Naming for Spiritual Freedom and Greater Service

In the initial post in this series, I offered that the first step toward “naming the spiritual condition of the world” is to name our own spiritual condition. I argued that our spiritual condition is important as it affects our ability to help accomplish God’s purposes. In the second post, I used physical fitness as an analogy for spiritual condition and concluded the post suggesting that our “body composition” is the element that most affects the other aspects of our spiritual condition. In this post, I discuss naming as a tool for improving one’s spiritual condition, as it changes our “body composition.”

When I started writing these posts, I thought that we needed to be able to describe our spiritual condition. Now, I believe that what we need to do is discover a means rather than accomplish a particular end. I believe that we are being called to name our own spiritual condition so that we might continue to deepen our relationship with God and be further enabled to help accomplish God’s Divine purposes.

There are different types of naming. The first type that comes to mind is naming babies. When new people enter the world, we give them a name. We associate a special word with them as a way of recognizing their being and including them in our families. While the name connects them with us, the name is also unique. We name our babies with trepidation and care, as we hope that the name fits them and is one they will be happy with.

I also think about the naming of animals in the Bible. God made birds and animals and then showed them to Adam to see what he would call them (Genesis 2:19-20a). When I read that story, I get a sense of God’s delight. I imagine God enjoying the human response to God’s creations. The first cow, the first giraffe, then the platypus and shark…! What fun they must have had sharing with each other!

My focus here is a more difficult kind of naming, the type of naming required for improvement of our spiritual condition. Like the other two, this type of naming involves associating words with something that is new. But the difference in this case is that what we are naming is new to us only because it has been hidden. It was hidden so deeply that when we see it, it’s like seeing it for the first time. In this type of naming, we’re naming that which was previously too difficult to accept. We name it now so as to validate our experience, to accept it as our own, and move beyond it.

Through my experience, I have come to believe that a person’s spiritual body is very delicate. Many actions, events, situations and conditions, particularly those that are scary, can harm the spiritual body. When a person is scared beyond comprehension, the ego, as protector of this body, hides parts or all aspects of the experience from the person. The experience is pushed out of consciousness into unconscious reality through the creation of false but comforting beliefs. By keeping these experiences out of mind, the person is able to continue to function in the situations and relationships in which they find themselves.

As we mature, we become better able to process others’ actions and the events, situations and conditions around us, so the ego has less need to hide events and their meaning from us. However, the ego still keeps hidden from us what we could not understand or did not want to know when we were younger. While this keeps us comfortable, the harm is still there. The weight of this harm hinders us to greater and lesser extents, usually affecting our ability to manage the stresses of life and the challenges of relationship.

I believe that the weight of this harm also hinders our ability to be aware of, in communion with, and able to act in accordance with God’s desires for us. These false but comforting beliefs weigh us down spiritually. They are the fat in our spiritual body.

That’s where naming comes in. Through prayer, reflection and sharing with others, we can pull up then name the harm that has been hidden from us. Through this process, we reveal the truth to ourselves and become more free to act in God’s service!

For me, naming has been part of a difficult psycho-spiritual process. This process, while scary, painful and sometimes disorienting, has also been liberating. Early Friends called this process “the Refiner’s Fire.” Early Friends would have known fire, likely much more intimately than ourselves. Being close to a large fire causes fear, being touched by it causes intense pain, and, if its effects are devastating, disorientation. Through this metaphor, I believe early Friends were describing what it’s like for a person who contains unrealized harm to be touched by Spirit.

The metaphor also contains hope. Early Friends would have understood the refinement process – the process through which coarser material is separated from fine metals such as gold. This metaphor would have helped them endure the Spirit-driven process of becoming aware of the harm that had been hidden from them so that they could become free.

To some extent, we already know the refinement process that helps the harm to come to the surface. It’s what we do in Meeting for Worship. We sit in silence turning ourselves over to God, again and again, coming to rest in that Center of Peace.

Outside of group worship, many people find they need more structure to find their Center. This structure can be found through a variety of spiritual practices. I will name a couple that I’ve found helpful. Centering Prayer, a contemplative prayer practice that comes out of the Catholic Church’s mystical tradition, encourages letting go. Experiment with Light, recently developed by Rex Ambler based on the George Fox’s journal, is a more direct process for hearing or seeing what one needs to know. Dream interpretation and journaling are helpful complementary tools. While some of us can grow spiritually on our own, I’ve found other people, professional and otherwise, to be important aides as well.

If we engage in a spiritual practice, we encourage and support our healing and growth. Routinely and continually returning to our Center allows the ego to let go of its hold on our painful memories and helps us to connect with God. Feelings associated with the harm begin to rise up. If one is able to stand still in (to stay with) those feelings, memories may also rise.

I believe that our task to find the truth embedded in those memories and then name it. What could we not face or know in the past that we can handle now? What do we need to know now about those people and situations that harmed us? When we find, recognize and name the truth about our beliefs, the people and the associated situations, we become free to move beyond our fear.

Alone and together, through the One, the Lord of All, let’s name our spiritual condition so that we may become more free to be who we are meant to be and to be of service to our neighbor.


Spiritual Condition and the Analogy of Physical Fitness

In my previous post, “Naming Our Own Spiritual Condition,” I talked about spiritual condition in terms of our ability to help accomplish God’s purposes. In this post, through the use of physical fitness as an analogy, I offer some elements of spiritual condition and contend that one of them affects all the others. Using a physical fitness framework is limiting, but I hope that it might also be helpful.

Art used by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992.

Art used by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992.

I believe that one’s spiritual condition can be thought of as the fitness of one’s spiritual body and the extent to which it is free to operate in daily life. When we are spiritually fit, we perceive, respond to and accomplish the purpose that God has given us with ease and confidence. When we are less fit, we misperceive what we are called to do, try to speed up or slow down down the process, or approach it using means that will limit or derail the outcome.

Prior to assisting with the redemption of the world, we need to have moved through some preliminary conditions. In particular, we need to have become aware of, open to and able to receive Spirit. Also, we need to have assented to be changed by God. I believe that once a person has become willing to be changed, the quality of one’s spiritual condition influences how the relationship and work will proceed.

How well a person engages in or accomplishes a physical activity is likely influenced by their physical fitness. A personal training website lists eleven components of physical fitness. As you read the list, imagine yourself or another person engaged in a sport (e.g., football, gymnastics) or physical activity (e.g., cooking, repairing a car).

1. Agility – The ability to stop, start, and change directions quickly
2. Balance – Controlling body positions while standing still or moving
3. Body Composition – The ratio of muscle to fat in the body
4. Cardiovascular Endurance – Engaging in physical activity for long periods of time
5. Coordination – Making movements work together smoothly
6. Flexibility – Moving joints through a wide range of motion
7. Muscular Endurance – Using muscles repetitively without fatiguing
8. Muscular Strength – Produces force using muscles
9. Power – The ability to use muscle strength quickly
10. Reaction Time – How quickly an individual responds to a stimulus
11. Speed – Performing a movement of covering a distance in a short period of time

When you are finished, review the list again thinking about how these elements might or have come into play in your response to a call or leading. You might focus on a single incident or a life-long endeavor.

A single incident might be speaking in meeting. Have you spoken in Meeting then later learned that the message was for you or should have been spoken by another? Have you found that you might get more than one message and that one may be for you and the other for the Meeting?

A life-long endeavor might be your following a leading. What have you learned about your ability to carry out the leading? What have you discerned about yourself given your times of obedience and your times of getting off the path?

Whether for single incidents or for life-long endeavors, I believe body composition (#3) affects all of the other elements. When doing a physical activity, if a person carries a lot of fat, they will have difficulty with balancing and coordination and limited speed. If a person has little muscle, they will have little strength, power, or agility.

I believe the same is true in spiritual matters. Spiritual fat might be thought of as deposits in our spiritual body that weigh us down, limiting our ability to connect with or stay with Spirit. Spiritual muscle might be our ability to stay centered, aligning our will with God’s desire for us.

In my next post, I will discuss “naming” and how we can use it to change our “body composition.” Through naming, I believe we can release the weight of the world and come to find rest in God (Matthew 11:28-30).


Self Interest

I wish it were true that altruism automatically conferred security, comfort, acceptance and respect to all those involved. I believe instead that self-interest is what drives most of us, most of the time. That certainly is true for me. Questions then rise about what our self-interests are. What would make my life wonderful?

I read with interest the comments of a woman who works in the media. She experienced a health crises from working 18 hour days and concluded that she needed to examine her priorities. She decided that pursuing wealth and power shouldn’t take precedence over her health, and built more sleep and exercise into her week.

Caring for her health will increase the likelihood that she will be able to pursue wealth and power for longer, but will all her efforts result in a life she views as meaningful, joyful and satisfying?

What is best for us? What do we even use as a yardstick to measure the concept ‘best’. I’ve seen studies that suggest that wealthy people aren’t happier than the general population and it appears to me that those in power often don’t seem to be enjoying it.

We are animals, with the essential needs of any animal – air, water, food, an appropriate environmental temperature and health. We are here because of ancestral urges to procreate. We are social creatures with needs for companionship, community and communication. Our humanity adds layers of desire for beauty, meaning, respect, self-expression and love.

How are we to fulfill all of this – for that are is what we seek – to have not merely some, but all of our needs and wants met. We are surrounded by answers. Some from the media which tells us such silly things as buying a certain kind of toilet paper will bring happiness. More pernicious are suggestions that we need to look a certain way or own the correct objects to be worthy, accepted, important, successful, attractive.

As ubiquitous as these messages are, they probably influence us less than the fact that we are surrounded by people who act as if the media messages are true. Conversations with relatives, friends and colleagues include references to getting and wanting. If those we know and care about are focused on these methods of finding not merely happiness, but fulfillment, surely we should be focused on them as well.

The trouble is that none of this will bring lasting satisfaction. Think of your favorite food. Think of how good it would make you feel to eat a large portion. No matter how good you feel after eating it, in a short while you will want it again.

The same holds true for whatever purchase you feel will make you happy. It might, but it won’t for long. If you’re fortunate, in time that ‘thing’ will merely become familiar. Too often it will wear out, require effort to be maintained or protected, and will be replaced in your desires by something new.

Take a moment. What would make you happiest? Money? Power? Success? Each of those could also lead to isolation and insecurity, for each could be lost.

How about relationships – being part of a family, group or community? Put more simply, how about love? Not the romantic all-encompassing love with a mythical perfect partner; but companionship, concern, acceptance and respect that can connect friends, extended families and collegial groups. Caring about one another. Caring for one another.

For me, the best form of living on this human plane is this type of interpersonal connectedness. It requires significant time and resources. It creates complications and inconveniences. The older I get, the more see the importance of family and friends.

What I own, what I accomplish falls away when compared to a warm greeting from a friend or family member.

Where does loving God fall into a consideration of what’s best for us? To love God completely is to lose control of one’s life. God may demand hard things of us, including setting us on a difficult and lonely road. Why would we pursue a relationship with God?

I’ve known three gifts that flowed from paying attention to God – spiritual joy, serenity and tastes of heaven on earth. They come and go, depending on how wisely I’m conducting myself.

Spiritual joy is different from the exuberant happiness on the faces of the winning team’s fans. Spiritual joy comes from knowing God loves us. That knowing sparks an emotional response in our heart and soul that transcends human concerns. I can be ill, hurting, grieving or fearful – and yet joyful under those feelings because God loves me. That awareness can fade if I become preoccupied with concerns of this world. But joy will return when my life is more balanced.

Serenity comes from the experience of God’s forgiveness. A certainty that God will love me and that I will eventually be in heaven frees me from fear. So much of contemporary life, even in our affluent society, is tinged with fear. Fear of losing jobs, spouses, investments, possessions, status. Fear of failure, rejection, illness and death.

What a blessing to be able to replace all of this with serenity. Yes, I will know illness, loss, failures and rejection. All that pales in relation so the fact that God will always love me. It’s a question of priority, and mine is God’s love.

While I can often feel spiritual joy and serenity, I have only briefly known heaven on earth. In those moments, I feel connected first to God, as well all that is on the earth. All is well, because I am right with God. I know joy, bliss and peace. What a blessing to be so aware of God’s presence.

This happens when my will is perfectly aligned with God’s. I want nothing other than what God wants. The trouble is that as a weak, flawed, damaged and selfish human, I so rarely can manage to align my will with God’s.

I want, I want, I want. And in that wanting is my frustration and misery. Buddhists have it right. Desire is the basis of suffering. If only I had the wisdom and self-control to put aside wants and reach for God.

Matthew 16:25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.