Spiritual Steppingstones – a Sharing

Five years ago Pat and I were introduced to a process of writing out our spiritual steppingstones — outlining our spiritual growth, or lack thereof, from birth until today in 10-12 “steppingstones.” This process is typically done in the setting of a five-day journal-writing workshop (a format first developed by Ira Progoff in the 1970’s and 80’s). Progoff’s work is laid out in his book At a Journal Workshop published in 1975 and updated in 1992. We have participated in such workshops many times, and each time our spiritual steppingstones change, reflecting deeper awareness of how we grew and regressed down through the years.

In a spiritual couple’s group we have been facilitating we invited people to try this practice in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of their own faith journey and invited them to share it with each other. Here is our description of this process and an example from Progoff’s book.

Pat and I used this opportunity to take the process deeper. We have spent reflective time preparing our steppingstones and then sharing them with one another.

In the spirit of this blog, I am choosing to share the current version of my spiritual steppingstones — version May 17, 2015 (NOTE this is MUCH longer and more developed than what happens spontaneously in a journaling workshop, but it was very meaningful to each of us to spend more time in this process):

1.     I was born in 1942 and was raised in a conservative German Lutheran family and church in Quincy, a small isolated river town in Illinois. We had family devotions, recited prayers at meals, and went to church every Sunday – I went along with this unquestioningly, but was not really engaged. Religion seemed formal, pointless but dutiful and apparently important.  The Lutheran Church was assumed to be our church home and was never questioned.

2.     In Lutheran grade school and Sunday school, religion was taught from bible stories, Luther’s Small Catechism and the bible; and for me it meant a lot of memorization and “getting answers right.” It was just another subject, like English or math, but a subject in which I was interested. While important, God seemed a distant idea. Religion was about ideas about God, not about a felt relationship with God. My feeling and relating worlds were not developing as much as my mental world.

3.     In High School I became very interested both in the bible as a framework for theology as well as in science for its context of reality: cosmology, astronomy, nuclear physics, and chemistry. I could not reconcile religion and science – I had no mentors to help me reconcile the two.  I was frustrated, though an eager student. I loved Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision (this was in the late fifties — the book, ©1950, is still available). I was not feeling close to God, but enjoyed scientific studies in school and science and religion as hobbies.

4.     In college and on into my twenties I continued reading the bible daily and attending a Lutheran Church, now in Cincinnati (which would remain my home). Toward my late twenties I began to pursue, privately, paranormal phenomena, Edgar Caycy, and other fringe subjects. Even though my wife was not Lutheran and wanted to explore other religions when we got married, I would not have it. Holding onto the religion of my parents seemed all-important. Having broad interests in theology, I was never sure why I would not leave the church of my childhood and explore broader horizons. Why was I so afraid to leave “accepted outer authority” rather than follow my own inner authority and curiosity?

5.     My parents were killed in an auto accident when I was 30. I was shocked, and for peace I recommitted myself to the church, studied and taught the bible in church and elsewhere, and became an avid student of Christian teachings, mostly from Fundamentalist sources. I amassed a sizeable library of Christian books. Religion was mostly a head thing, and it was important to me to find the Truth of the matter – and the Bible was accepted as my primary source of truth.  I lived in fear of sin,  and felt especially guilty about my wayward sexual attractions. I was involved in all forms of church leadership and activities.

6.     In my mid forties, after 15 years of committed bible study and church work, I began to explore avenues outside the church.  Some fit, some did not fit. I was becoming a rebel to rigid Lutheran and Fundamentalist dogma.  I did not feel close to God, but at the time was not aware that “feeling close” to God was important. I was uneasy and anxious on some deep level.

7.     In my fifties I got help to start several “12-Step-type Growth Groups,” took courses at a Catholic Seminary from a liberal theologian, served as a Hospital Chaplain Intern, and was part of a Clinical Pastoral Education Group at the hospital.  I enthusiastically opened up to brand new ideas spiritually, but did not feel close to God, and even less so, Jesus Christ. Though intense about things spiritual, I was ill at ease in my faith journey.

8.     In my early fifties, and for 5 years, I  was drawn into an emotional affair with a Catholic nun. This awakened, for the first time, new feelings of love from my heart! This was a true wakeup call, and although the relationship ended, I had tasted a new kind of love, and it could not be put back into the bottle.  Loving God became secondary to the love of a woman.

9.     At 57 I left the church, left my wife, and was on my own. It felt good, but I still was far from feeling close to God. I was feeling lost in this trauma and guilt for leaving my marriage. I was in a spiritual haze but was not really aware of that. I had given up my Christian library and built a new library of books on philosophy, psychology, personal growth, sexuality, and spirituality. Groups now included a Ken Wilber group. I became a massage therapist and a life coach.

10.  When I was 58 a spiritual director, sensing my passion for the spiritual and seeing how much help I needed on my spiritual path, suggested I consider a five-year Pathwork Transformation Program in Virginia. I signed up and drank in this guidance, going on into further Pathwork programs – programs I am still in to this day. Pathwork combined the spiritual with the psychological, and I needed a lot of each. Critically, it also linked the spiritual with the sexual, and also with the physical, intellectual and emotional. Pathwork became my spiritual and personal development path, a path that has become my passion and the central focus of my life.

11.  At 60 I entered a committed relationship with Pat Peterson, a former Catholic, a follower of Christ and student of the Buddha, and together we have supported each other’s journey. After 12 years of steadfast and committed psychological and spiritual work we are seeing the importance of coming to a deep loving relationship with each other, sensing that only then will we have the capacity for a felt love relationship with God. Finding love for us has been, and continues to be, a long and evasive journey!

12.       At 72 I am a “Happy Pathwork Monk.” I experience my spiritual journey as a lifelong journey up a mountain, a journey where, as I climb, I drop most of what I learned earlier in the journey. New experiences and understandings replace old experiences and old understandings – week by week.  It seems to be a gradual process of awakening into higher levels of consciousness, increasingly sensing an internal Divine Essence within, a Mystery of Oneness with Christ. I sense that I am gradually entering this Mystery of Truth, Love, and Beauty … and the Mystery of God and Christ. I treasure the journey more each day – my journey into the Mystery of Love and Truth is my highest priority and value. After 15 years outside the church, both Pat and I are exploring reengaging in church activities, but are not sure how this will work. Are our priorities and values aligned with those of any church? This is our exploration today.

Shared in love, Gary