Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The classical christian pilgrimage

In chapter 8 of Mulholland's 'Invitation to a Journey' he discusses the four stages of the classical christian pilgrimage. They are Awakening, Purgation, Illumination, and Union. Lots of good stuff in this chapter - too much to cover here - but here are some brief descriptions of the stages.

He says holistic spiritual awakening is a two-sided experience. It is an encounter with the living God; it is also an encounter with ourselves. It is coming to see something of ourselves as we are and coming to see something of God as God is. This can be gradual or radical - through everyday ordinary events or extraordinary experiences. Two basic emotions go with awakening: it is both a comfort and a threat. We are beginning to sense deeper realities - which is comforting; but at the same time we begin to recognize that we are not what we ought to be and that God is something far more than we thought. So there is something in us that both hungers and resists this stage.

The next stage - purgation - is the process of bringing our behavior, our attitudes, our desires into increasing harmony with our growing perception of what the Christlike life is all about. Purgation has its own stages. First is the renunciation of all blatant inconcistencies with wholeness in Christ (the "big" sins). Then we begin to deal with other sins in our life that culture would lead us to believe are more "normal" or "acceptable." Next we become aware of the unconscious sins and sins of omission in our life. Finally, purgation leads us to deal with deep-seated attitudes and the inner orientations of our being... our "trust structures," anxieties, and the core of who or what really runs our life.

The third stage - illumination - is characterized by a radical shift of the deep dynamics of our being, a profound transformation of our relationship with God. Now, rather than my being in charge of my relationship with God, God is given absolute control of the relationship. God becomes present "within us." He becomes the "flow of our life," and is a vital and living reality to our being. This is where we also realize His empowerment... to enable us to live out the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control). Illumination is also characterized by increasing social concern, not out of obligation, but out of a deep sense of God's love poured into our hearts for others. As he says, "What happens is a paradigm shift in our motivation. Rather than a self-referenced, self-concerned motivation for our relationship with God, our motivation becomes a heart burning with love for God, the opening of our very being to the One whom we love, and living our life in the world out of that love."

The final stage of the Christian pilgrimage is union. It characterizes those experiences of complete oneness with God in which we find ourselves caught up in rapturous joy, adoration, praise and a deep peace that surpasses all understanding. This is not an escapist kind of experience, but the experience of being at last in the kind of relationship with God for which we were created and for which our beings yearn. We discover that faith is not an intellectual or emotional feeling, but is a total abandonment to Grace. In this stage we experience such things as the prayer of quietness, the dark night of the senses, an ecstatic union, and dark night of the spirit.

Mulholland calls these stages of the classical Christian pilgrimage a structured "guidance system" for our journey, "to keep the vehicle of our life on the route toward wholeness in Christ." He ends the chapter by pointing out, "It is in the community of faith that we find the support structures of the classical and personal spiritual disciplines, through which God conforms us to the wholeness of Christ for others."

As a reminder, Mulholland's definition of spiritual formation is "The process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others." The classical Christian pilgrimage is a part of that process.

peace out; and in.

1 comment:

Jim L said...

I liked this. If I am honest with myself I am right on the cusp of transitioning from awakening to purgation (and yes, feel the threat of the change).

Now if I only felt comfortable in the context of our church to explore all this. But that's another story. :o)