The Gracious Process of Spiritual Evolution

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by Bruce Sanguin

This posting originally appeared on Bruce Sanguin’s blog Visit his blog for more postings, webinars, and podcasts on Evolutionary Christianity.

How do we actually consciously evolve? It came to me that it’s a pretty elegant arrangement, in that everything is already set up for our personal and collective evolution. Here’s the principle: Face Everything with Faith (Trust), Hope, Love, and a Fluid Sense of Self. Don’t even try to turn that into an acronym.

Most of what comes at us in life is beyond our control. It happens to us. Teilhard de Chardin calls this our passivities, and they are much more prevalent than our activities (stuff we consciously enact). I didn’t like this at first, because I like to believe that I’m in control. It’s so not What The Bleep Do I Know. “Sometimes the wind comes and knocks you off your feet/blows you sideways” is the way Bruce Cockburn puts it, and then follows it up with “And look, see my tears, they fill the whole night sky.” That seems true.

This arrangement of being mostly out of control is a pretty good divine strategy. For one thing it keeps us humble and grounded.

But more importantly, when you regard each of these unexpected gusts as evolutionary provocations—the raw material of a universe and a Spirit biased toward transcendence—they become our teachers. Our orientation toward these passivities then becomes deep curiosity. We don’t merely endure them (although, let’s face it, sometimes we just need to hold to our hair pieces and wait for the tornado to pass). We actually learn to face into them. (Like Jesus turning his face toward Jerusalem after hearing that John had been executed.)

He interpreted this horrible event as telling him something about his own destiny, facing into it with radical trust (the assumption and orientation that nothing falls outside the domain of G_d’s desire and power to complete the universe—traditionally known as “salvation”), hope (the willingness to lead from the future as it is emerging now), and love (allowing no thing, nobody to close our heart despite being out of control).

But we need to endure all that threatens to blow us off our feet (and off of course) with a Fluid (and ever-expanding) Sense of Self. In other words, we assume that the self is not a fixed thing. There is no “core,” static self that we bring to bear on Big Circumstance. Rather, we are involved with what I call a “selfing project.”

We are the personalized presence of an eternal process of creative transformation. We are the One Self, (showing up in amazing diversity) that is continually in the process of transcending itself (in this realm of space and time). The challenge is that we get overcommitted to a “desired” image—the good, solid image we want to identify with and be perceived as by the world.

Another way of putting this is that we are equally committed to avoiding the “dreaded” image. (This comes from the field of “impression management,” a theory developed first by sociologist Irving Goffman.) Those two desires work together to shape a pretty limited and fixed range for the self to roam around in. There is, in fact, very little “room to roam.” In truth, the One Universal Self (or the Cosmic Christ) is completely open to dying and being reborn in a form that transcends, but includes, all earlier occasions of Itself. This is the body/mind of Christ evolving.

When we face everything with this Fluid and Expanding Self, the passivities (stuff that happens to us) become the means of our evolution. You don’t need to try too hard because you can be pretty sure that Big Circumstance is going to keep coming at you. More important than willpower is the right orientation to life. Those who locate themselves in the Christian lineage regard this process as occurring within a divine milieu that is the medium for our growth in and toward the Love and Wisdom of G_d—the body/mind of Christ evolving.

So face everything, embrace being out of control, assume you know nothing, learn the art of dying, over and over again, trust resurrection, and love like a crazy person. It’s how a universe evolves, through you and as you.

Bruce Sanguin is a minister serving Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver, BC. Bruce is passionate about raising public awareness that there is a form of Christianity beyond the belief-based, biblical literalism that is associated with traditional “church.” In 2011, If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics, won an IPPY gold medal for best spiritual and inspirational book. His most recent book is The Advance of Love: Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart.

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Categories: Bruce Sanguin, Christian Life, Evolutionary Christianity


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One Comment on “The Gracious Process of Spiritual Evolution”

  1. June 27, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    Thanks for this one, Bruce. I’m feeling out of contral lately and very unsettled, so it’s settling to lean into and embrace all the changes. Fluidity is just the right word. It occurs to me that the evolving presence in all things works with chance and accident too. Otherwise, everyting would be pre-determined and static. It’s part of what the artists knows, that apparent mistakes and deviations become part of the new pattern. Maybe chaos theory is pertinent here.

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