Being human is a journey of becoming. Humans are not yet at birth what we have the capacity to be fully become. Newborns may contain the possibilities for mature personhood but they do not show any of the characteristics that psychologists have identified as markers of fully actualized humanity. Such things, for example, as the capacity for non-possessive love, a spirituality that makes life meaningful and suffering sufferable, and an identification with all humans, not simply those of one’s own tribe are never present in childhood.
But while the journey of human becoming is life-long, it is not simply a result of the passage of time. Time is necessary, but not sufficient. Maturation may make human actualization possible, but full personhood comes only from a life-long journey of becoming that, as we shall see, must be lived in a posture of openness, trust, willingness and surrender.
Watch as the young child learns to trust that her mother is still there even though she may be out of sight. Piaget called this developmental accomplishment the achievement of object constancy. It is a moment to celebrate, and parents usually do. But then watch as the cognitive skills of this same little girl continue to develop and notice now how she suddenly seems secure within a first-person perspective on her world. She speaks as an “I” and organizes her experience around this “I”. The result is something that we could call an egocentric perspective on the world, this being a tremendously important moment of human becoming.
But the journey is far from over – even if we continue to follow just this single line of cognitive development and the way in which it provides a perspective from which the person views and relates to the world. Notice how a few years later she has hopefully added a second-person perspective to this egocentric way of relating to that which is beyond her self. What we might call a sociocentric worldview now allows her to see things from the perspectives of others. A developing capacity for empathy allows her to adopt an alternate perspective and no longer be limited to the first-person point of view that earlier was such a developmental triumph.
The subsequent development of the capacity for reason ushers in another stage as, in adolescence, she now adds third-person perspectives and is capable of adopting a more truly worldcentric orientation to that which is beyond her. And because we can only identify with what we can see in relationship to self, she is now able to feel herself to be integrally connected to the world, not just to her social or religious group or to her family or herself. Through this process her self is unfolding. The same is true for all of us. By a sequence of ever-expanding identifications we become what we identify with, and, if we trust the flow of this process, our small self becomes a larger and truer self.
There are other important steps in this line of cognition and perspective-taking, and many other important lines of development that also shape the journey of the developing self. But let us look at just one more image from later in the journey of this hypothetical young woman. Just suppose that she remains open to life and that this openness includes openness toward God. It may well be that when we next look into her life we recognize something that others around her may not see, or at least not understand. They may notice her equanimity and non-judgmental openness, and they may even describe her as a very spiritual woman. But if we take the time to get to know her we may begin to notice how deeply her identity and consciousness are grounded in her relationship to God. But relationship may not be exactly the right word, because she might talk more of an abiding sense of being in God and God being in her. She might also talk about this leading to a sense of being at one within herself and within God. Although we may not understand exactly what she means, we might begin to suspect that she is something of a mystic. Commenting on this to her she may laugh and say that she is no mystic. But when asked more about her life she might tell you, as the woman I am thinking about recently told me, “It’s true, I do want nothing more than to know God more deeply. But it’s also true that I am less and less clear about where the boundaries between God and me – or God and anyone – begin or end. Increasingly I see God in all people and all things – not contained in any of these people or things but expressed in and through them all. And increasingly I feel one with God and one with life – really, one with all that is.”
This journey into a deeper consciousness of our being in God will be our focus in this book. We can describe it as a journey of the evolving or unfolding self because the self that begins this journey is never the self that ends it. But we could also call it a journey of an awakening self because awakening is the central dynamic of the unfolding and evolving. The self that emerges during this journey is larger, more enlightened and more whole. This journey is one that all humans are invited to make. It is, in fact, the journey that defines our humanity for it is a journey toward our source and toward our fulfillment. It is a journey into what has traditionally been described in Christian theology as union with God.
The source and ground of all existence lies in the constantly out-pouring life of God. Moment by moment, all creation is sustained by God. Creation is not just something that happened in the past. While there may have been a beginning point, it was the beginning of an active relationship that never stops – a relationship that exists between God and every person and thing that exists. If this relationship were suddenly to stop, we and everything else that is would instantly cease to exist.
But it is not just all being that is grounded in God. So too is all becoming. The universe is a place of creativity, becoming and transformation because these are fundamental properties of the God who sustains it. All things are not only sustained by God, all things are also being made new in Christ. All things are being liberated and restored – becoming more than they are, becoming all they were intended to be in their fullness in Christ.
The Spirit of God – the source of all generativity, all creativity, and all life – invites us to participate in the grand adventure of human becoming. Openness to becoming is openness to God. This is why the Christian mystics have so much to teach us. They show us that longing for the fullness of God demands openness to a radical form of transformation that we cannot control. It is something we can neither engineer nor accomplish. But it is something we can experience.
Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation
(Brazos Press, 2012).