Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thoughts on Transformation (Part 3)

Concluding The Wild Reed’s 2010 Advent series, I share today a second except from Flora Slosson Wuellner’s contribution to the March/April 1991 issue of Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life. This particular issue focuses on transformation, and Flora’s contribution is an insightful reflection entitled “Transformation: Our Fear, Our Longing.” In the following excerpt she explores what she sees as four characteristics of God’s way of transformation.


I see four major characteristics of God’s way of transformation, as contrasted with enforced change from outside forces.

The first of these is the scriptural witness that God’s transformation of us does not deny our humanity or wipe out our identity. There are, unfortunately, some forms of spirituality that teach that God is not concerned with our needs, longings, or unique identities, and that spiritual growth consists of denying our humanness. But in both the Old and New Testaments we see a very different thrust. We see God’s passionate interest in and concern for our human condition. . . . The scriptures witness that God loves humanity, has called it good (in spite of all problems and failings) and has faith in it and purpose for it. In the second century the great church father Irenaeus of Lyons put it this way: “The glory of God is the fully alive human being.”

This understanding might be termed incarnational spirituality. In this way of spiritual experience, we are invited more deeply into the rich challenge of the flesh, the earth, and the human personality. The transformation God brings us is seen supremely in Jesus, always involved with the encounter, healing, and release of our full humanity.

As we unite with God, we are invited into bonding rather than bondage. Nothing that has been created is to be enslaved or destroyed. God did not create us as amusing toys to be manipulated and then swept off the board. We are given life, guided, transformed through ecstasy and anguish unspeakable, by love immeasurable, for cosmic purpose unimaginable.

Secondly, God’s transformation of us unites us with our deepest longings. We are told that God says: “I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5, RSV), but though the inner unfolding indeed feels surprising, it also feels strangely and poignantly familiar. It feels like coming to a home we had long forgotten, or like waking from confused dreams to see the sunshine and a loved face near ours. God’s transformation at work within us brings us increasingly closer to the person we have always (perhaps subconsciously) longed to be. How could it be otherwise if, indeed, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21, RSV)?

. . . A third manifestation of God’s transformation within us is that it always involves our deep healing. Frequently we experience blocks, plateaus, even partial regressions in our inner growing. Why do we keep falling back into the old patterns? This can be discouraging when we see what exciting possibilities lie within us. Even though we know we have grown in many wonderful ways, still there are parts within us that are untransformed, childish, full of fear and anger.

. . . What does this mean? There is deep, unencountered woundedness, perhaps passed on for generations, that blocks our inner growing. Deep unhealed fear, anger, grieving, loneliness, brought about by the assaults, lovelessness, and manipulations of much of the life around us have made us resistant to trust and love. Often it is difficult to discern that we are wounded and blocked by unhealed pain. We have become so used to deep pain and defensive/offensive reaction that it has become part of the air we breathe. We can learn to listen to our pain by attentiveness to our negative side: our tendency to worry, hair-trigger anger, compulsive over-control, inertia and procrastination, manipulating or closing off to others, constant broken resolutions.

Too often in some forms of spiritual teaching we have been told to denounce or ignore our faults, merely confessing them as sins, and then using willpower to increase our positive aspects. But if we learn to listen attentively to our faults (which is not the same as condoning or giving in to them), they can teach us as much about our pain and needs as our longings can teach us about the gifts that lie beneath them.

For example, if we have a tendency always to be worried and anxious, and that does not seem to change no matter how much we pray about it, no matter how many good resolutions we make, we can dialogue with our worry, asking ourselves: “What are you afraid of?” We should ask this question with sincere respect, a genuine desire to know, not with contempt or scorn. And then we can ask it again, and keep asking, each time at a deeper level. . . . Is this chronic worry a signal given to us by our deep self that there is a child within us who feels helpless and frightened? A child whose time for healing has come?

Such a condition is not reached by mere confession of sins. Such a condition cannot be overcome by resolutions and willpower. There is a child in there who needs healing. We begin to understand something of the compassion God has for us. We begin to share with others what we really feel. We begin to release these inner hurt and frightened children into God’s hands for healing.

Why is this central pain, which has for so long blocked our growth, not automatically, spontaneously healed by God’s love without our awareness and asking? Much of it is, of course. In many ways we are healed at subconscious levels without consciously knowing it. But apparently there are some forms of inner pain whose healing needs intentional consent. God’s love always surrounds us, our unreconciled areas as well as our light-filled areas. But God's full healing seems to wait for our longing and consent. Is this because we are not helpless puppets, but created to be children, heirs, spouses, partners, co-creators with God, our free consent a crucial part of the creative wisdom of growing?

The fourth great sign I see of God’s way of transformation, and perhaps this is the greatest, is that our inner unfolding rises from a living relationship with God rather than from laws and commands. Somewhere I have read that the Sermon on the Mount is not a series of orders, but rather a description of what begins to happen as we grow closer to God through Christ.

Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

- John 15:4 (RSV)

This is said by the living Christ to our hearts. We cannot bring fourth the full fruits of the Christian life unless we are rooted and growing in the Source of that life. . . . The further we are from this living relationship with the Christ, the more lifeless, the less exciting and transforming becomes our Christianity. How do we most deeply bond with the Living One? Just as each identity is unique, so is each relationship. But those who have lived the longest and most profoundly with the Christ tell us to let our breathing become the breathing of God’s breadth of life. They show us the healing power of sharing each need, each hurt, each longing with the Christ who walks with us each moment of the day. They witness to us that all that is within us is loved compassionately and searched for passionately by the Risen One who only asks our consent to “come quickly” with the healing water and light (Rev. 22:20, KJV).

For some of us the great transformation from the inside out comes gradually. For some of us it comes swiftly. But for all of us it comes inevitably as we unite more closely to the One who brings the yeast, salt, wind, and fire of the new creation – the deep self we have always longed to be.

– Flora Slosson Wuellner
“Transformation: Our Fear, Our Longing”
Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life
March/April 1991
pp. 10-14

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Thoughts on Transformation (Part 1)
Thoughts on Transformation (Part 2)
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
In the Garden of Spirituality – Eckhart Tolle
“More Lovely Than the Dawn”: God as Divine Lover
The Challenge to Become Ourselves

Image: Artist unknown.

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