The Archetype of Revival: The Need and Danger of Spiritual Inflation

The Archetype of Revival: The Need and Danger of Spiritual Inflation February 19, 2023

Asbury University Chapel, revival scene
Photo by Daily Citizen, Bruce Hausknecht

“Most forms of Christian spirituality deny the shadow.” “[…] we tend to be so split with regard to our humanness that we advocate “angelism.” We wish we could forget about our bodies and sexuality and our aggressive urges and all the parts of us that are not nice.” (Robert Moore, Archetype of Initiation, 98)

For believers, revival can feel like the pinnacle of one’s spiritual journey, yet for skeptics such a spectacle is delusionary. In reality, it is neither, and perhaps a little of both. Humans have a tendency to fall asleep to their lives, so we need awakening experiences throughout. However, life is more than waking up, it is also about living, creating and action. Revival may pleasantly awaken us from our nightmares, but what can sober us from our illusions?

My Time at Asbury

“When people act ‘crazy’ by conventional standards they are often searching for some kind of extraordinary space that will allow them to leave an old phase of life behind and experience initiation into an entirely new phase. Age-old human existential issues bring with them a yearning to locate and enter a sacred ‘temple’ where the issues can be addressed.” (Robert Moore, 20)

In winter of 2010, I made the drive up I-75 from Cleveland, Tennessee to Wilmore, Kentucky on an admissions visit to Asbury Theological Seminary. As a senior at Lee University, I had a passion for God, for learning, and, at that time, an unconscious cavernous need for healing–a craze for some kind of extraordinary space, a temple where my issues could be addressed.

Asbury Seminary was that space for me. I can’t explain it. I can’t prove it. It’s a mystery that I experienced, which words don’t do justice. Asbury is where I first met my Sadness; on the left side of Estes Chapel I cried harder than ever before over all the loss lodged in my body. Sadness is a dear friend still today. Asbury is where I met Little Michael and became the parent I always needed. And Asbury is where I met OCD, General Anxiety, Depression, Lexapro, Abilify, Fluoxetine. However I label that time, it was a life-saving and transformational space. 

Liminal Space

My 3 years at Asbury Seminary were liminal space. The word liminal comes from the Latin (limen), meaning threshold. A threshold is not a space itself, but a space between spaces. When you stand on a threshold, such as a door frame, you are neither in the room before, nor behind, and yet, you are in both. Though transformation requires liminal space, such space is transitional, and our goal should never be to stay indefinitely. When we stay, we get stuck in what’s called chronic liminality.

Chronic Liminality

Transformation is possible when we enter liminal space, but it is only realized when we exit on the other side, and integrate our transformative experience. Robert Moore calls this the Archetype of Initiation. Chronic liminality; however, occurs when we attempt to exist in liminal space indefinitely. There is always a temptation, and to some extent, an expectation within revivals, for liminal space to become normative, for the threshold to become the room. 

Liminal space is obviously present at the Asbury revival, and it is real to those present. The question remains, will people be able to exit and integrate? Will they remember their “bodies and sexuality and their aggressive urges and all the parts that are not nice?” Will there come a countering inclusivity to the this exclusive moment? Or will chronic liminality set in and seek to normalize and homogenize everyone and everything involved?

The Archetype of Revival

Regardless of one’s religious affiliation, or stage of life, the archetype of revival is universal and necessary for human transformation. Revival, regardless of its form and construct, is always intense liminality meant to awaken us to divine energy within and around (read more in my essay, Why You’ve Outgrown Church). The archetype of revival is intoxicating and has a nearly inescapable pull because it inflates and dilates one aspect of our humanity while temporarily tranquilizing others. In a recent video, a student at the Asbury revival stands before the whole assembly and shouts, “Forget the guy! Forget the girl! Forget everything! He is worthy!” This young man described himself as a recent convert to Christianity. He experienced something quite real. Nevertheless, his experience is an inflation of unconscious elements flooding the conscious ego, and temporarily taking control. 

When we find ourselves in the gravitational pull of revival, we imagine we’ve arrived in a place of wholeness, but in fact we’re simply in a temporary (and necessary) state of single-mindedness. Here, we experience a vivid, etherial connection with the universe, God, the cosmos, that is both energizing, and yet not actualized. It is real, but not whole.

The archetype of revival feels like a summit, a culmination of spirituality and mystical experience. However, it is simply an initial step in a person’s individuation or developmental journey. Liminal space is inherently trans-form-ational; we transcend (or transgress) the forms and constructs we’ve created, not in order to expel other elements, but to include the expanded element into our life. Revival may accentuate spirituality to the exclusion of sexuality, for example, but our spirituality and sexuality must ultimately meet and welcome one another. The opposite is true–we may experience a sexual awakening, but the point is not for sexuality to become the center and circumference of life. Instead, when sexuality inflates, it does so for a time in order to consciously integrate into our full human experience.

Engaging the Archetype of Revival

For many, the Asbury revival will stand as a transformational marker for the rest of their lives. That is simply a fact. For many, myself included, the temptation is to scoff at the spectacle, and think, “Why are people into this?” “They’re crazy.” etc. I invite you to allow your gaze to shift to your own craze. Allow yourself to engage the archetype of revival on your own terms, in ways that are congruent with your life. Here are a few questions to spark this transgressive inner work:

  • What is waking up in you?
  • When have you experienced a “revival”? What forms did you have to transgress to be revived?
  • What needs and urges are surfacing in your life, your dreams, your interactions? How do you experience these needs and urges in your body?
  • What do you need to leave in order to fully live?
  • What divine or archetypal energy are you craving?

If Revival Triggers You

The concept of revival may trigger memories of abuse, coercion, group think, body-betrayal, etc (by others or by yourself). Take an opportunity to do some some inner work such as active imagination, shadow work, imaginative boundary setting, etc. Visit my What is Shadow Work? page to learn how you can engage this work in a one-on-one space.

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