The word “growth” connotes various things to various people. For most of us, the first thoughts that come to mind are positive. We all want to grow, don’t we, in wisdom, in strength, in proficiency, in maturity?
But, growth also means encountering obstacles and overcoming them. For some of us, there is excitement in that. Do you remember the excitement you felt in the accomplishment of riding a bicycle for the first time? You certainly didn’t succeed without a number of stumbles and falls, but the soaring sense of accomplishment that came with the feeling of mastering the skill more than made up for those. If you ski, you certainly are aware that there were many falls along the way before you were able to truly enjoy the liberating feeling of skimming down the slopes. If you play a musical instrument, there was many a fumble between the first lessons and the sense of fluid mastery that came after years of practice. (And, to be honest, “fluid mastery” will always include imperfection.)
So, what about “spiritual” growth? That’s a harder one, isn’t it? For one thing, we can’t all seem to agree on a common definition of the word “spiritual.” For another, no matter what understanding you do have, it remains a concept without the kind of substantial reality that allows you to measure “progress” in the usual ways. Who teaches you “spiritual growth”? Nobody will be issuing grades. And nobody will be marking your progress unless it you do that yourself, and what standards will you apply? And, still, here at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green, spiritual growth is at the heart of our mission.
I remember the first time I took a course in “Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography.” It was at the Boston Center for Adult Education. The leader was Dan Wakefield, who I knew as the author of several quite successful books of autobiographical fiction such as Starting Over and Going All the Way (his most recent project was editing the letters of Kurt Vonnegut for publication). Dan, himself, had taken the course with the Rev. Carl Scovel at King’s Chapel in Boston, our country’s oldest Unitarian church (some of you will remember meeting Carl from when he offered the sermon at my installation as your minister).
Dan started the class by saying that there are all kinds of autobiographies one can write: a history of one’s paid employment over a lifetime, a memoir based on your educational history, your personal financial history, the story of your life in sports—but the spiritual autobiography is the deepest and most comprehensive because it embraces all of these aspects and more. It’s a self-exploration of how you came to be the person that you are, how you understand yourself at the present, how you interpret the experiences that helped shape you. And what more interesting subject is there for most of us than ourselves?
But, surprisingly or not, writing a spiritual autobiography turns out not to be just an exercise in self-exploration. The process allows us to take stock of the various people, places, and circumstances that have helped shape us, and it allows us a chance to appreciate in a more concrete way—to give thanks—for the gifts of others that have contributed to our growth.
What does spiritual growth mean to you? How have you grown over time? What do you find yourself growing towards? How can you contribute to the knowledge that others can gain of themselves?
I hope you’ll take the opportunity to join some of us on Sunday afternoons beginning on September 11 at 2:00 pm to undertake this journey. We need a minimum of four to offer the class, and we have room for fifteen. If only a small number register, we’ll meet five or six times for 90-minute sessions. If there is a larger turnout, we’ll meet eight times (through October 30) for two-hour sessions to allow time for all to participate. To register, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or add your name when the sign-up sheet circulates on Sunday morning.
Looking forward to the continuing growth of the spirit, I’ll see you in church,