Our lives are filled with learning experiences. Just as a baby learns to walk by repeatedly attempting these new movements and actions, so we, passing through a variety of experiences move closer toward being perfected spiritually. Perhaps the reason “crisis” was chosen to describe this spiritual process lies in the fact that often these experiences are painful. Certainly spiritual crises can affect us emotionally, physically, financially, or we may even need to relocate geographically. Spiritual crises usually indicate that, like Abraham, we have been called, out of the situations which were familiar, and into new and undefined territory. I believe that as we grow, we pass through a series of spiritual challenges which serve to strengthen our faith and set our feet more firmly in the Rock of our salvation.
Twice in my life I have needed to find a new spiritual home. The first time occurred when my memberships of both the local Baptist church and the A.O.G. congregation were cancelled, due to rumours that I had returned to a lesbian lifestyle. In one fell swoop I lost both my spiritual homes and also my Christian friends. I had moved into the heterosexual realm originally because Christians who I respected had repeatedly told me that God could not love me because I was a lesbian.
God had other plans opening up, and soon I found a church – with a charismatic pastor – which welcomed all people as the family of God. It was through the encouragement of this church that I ultimately studied for my degree, and later became ordained clergy. After 20 years once again circumstances changed, and after wrestling and arguing with God for about two years, I finally accepted God’s challenge to leave this spiritual home. This time God called me out into a new fellowship and a new ministry which both challenges me and breaks new ground. The crisis I faced at this time was partially concerned with my realization that somehow I could no longer see God at work in my own church, nor did I hear preaching on salvation or the love of Jesus. To proclaim a welcome for our community, to seek to work with those affected by the HIV/AIDS virus, these are good things, but as Christians I believe our prime responsibility is to uphold Jesus, and to live a life of love. It is in the living a life of love that we will be called to challenge all social injustices, to feed the poor, to nurture the lonely and aged, and to care for all those with life threatening illnesses.
Our spiritual crises are not always found in shake-ups as earth-shattering as these. When Jesus commanded the paralytic to take up his bed and walk (Mark 2:11), it was this act of obedience despite all his previous experiences which wrought a new understanding of God and a new step of faith. In those years gone by when as a butch dyke I was beaten and raped, though I cried to God asking for an answer, it was not until recent years I found the answer. Nowadays when I stand “at the barricades” with others who are protesting against violence, against sexism, against gender inequality or racial discrimination I know what we are saying. From deep within comes the certainty that I have been there, and God has been there with me.
Each crisis in our lives is reflected in our spiritual dimensions. When we hear lies or slander, we are reminded of Christ’s truthfulness. When we see society deliberately split asunder by racial tensions, we remember that we are all God’s children, and each is sister/brother, mother/father to us. When we are affected directly or indirectly by dishonesty or dishonourable conduct, we recall that we are asked to live lives which reflect purity, forbearance, kindness and justice. When we are caught up by conflict the Spirit within whispers words of serenity and peace. Each crisis brings us one step closer to the realization of God’s plan that we each become perfected persons.
Our individual responses to specific spiritual crises in our lives varies, yet always includes interaction with God. Sometimes we react with the emotional states detailed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Sometimes we build barriers around ourselves, and these same barriers prevent us from being healed, and thus able to move on. Oftentimes we withdraw to spend time alone with God, just as was Christ’s habit. But whether we react with questions, tears or anger, at some stage we will be aware of the enfolding love of God. Like any traveller, as we explore the route before us, we will at times need to leave behind the unneeded luggage, and it may be that this is the reason for these experiences. we may even call ourselves privileged to find that the result of this spiritual winnowing is that we have passed from wishing and hoping to believing and knowing, as did Job, that God is our all in all.
It is because of God, who has created and loved us from our conception; God who wore human flesh so that God could experience humanity in totality; and because of God, Spirit of Love, living and breathing through our lives, we may confidently proclaim: “We are not alone!”
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.