The journey of our Christian walk can feel like we are going somewhere but we don’t know where we are going. We are uncomfortable because we don’t have control of the itinerary and can’t control the route. Our present states of brokenness and incompleteness is not always comfortable but at least we are accustomed to it and know our way around. We can pray to God to let him lead us out into the unknown; overcome our fear with His love, our hesitancy with His hope, for our wholeness.
The Christian pilgrimage toward wholeness in Christ has been characterized by four stages. All four stages can take place incrementally, and in some ways simultaneously, within our spiritual walk. The movements are from awakening, to purging, to illumination, and to union. This is the description of the general path of the lifelong pilgrimage that begins as we awaken to God’s call to wholeness and ends in eternal life.
The first stage awakening is a two-sided experience. It is an encounter with the living God, as well as, an encounter with our true self. It is coming to see something of ourselves as we are and coming to see something of God as God (Isaiah 6:1,5).
There are two emotions that go with awakening: comfort and fear. It is comfort because there is a sense of awakening to deeper realities of who we are and who God is. At the same time there is the fear: in awakening we recognize that we are not what we ought to be and God is far more than we ever thought. Awakening is a door being opened to a whole new dynamic way of being.
The next stage is purging the process of bringing our behavior, attitudes, and desires into harmony with our growing perception of what the Christ-like life is all about. We begin to bring our life values under the values and authority of God’s kingdom abandoning behaviors that are contrary to God’s will. As a person comes into a mature faith and enters into a relationship of radical trust in God they decline in anxiety and increase in peace.
This is a radical alternative to lives that have been filled with anxiety and tension. The new Christ-like alternative to life does not protect us from life’s damaging blows and disruptive events, (I Corinthians 4:10-13). It empowers us to learn to be content in any situation, knowing how to face plenty and hunger, abundance, and want.
The Apostle Paul calls us, in the midst of life’s disruptions of our order and control, to a consistent acknowledgment of the insufficiency of our resources and the inadequacy of our ability to maintain order and control in the face of the world’s wildness. He calls us to be continually turned to God as the source of our sufficiency in each and every circumstance. Prayer is not a reaction to life’s circumstances but it is a habit of the heart by which we meet the troublesome events of life.
The trust Paul is calling us to is a giving of ourselves to God so that God can be released through our lives in whatever the circumstances we encounter. When God is released in this way our lives are held in the flow of God’s presence and purpose.
- This trust liberates us to be the persons God calls us to be in the world. Without such trust, our lives are imprisoned within the protective shells of our tenuous order and control.
- Trust enables us to be God’s persons for others. Without such trust, our lives are spent defending ourselves against real or imagined threats of others, or manipulating others for our own purposes.
- Trust empowers us to be agents of God’s transforming grace in a hurting and broken world.
The next stage is illumination or the radical shift of the deep dynamics of our being. It is the experience of total consecration to God in love. We are no longer trying to be in charge of our relationship with God, but we have given absolute control of the relationship to God.
Benedict Groeschel in Spiritual Passages says, “The illuminative way is not a cloudless summer day. It is a spring morning after a bad storm. Even though everything is washed clean and the sky is filled with clouds and sunlight, there are many fallen trees and an occasional live wire blocking the road.” “Illumination is a life of deep sensitivity and responsiveness to the presence of God deep within our being and at the heart of the life of the world around us” (Robert Mulholland Jr. Invitation to a Journey).
The final stage of the Christian pilgrimage is called union. It is complete oneness with God in which we find ourselves caught up in rapturous joy, adoration, praise, and deep peace. This is a gift of God’s grace not a result of our efforts.
The end game of the spiritual journey is a radical trust in and abandonment to God-first of all as it relates to trusting God for our salvation and then learning how to abandon ourselves to God in specific areas of our lives. The stages of the spiritual journey-awakening, purging, illumination and union-are an attempt to describe the different movements we experience along the way.
Take some time to sit prayerfully and look at your overall spiritual journey, and ask which stage seems to describe best where you find yourself right now? Draw a continuum with “a life of anxious care” on one end and a “life of trust” on the other, where would you place yourself? How is God inviting you to turn your whole being toward Him, so that His presence, purpose, and power can be released through your life?