Once-Now-and-Forever February 18, 2011

One of the prevailing problems for all of us spiritually is that our experiences define and delimit our understanding of the spiritual life.  We close ourselves off to the language and experiences of the journey based on a single experience — be it positive or negative — and that becomes the once-now-and-forever way in which we see some dimension of the journey.

  • A supportive church defines the place of Christian community
  • An experience of the church as harsh and judging yields a very different impression
  • Sermons that open up the Bible in a lively and life-giving fashion make reading the Bible an attractive prospect
  • Sermons that use Scripture in an abusive or wooden fashion can close us off to the possibilities that lie in reading the Bible
  • The examples are endless: experiences of prayer, confession, silence, retreats — the list is endless

Ironically, positive experiences can be just as limiting as negative ones.  Negative experiences of a given chapter in the spiritual life can close us off completely.  Positive experiences can give us a single point of contact beyond which we never grow.

What is a bit alarming is to realize how early in life we embrace those once-now-and-forever ways of looking at things.  As I have worked through my own impressions and as I have talked with others about theirs, I’ve been surprised to learn how early those impressions can take shape — many of them before we exit our adolescence.

That’s understandable.  Those are volatile, impressionable years during which we embrace strong opinions about the world around us.  Those opinions help us to test our impressions and differentiate ourselves from the world around us.  As important as that process is, however, it is not clear that every opinion we embrace by age 18 is necessarily worth taking with us the rest of the way through life.

Spiritual maturity is about forming impressions, making commitments, and holding on to both with gentle humility and a willingness to admit that there might be more.  Any journey into God is, by definition, provisional and growing.

Take time to do an inventory of your deepest convictions about and impressions of the spiritual life.  Which ones (positive and negative) are defining?  Which ones have narrowed your journey and hardened into once-now-and-forever thinking?

Then ask yourself — do you trust God enough to move beyond those moments?

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