WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Maturing on the journey

Mar08Cecily1.jpg I have taken on a new project. For the first time in my piano-playing life I am part of a quartet learning to play a piece which is being completed as we go.
I was struck by the resonances that this exercise has with growth in the spiritual life. First I have to learn the notes of the music. This takes some effort because the music is different from what I usually play and there are some new tones to which my ear must attune.
In the same way, we as baby Christians must learn the ABC of prayer. Initially we learn to say our night and morning prayers – simple prayers our parents teach us. Perhaps as a family we might say the Rosary regularly so we learn about communal prayer and ritual.
After I have learnt the notes of my new quartet, I can relax a little into the mood of the music, think about how I might interpret it, what expression I might use. I will consider when I have to play a bit louder because my part is the solo or the other instruments need pianistic support in the music. Above all I consider how the composer wants me to interpret his music.
As we mature in our spirituality, we learn that there is more to our relationship with God than the rote prayers of our childhood in which we talked to/at God. We discover that we need to listen to God in an open expectant way and respond to God’s invitation to build a relationship. If we are honest with ourselves and persevere with building a relationship with God, God may allow us to reach that state Gregory of Nyssa (c335-95) describes in which ‘God is experienced but never finally known’.
As in my quartet I am playing with other musicians seeking a common goal of harmony in interpretation of our composer/conductor’s music, so in my spiritual life I am walking the way with others, learning about myself in interaction with them and thus deepening my relationship with God.
The letter to the Hebrews uses a striking image to describe spiritual maturity. In a reference to the infancy of the people in terms of growth in God, the letter says ‘you have gone back to needing milk and not solid food. Truly no one who is still living on milk can digest the doctrine of saving justice, being still a baby. Solid food is for adults with minds trained by practice to distinguish between good and bad’ (Heb 5:12-14).
There are a number of biblical images evoking the parent-child relationship. In the letter to the Romans, St Paul says that we are children of God (Rom 8:16) and elsewhere, that it is only the mature who can receive wisdom (1Cor 2:6). At the end of the first letter to the Corinthians Paul says they should be mature and not act as children (1Cor 14:20).
That we are children of God is one of the major biblical themes. Jesus is depicted as the ‘beloved son’ or ‘only begotten son’.
Cunningham and Egan in Christian Spirituality suggest that the idea of being a child of God means that one is not an autonomous being but joined to God in an intimate relationship like that of parent-child. But the concept of spiritual childhood carries with it the expectation of spiritual growth and maturity.
The gospel itself says of the youthful Jesus that he grew ‘in wisdom in stature, and in favour with God and with people’ (Lk 2:52). This does not imply a need to remain fixed in immaturity or underdevelopment.
A number of spiritual writers, Thomas Merton, for example, warn of the dangers of ‘infantilizing’ spirituality by overemphasising blind obedience and fearfulness about intellectual and emotional growth.
‘Failure to mature as responsible adults in the Christian life gives unwarranted ammunition to those who, following Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion, argue that religion creates an unhealthy dependence on a ‘father figure’ who, by turns, punishes while demanding allegiance, obedience, love and servility’ (Cunningham and Egan in Christian Spirituality 56.)
Merton stresses the importance of remembering that the parent-child relationship as it is used in scripture is a metaphor.
‘The correct understanding of that metaphor helps us resist any use of it that produces an infantilizing of the spiritual life’ (Cunningham and Egan in Christian Spirituality 56).
To return to my music metaphor, I need to take responsibility for my part in the quartet to be a fully participating member just as I need to be responsible as a mature Christian for my role in helping to bring about the kingdom of God.