Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Damascus Road

Last weekend at my class, the instructor used the story of the Saul on the Damascus Road as a metaphor for discovering the purpose in our lives. What was the "AHA" moment that brought Saul to Paul?

Through the entire class, I kept thinking that it's not something we "discover". It's not an epiphany. It's something we recognize when we choose to be available.

I don't believe personally that there is a deity who has a perfect design for each of our lives individually. I believe there is a deity who designed a way of life. When we live that way, our lives work. When we don't, our lives don't work. And it's all about availability, integrity and responsiveness.

The assignment for this week is to write about the way we want to approach God about discovering our "personal plan for spiritual growth".

We can't be available when we are self-centered, obsessed with discovering our own uniqueness (if everyone is unique, what's so unique about that?) and we can't be available if we are unwilling to look outside ourselves, our lives and our experiences.

Maybe I'm too jaded or just too old, but I no longer believe that we have sudden, magical transformations. Transformation is hard work. My personal Damascus Road was a desert, an empty desert with no plants, no water, no nurturing, no comfort, no color and no meaning. My Damascus Road was brutal and heartless. My Damascus Road often included only me and a bottle of booze, lamenting the emptiness and unhappiness of my pitiful existence. (yes, I was very good at feeling sorry for myself. I was a horrid drunk!)

It was rough, no doubt, even though self-imposed and self-created. On the other hand, I can recognize now why I needed it. Through that experience, I've come to understand certain things about spiritual growth.

We can not grow spiritually when we stay in our comfort zone.

We can not grow spiritually when we think like children, believing that things appear magically out of nowhere with no effort on our own part.

We can not grow spiritually if we hang on to the belief that God has nothing better to do that micromanage every aspect of our lives.

We can not grow spiritually when we refuse to face our own prejudices, our own fears and our own stagnancy. If we're not willing to change, we will not discover purpose.

We can not grow spiritually if we're not giving to others. If we only look for what we can get, we'll get "the desert". I learned this the hard way.

We can not grow spiritually if we don't have passion for something. I have passion for other desert-dwellers, those who are alone in the world because I was once there and know what I would have given if there'd been someone to reach a hand out to me in true understanding of that experience - in a similar context. A good coach, friend or mentor who would have given me a well-needed spiritual kick in the ass would have been good, too.

We can not grow spiritually if we don't understand that our "desert" may be someone else's rain forest. (Exhorter, exhort thyself! This is mainly a reminder to myself. :)

We can and do grow spiritually when we stretch ourselves, study new things, learn new things, see the divinity in others and be available. Just. Remain. Open. And then respond.

So this is what I will be sharing with the class next weekend. If you have any other thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

Picture credit


molly said...

You are pretty scathing about your fellow class members. How do you know what is going on in their heads? The fact that they are there means they're searching too. And what makes their search less valid and sincere than yours? Not trying to be confrontational....but how about a little compassion?

thailandchani said...

Hi Molly. :)

Good catch. I can definitely see where it came across that way so I have re-worded it a bit. It's not that I consider their search to be any less valid than my own.. but it is a very, very different road than mine. It could take some work for us to connect - although I'm not closed to it.

Thanks for bringing it to my attention.. the way it came across! :)


S said...

If everyone is unique, what's so unique about that?

Food for thought indeed.

blooming desertpea said...

We are unique in a tiny part of our being but we are all equal in the greater part - we breathe, we love, we feel pain and joy, we do share the most basic needs (as my mother used to say to emphasize that in those there is no difference between rich and poor). The list goes on and on.

I wish more people realised that!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Not having seen the corrected earlier version like our good friend Molly, I think that this is one of the best posts I have ever read. I cannot think of anything to add which would make it more powerful, at least to me.

I especially like your observation that one person's desert is another's rain forest. And that is only one of the many ways in which we are each unique.

Anvilcloud said...

You make a ton of great points. Keep on plodding forward, Chani, even though it gets thirsty by times.

Olivia said...

I agree with heartinsanfrancisco, Chani. As per usual, it is hard for me to think of anything to add to your posts. You articulate your experience so well.

I do think that a personal search without incorporating the community or service or also being outward-directed is less than it could or perhaps should be. My weakness is like that of your class members and it is that my journeys tend to be more self-centered. I would like to care about others more, and I know that it is good for me as well. But I do enjoy exploring myself above all else. Sometimes I think of myself as a selfish little piggy, crying "Me, me, me!" all the way home. I don't admire this about myself.

I think that our culture is superficial and encourages self over others. I also think that American Christianity very much reflects the culture. These are generalizations, but it is my experience.

I admire those who do care about others enough to give of their time and to reach out. I do give of my financial resources, but tend to be greedy with my time, wanting to hog it all for myself.

Blessings and love,

PS I had previously signed this "Oink,O" but thought that was taking it a bit too far. Yet it is apropos. I don't mean this in a mean way about myself or others; rather, I see it as a weakness.

painted maypole said...

wonderful lessons, all. I think that some people do have those big "aha" moments, but that for most of us it is a series of small things along the way. a ROAD, indeed, instead of ONE THING that happened on the road. I think we do a disservice to each other when we allow people to expect that overwhelming moment of transformation.

this i loved: "We can not grow spiritually if we hang on to the belief that God has nothing better to do that micromanage every aspect of our lives."


LittlePea said...

Just finished readin a book about Paul Of Taursis so this was a wonderful post. If only finding our purpose were that quick! I find the road to be a neverending one. We change and grow with everyday each at our own individual pace. Some faster than others some more cooperative than other. I have seen people have sudden transformations but usually and unfortunately it is a result of something traumatic. I agree with you completely about being open, it is a must.

Anonymous said...

I could sit and talk to you about this for hours. I am actually writing about just that quest on a book I am writing about the addictions and recovery business.

I so empathize with your take on the spiritual quest and our stories contain many strong parallels. Thank you for this. I am going to print this out to peruse in more depth.

Leann said...

I would agree that each of our journeys is unique because we are all here for different reasons. I believe differently than you but agree that if you are not open to the possibilities, to the experience then you learn very little.

I too believe you can give most to those who are where you have been and vice versa.

Great post as usual Chani. You give much to think about.

secret agent woman said...

Nicely said, Chani. It is a very individual journey, and one that often goes in stops and starts. I think as long as you take a breath and keep going, you are on the right path.

Jacob Lumbroso said...

This is an interesting post. I have to admit that I have the Damascus Experience of Paul rather troubling at times. I say this as Jew, but also as someone who has studied Christianity and its related spiritual experiences rather extensively. I appreciate the comments.