.
It was a way of getting us to see face to face. So today, could it be that Christ shows up more than we notice because we have not yet fully opened our eyes (and mind)? Are we still seeing in a "mirror dimly?"
Milk or solids?
In sharing with a friend last week about how in my spiritual journey, at times, I feel God isn’t there, I realized that what’s really going on is that I don’t see God the same ways I used to. He no longer is this distant God in the sky with a long beard. A 100 pound lighter Santa Claus giving orders to "do this or else."
Instead, I am knowing God as a presence. A Love that words cannot capture. An eternal indwelling. This isn’t the God many folks talk about in Christian churches; and as a Christian, it is sometimes hard to let go of the childhood recordings we replay as adults in the faith, and trust something “new.”
But that's what we're required to do, right? Grow!
Can we really desire a more intimate relationship with Christ but expect to hear and see and experience that relationship in the same ways we did previously? Thing is, since this relationship is personal and though God doesn't change, there's no one way God speaks and moves. As much as we can study and search and ask others about their journey and share our own, again, I say, this is personal and unique. Yet, we are not alone. The community is emerging, and God's presence is ever-arching within and without.
Just as a child, when we begin to take the solid food we must begin to push the comfortably digestible milk away. We have to let go of the dim mirror and become open to knowing fully (and being known fully). What I can say, that which I didn’t know before, is that when we push the milk away, we have to be careful that we really desire the solid food.
When we say to the church, “include us – those who are creative, and transparent, and are desiring a true relationship with God" – are we also ready to be the example and fall before God, open our hearts wider than we could imagine, and be a vessel, without agenda and without judgment? Are we ready to model this outside of traditional church if we are called to do that? To be the expansion of it – while still respecting the sacred place it has for others? Are we ready to experience God in ways we haven't before?
Merging with God?
This spiritual path is more than a desire and an idea, though. It’s a calling for complete surrender, forgiveness, and freedom. There’s no holding on. At least not forever. It is a progression, for sure. It’s a realization that when we think God is far that really He/She is always there. In the dark nights. When our backs are against the wall of grief and pain. When are hearts are broken and we doubt anything can fill us again. When our light is flickering.
Where we are, God is also. This is the “then” I believe Paul is talking about: when God is no longer tapping us on the shoulder, but instead we are walking with God. There's a merging. Or perhaps, more accurately, there's the recognition that God has always been there and that this same spirit is in us.
It's no secret that when one thing changes so do other things, so I'm not sure why we become confounded by our ever-growing relationship with God, thinking that He will appear the same way He did when we were young; that we will hear God's voice from the sky and not moving from within.
As comfortable as it may be to wait for God to speak and give direction through someone or something outside of us, and as frightening as it may be to trust our heart and that God's spirit is in us, as we grow in God, I believe this part of the progression.
It's when we mature in our spiritual life that we begin to see we've been looking in a dimly mirror and that we've only partly knew. And once we recognize this, then we begin to see Christ – in ourselves and in others – face to face. It is then, also, that there becomes less of a gap between the now and the then; and the perfect (completeness), that Paul talks about, comes.
But through it all, "Love doesn't end." That's our salvation. That's our sustainer in this transformation that calls us into spiritual maturity and wholeness. No matter how confusing the journey may get, I believe it is Love that is the "now" and the "then," and the ambiguous space in between; and with that, we can go on to see what the end shall be.