August 13, 2017
The first stage in the spiritual life begins very early on. Once it is recognized that there is an entire universe that is not I. Perhaps this observation seems to fundamental and trivial to bear mentioning; but if the universe of not I is not recognized, then, the egotistical self takes over and bends everything and everyone to itself.
The second stage in the spiritual life arises from a judgement: Is the not I, things or is it another I? If the universe is things, then the ego is the worthiest element in the universe and absolutely entitled to bend these things to its own purposes. But if the rest of what is is actually personal, possessed of all the things that make me so wonderful, then, the rest of the universe cannot rightly be bent to serve my will — the non I has its own legitimate will.
At this point, some people decide that the not I is indifferent to them — perhaps even hostile. These folks become fearful, suspicious, angry, negative and controlling. Their primary task in the spiritual life is learning how to be loved. Those who decide that the not I is benevolent become open, trusting, hopeful and biddable. Their primary task in the spiritual life is learning to be as loving as they are loved.
Is there some middle ground here? Are there kids who manage to escape the extremes of these two decisions? I suppose so. But their spiritual life will consist in learning to balance out the virtues of one side with those of the other.
These stages in the spiritual life — I would dare to say — are all completed before the age of five or six; maybe even sooner. Clearly, then, the most fundamental forces in shaping one’s spiritual life are to be found in the family of one’s origin— the first not I’s one ever encounters. It is only with the greatest of difficulty that these early influences can be countered and their effects undone.
You will want to say to me now that this is child psychology, not spiritual/ascetical theology; we have not even mentioned God yet! But the fact is that our spiritual lives are truly our own and those things that make us who we are set the tone and the direction of all that comes later. Saint Ignatius of Loyola is reported to have said: Give me a boy ’til he is seven and he will be mine for the rest of his life. The Scriptures insist that ‘as the twig is bent, so will it grow’. There is a whole ocean of insight in the proposition that ‘the child is father to the man’.
If the spirituality of one’s parents is a powerful predictor of one’s own, then one sees more clearly the wisdom that invokes the extended family and the ‘village’ as broader and moderating influences.
But at a certain point one stands up on one’s own and makes one’s own either what has been taught or some other stance. Here is where the more familiar meaning of ‘spirituality’ comes into play.
Really and truly and sort of spiritually yours,