Integral Growth & Christian Spirituality

As this series, Growing with Intention, wraps up, I thought it would be helpful to take a step back and look at the practices as a whole, from a specifically Christian theological lens. As someone who comes to these practices in a desire to be more faithful and to be a better disciple of Jesus, I have to ask whether they do in fact help me in this process or if they lead me astray.

Certainly at first glance, a lot of the practices we’ve explored in this series as engines of spiritual growth seem foreign to Christian sensibilities, especially when framed in language like ‘value metabolism’ and ‘perfecting the universe.’ And, talk of the unconscious raises a lot of Christian hackles and sounds like ‘psychobabble’. But, I am convinced that all this is primarily a question of language, and that ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’

Let’s quickly look at the practices, which engage the whole person — body, soul, mind, and spirit — in turn.

Starting with the practices of the heart or spirit, while mysticism and meditation are not what we might call core Christian experiences, they both have long histories and great pedigrees within Christianity. The visions of Peter and Paul in the New Testament and of such later luminaries as Hildegard von Bingen and Julian of Norwich are great examples of the mystical tradition in action; and the more contemplative traditions of the Christian East (and more recently rediscovered in the West) have many similarities to the more paradigmatic meditation traditions of religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. Appreciation of beauty for its part is all over the Scriptures and we might even consider it the beginning of a life of gratitude and openness to God.

Moving on to the practices of the mind, the paradoxes represented by the positive-positive polarities of dialectical epistemology are also consistent with Christian teaching — after all, what is our faith if not an exploration of what it means to be divine and human, spiritual and embodied, and an individual within community? And, value metabolism, creating generative cycles of our deep values, is nothing more than life within God’s economy of sharing, in which we receive in order to give, through which we receive still more, and then give more.

The deep intentional self-understanding that emerges from making the unconscious conscious, through a variety of practices including dream and shadow work, reflects a deeply Christian sensibility that calls for repentance — a radical honesty before God — and which developed all sorts of tools to help us with that, like examinations of conscience and sacramental confession. This is to say nothing about the prevalence of dreaming as a source of wisdom in the Bible.

And, in terms of embodied practices, despite its lofty name, ‘perfecting the universe‘ is really nothing other than bearing the good fruit that is the marker of the faithful life and, according to Jesus, how we are to judge truth. And, treating the body itself as a spiritual medium is not only acknowledging the reality of embodied life — we cannot pray, meditate, worship, or serve others without our bodies — but also our human vocation to unite the physical and spiritual realms.

To put all this another way, allowing these practices to transform me would make me:

  • more receptive and open to God
  • more grateful and humbled by the grandeur of the world around me
  • better able to hear and learn from opposing perspectives and therefore less prone to one-sided half-truths
  • a doer of the word, not just a hearer of it (see James 1.22)
  • more honest about who I am, about my reactions to people and my motivations, and therefore more fulsome in my repentance and better able to live well in community
  • more abundant in good spiritual fruit; and
  • better able to live out the divine life within my body.

And to me, at least, these are all true markers of good, true, and beautiful Christian faith.

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