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Childhood and Adult Christian Spriituality
Teachings of Fr. Jeremiah
March 10, 2014 - St. Paul writes, When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Cor. 13:11) Here we are reminded that spiritual understanding and living life connected with spiritual understandings is a process growth and development. The problem we face with most adults spiritually is that they are living as adults with yet childish understandings. There are, however, adults that are now ready for the real thing. The teachings and explanations and understandings that they were given as a child (which were all many times - but not every time - good and proper) are no longer satisfying. They have faced deep questions, tragedies, and fallen into what they consider moral failures. Deep down they have begun to think, is this really all there is? Are these understandings I was given as a child really supposed to sustain me and enable me to live an adult Christian life in my lived experience of life today? And the answer is that the understandings and explanations they were given as a child very frequently cannot and won't suffice to articulate and integrate with the adult lived experience today.
Let's take just one - but a very fundamental - example. As a child we likely were taught that sin came into the world because Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In other words, they disobeyed the law. This is a very juridical understanding. It tells the story well for our beginning level of understanding; it is what children were able to comprehend at a beginning level. But it does not examine in depth the deeper understanding in light of the whole of Christian tradition and especially the Christian mystical tradition, which personally I am convinced is the only way in which we as Christians can have a meaningful articulation with the world's lived experience today. We must look at and understand, as adult Christians, what happened in the Fall.
So where was the error, the mistake, the problem? Is the spiritual life simply about obeying laws? Do this and you'll be ok; do that and you'll be damned. If this is the case, the only conclusion is that God is a judge and the spiritual life is simply about obeying commands. This becomes a scene not of a God we can have an intimate loving relationship and communion with but a God who has qualifications about His acceptance of us. What kind of a God is this? What kind of a loving Father is this? And... how in the world does this fit in with the living presence of Jesus on this earth who was always forgiving people for their misdeeds, telling stories about the prodigal son, and having associations with "sinful" women, tax collectors, and sinners of all sorts?
Let's examine the Fall at an adult level. Where was the problem (if, that is, we can even in the end call it a problem, but that's another discussion)? The deep issue is that the fundamental dynamic is at the level of consciousness (perceptive capacity and awareness), will, and choice. The fundamental dynamic was that human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, saw themselves as separate from God who had created them. Their awareness and perception was one of separateness. It really makes no difference how you state it: whether you say they lost, or, they failed to gain, their realization or awareness of union with God, the ultimate Creator. The bottom line is that they ultimately moved out of an awareness and sense of union with God, their Creator.
This being said, the remedy for the Fall, in which we all share and individually experience, is a discovery of union with God. In other words, the remedy for our illness, lies not "out there," but within us. Isn't this where Jesus said we would find the Kingdom? Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Lk 17:21). Here - within our very soul - is where we must become aware. Here is where the narrow gate will be opened and the pearl of great price will be found.