Often when I meet with groups, I ask people to talk about their own spiritual journeys, specifically their experience of spiritual growth. I like to ask them to think of a time when they have experienced spiritual growth and follow up with a question about what it was that helped them grow. What were the catalysts? What would you say to those questions?
After we get through that, I ask them to think of a time when they were spiritually stuck or stalled. We all have those times. Automotive metaphors are useful, imagining a time when a person ran out of gas, had a flat tire, or ended up in a ditch, spiritually speaking. As follow-up, I ask them to think about what might have caused them to experience that kind of thing as well. How would you answer those questions?
In the language of the collect we heard yesterday (printed in the column on the left), this dynamic of being spiritually stalled may be a matter of being sorely hindered by our sins, by the ways in which we fall short of the mark. When I pose questions to groups about their spiritual journey, I get a lot of answers. Not all of them appear obviously connected to sins. There are all kinds of things that hinder us in our spiritual lives.
A common answer is crisis, some difficult experience. Those kinds of things come to all people. Interestingly enough, a crisis can also be the thing that helps us grow as we recognize our dependence on God. But we can definitely be hindered by such. For example, our collective experience with COVID in recent years has definitely been for some a spiritual hindrance.
I read a study that said that one great impediment to spiritual growth, something that sorely hinders us, is the busy schedules we maintain, the ways we equate busyness with value. Advent as a season can be a good antidote to all of that, with its counter-cultural call to slow down and be quiet.
Speaking specifically of sins, perhaps the root of sin is the disordering of love, loving self more than God or neighbor, imagining a self-centered universe. Our own egos can hinder spiritual growth, mindful that ego can be seen as an acronym: Edging God Out. When we put ourselves at the center of the universe, it makes spiritual growth, a relationship with God, harder to come by. The confession found in our prayer book helps me understand the ways in which I am caught in the power of sin. It reminds me that I have not loved God with my whole heart. I have not loved neighbor as self. That’s true for me, every day.
I suspect we all know those things that can sorely hinder us. The recognition of those things is a first step. (Advent, with its call to slow down and be quiet, can give space for that kind of self-awareness.) Once we recognize things that hinder us, we are then called to recognize that we need help to be liberated from those things. That’s where we get the cry for help captured in the phrase “Stir up your power.” The prayer affirms our belief in the “bountiful grace and mercy” of God. The power is there.
Just maybe the door opens to spiritual growth when we open ourselves to that grace and mercy, forgiving ourselves as much as we forgive others. How might you open that door, even just a crack, this week?