Posted by: Bishop David Walker
This article was taken from a talk given by Bishop David Walker on ABC Radio.
In this series of talks I am sharing with you some of the experiences we have gained at the Educational Centre for Christian Spirituality at Randwick, Sydney concerning the development of the spiritual dimension of the human person. In our quest to develop the spiritual aspect of life, it is important that we be free and open to let it grow. It can happen that a past expression of this spiritual aspect, and the outlook that accompanies it, can harden and prevent further growth taking place. Our spiritual vision can become fixed and narrow so that we become complacent and unwilling to move. We can get into a rut which doesn’t intensify our spiritual vision, but rather blunts it and impedes it.
The point being made here is captured well by Evelyn Underhill, the Anglican spiritual writer, in her story about a small fairy tale creature, called a Brownie.
“I read the other day the story of a Brownie who lived in a wood. He had a little wheelbarrow, and passed his time in a very moral and useful manner picking up slugs and snails. Yet there was something lacking in his life. The King of the World passed through that wood very early every morning, and made all things beautiful and new, but the Brownie had never seen him. He longed to, but something prevented it. He had one cherished possession, a lovely little green blanket which had fallen out of the fairy queen’s chariot and which he had not been able to help keeping for himself. It was very cold in the wood at night but the blanket kept him so warm and cosy that he never woke up to see the King of the World. And one day there came to him a shepherd who looked deep into the soul of the Brownie and said to him, “Haven’t you seen the King of the World?” And the Brownie said, “No, I do so want to, but somehow I can’t manage it.” The shepherd replied, “But I seem to see something in your soul that keeps you from the vision; something that looks rather like a blanket.” And at that, a terrible fight began in the heart of the Brownie, a battle between wanting to go on being warm and comfortable in his blanket and longing to see the King of the World. Perhaps the ultimate choice which lies before us may turn out to be the Brownie’s choice between the Heavenly Vision and the blanket.”
The story of the Brownie shows that the comfortableness of our present position can sometimes prevent us from searching further. Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to the development of our spiritual vision is the entrenched position that we have in relationship to life from the past. In an age where change has become so important, lack of oneness to change, refusal to change, can be a serious obstacle. To use another example, imagine two rivers flowing together to become one river, where they come together the water is turbulent because the forces of the two rivers are meeting. Imagine that one of these rivers is the ‘past’ and the other the ‘present’ and the river that they form, the ‘future’. The turbulent waters where they meet is the ‘now’ in which we must live. We can perhaps see here that whenever we live in a way that is open to the present, our past is going to be challenged. And when we live in a way that is open to the past, our present will be challenged.
There will be turbulence as the forces of the past and the present meet. Those who are entrenched in their past vision will endeavour not to be open to the present. To resist the present can prevent turbulence of the waters but it condemns the person to live in the future in a way that is simply a re-presentation of the past.
We are not able to grow spiritually unless we have the freedom to let our past attitudes meet those of the present. Unless we are willing to accept the turbulence that comes when we are open to live in the present situation,, we cannot expect that our spiritual: vision will develop. The shape of spiritual living for today cannot simply be deduced from the past. We can draw from the past certain elements that should be in it. The shape however, must be the result of an interaction of the past with the present.
This calls for a freedom to pursue the spiritual, and this freedom will depend on how much we actually value it in our life. What are we willing to give up pursuing it? So often in our life we give a high priority to other things. To pursue the spiritual dimension of life means giving up so many of those things. It means giving up our green blanket, that comfortableness of the position we have known and lived in the past. It means getting out of our rut, setting out on a path that may not be familiar in order that we might be able to continue in our exploration of the deeper meaning of life. So many people become entrenched in the spiritual vision that they have. It begins as a pleasant place to dwell, but it can become a prison, or even a tomb. The only difference between a rut and the grave is the depth. This former vision may be good but if it becomes an obstacle to further growth then its goodness is diminished.
I would like you to reflect on the priorities of your own life. Are you free to develop the spiritual aspect of your life? Is the spiritual outlook that you have come to in the past one that will allow you to face up to the present, and grow through that exposure to it? This freedom to go on will depend on how much you value the journey. The priority that you give to the spiritual dimension of your life needs to outweigh the other priorities of life if it is to develop. If you are interested in searching, if you are interested in pursuing the spiritual journey, then ask yourself what priority does it have in your life.