The months before we were born, we knew only darkness. Then one day, a whole new world opened to us. This was a kind of first awakening. Countless times since, we have fallen into the darkness of sleep, and woken again to light. Upon each awakening, we have the capacity for greater clarity. On a more inward level, we experience times of darkness, when things are less certain, less clear. Then we have a kind of awakening where we remember God's presence - the light within all of us, and the potential we have to make a positive impact. This is the beginning of a process of our inner spiritual creation. A process full of change, variation and new growth.
The darkness over the earth relates to a time when confusion or ignorance makes it hard for us to know what to do, what path to take. We might be struggling in a relationship with someone close to us. We might be carrying a deep anxiety that never seems to leave. We might be afraid of being alone, being unworthy. We may have given up on ourselves, on someone else, or on love. Or we might be simply naive, thinking that we have it all figured out. Eventually though, we begin to wake up, as if God says, "Let there be light." The new light is an awakening to God's presence. We see that we are not helpless, desperate or powerless because that goodness is with us.
Waking from sleep and seeing light for the first time is a wonderful analogy for what happens when we are beginning to wake up and see what true goodness is, and what it isn't. This is the beginning of spiritual rebirth.
"When we are being regenerated, we become aware first thing in the morning that what was seen in the night was unreal. . . . People who have not been regenerated are dreaming; people who have been regenerated are awake. In fact, in the Word our earthly life is compared to a sleep and our spiritual life to wakefulness." (True Christianity 606)
Weeks in review
1) Awakening - light shines for the first time
In this first stage, before the light hits, we grope in darkness. We might be thinking only about ourselves, or having more wealth or attractiveness, or getting people to listen to and respect us. Since we are asleep to the real, spiritual world within everything, our life is “empty, dark and void.” The change begins when we start to acknowledge some higher power, something more than the shallow life we’ve been living. This is like a light dawning, bringing a first feeling of peace.
2) Distinguishing - waters above from waters below
Once we have awakened to God's presence, we begin to distinguish between what's really important and what isn't. Often, these two first phases come about in times of trouble. Hardship or heartache washes away shallow concerns. It’s hard to obsess about our new bad hair cut, for example, when we find out that our uncle has cancer. We start to mature and we see a separation between the things that do and don’t matter. In this stage, we realize that we have an inner place that’s peaceful and separate from mental chatter, and we begin to realize that the best things in life are people, and not things.
3) Cultivating -tender plants grow
When we have distinguished what's important from what isn't, the “soil” of our mind is ready to hear the truth, and a tender, more compassionate side of us can begin to take root. We might start to notice the things that have been holding us back. Maybe we have trouble forgiving, so we make an effort to start treating others better, with less judgment. These efforts are like the tender plants beginning to grow.
4) Navigating- sun, moon and stars placed in the sky for light
The more we practice changing our destructive habits, the easier it becomes. Our principles become clearer - they are like the sun and moon, the “lights” that lead us. The “sun” of love stirs us to care, while the “moon” of faith sheds understanding during the dark times.
5) Speaking- fish swim and birds fly
In this stage, the things we do or say have new energy and life because we no longer take credit for them. We become stronger advocates for what we know is true, and we feel more love for others.
6) Loving - humans are created in the image of God
Finally, we not only say what we mean, we also act on our beliefs, from a loving frame of mind. In this stage, we fully embrace our spiritual heritage as men and women created in the image of God.
7) Resting - no more work. There is peace
At the seventh stage, we experience a state of peace, joy and contentment. After the peace and rest, there will likely be more challenges and periods of darkness that inspire us to a new awakening. The cycle begins again, from evening to morning, as we become newly created from within.
Explore each of the steps of spiritual growth in the spiritual growth program Seven Practices of Peace.