Every once in a while I strike a chord — I have received emails daily about the past couple posts on “mature” Christian spirituality. It seems everyone wants to use their own personal spiritual level as the definition of maturity — which is very normal and human. If we could conceive of something better, we would be doing it. If we are doing something a particular way, it is because we believe it is the best way to do it. Every eight year-old in the world thinks he or she is doing eight exactly right. It isn’t until he or she turns nine that eight isn’t all that much. Every person is as mature as they can be in the moment — when we see more mature ways to engage, we grow into them. Maturity is a process, not a destination. The terms “less mature” and “more mature” are actually better than simply “mature” and “immature.” And maturity is not an “it” but a complex weaving of “its.” Let me explain:
I lead a workshop called “Maturing in the Christian Life.” One exercise we do examines the multiple lines of development that comprise the whole person. Focusing on just seven lines, we examine the developmental process from “less mature” to “more mature” for each. The Cognitive line is about what we know, how we learn, functional intelligence, and critical thinking. The Affective line measures our control of emotions, reactions, responses, feelings and biases. The Interpersonal line is all about relationships, social engagement, civility, compassion, and connection to community. The Moral line assesses sense of right and wrong, justice, mercy, and implications of actions and behaviors. Spiritual is about relationship with the divine, core beliefs and rituals, worldview, and metaphysical grounding. The Physical line measures health, wellness, diet, exercise, balance and overall commitment to healing and wholeness. The Material line focuses on our relationship to “stuff” — things we possess and things that possess us, our general stewardship of creation, and our generosity. Obviously, each of these lines is part of every human being, and we are all in different places at different times in different ways. Each person is a complex matrix of relationships and reactions. An individual might be highly developed (“more mature”) cognitively and physically, yet be a narcissistic mess relationally and morally. Some spiritual giants are physical wrecks. Highly popular and well-adjusted people can be greedy and crass. Just because a person is highly developed in one or two areas says nothing about the other areas.
When I lead the workshop/retreat, the point I make is that the highest form of spiritual maturing is one that includes all the lines and expects positive movement along each. Rarely does this happen by accident. Growing up is hard work. Improvement is rigorous and demanding. Discipleship requires progress in all aspects of one’s being. Maturity is a full-time job.
And, yes, I am prescriptive. My model demands movement, and movement equals exercise. Exercise of mind through study and learning and a discipline of corporate reflection on new ideas and information. Exercise of emotions and feelings in working on the fruit/discipline of self-control and becoming less reactive/volatile. Exercise of relationships by identifying weaknesses and working to improve communication, empathy, transparency and attitude. Exercise of moral judgement by cleaning up one’s act, abolishing double standards, acting fairly, and practicing radical and unconditional forgiveness in close relationships. Exercise in spiritual discipline and practice through prayer, study, fasting, contemplation, worship, service, and fellowship. Exercise of the body — by exercising, walking more, driving less, getting proper rest, eating healthier, etc. And developing regular exercise of giving things away, doing with less, sharing more, giving more, shifting focus off of abundance/scarcity thinking to enough/sufficiency thinking.
And, no, I don’t effectively practice what I preach — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, good, honest counsel. I am on the same journey as everyone else, and while I am “more mature” in a few places, I am “less mature” in many others. One last observation I would make (and this blog addresses about six of the emails I received this week) is that our culture has inadvertently, but effectively dis-integrated these lines from a unity into discrete silos. Physical health and beauty exists as a whole industry unto itself. Education and learning are separated from emotional development. Spirituality is dealt with at church. Materialism has nothing to do with local or global relationships. The fundamental interconnectedness of the various expressions of human growth and development have become compartmentalized. Where can we find reintegration and wholeness? It is my belief that the church is the ideal setting for such activity. Our gospel and our ecclesial history make a strong case for health and wellness of body, mind, soul and spirit. Maybe we could think in terms of…, oh, I don’t know…, moving on to perfection?
Categories: Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices
Agree. The unity we seek is not in all being the same. It’s in all being the best each can be. It’s in all growing together as each grows into their best expression of God’s image.
This form of developmental thinking generally aligns with integral theory. In integral theory growth and change are accomplished through “Integral Transformative Practice,” [holistic exercising of body, mind, emotions, and spirit], or ITP.
I think the Christian expression of this may best be seen in small groups of persons gathered closely around the Human One [Jesus] in an accountable covenant relationship [with God and each other], called to grow holistically in Christ.
Hey, it’s how Jesus did it isn’t it?
Have you thought of turning your workshop into an online course? I have taken courses through Skillshare and Coursera. I can see this workshop as a really great online, self-guided course. $35 for 14 weeks, 2 on each strand.
Dan, have you read “I Dare You” by William Danforth? An aging book that addresses this same concept. Except his matrix only has four areas. My youth leadership programs growing up were all based on his philosophy. So your comments make sense to me and resonate deeply.
I haven’t heard of Danforth’s book. Thanks!
Dan, The most challenging book that I have read lately in terms of “maturity” is Brian McClaren’s “Naked Spirituality.” His four stages and “words” describing those stages “speak to my condition” (as the Quakers say). His highest stage of “activist mystic” (my words, not his) is a worthy goal for the future church as well as descriptive of the best of the past.