When I was in my 20s (and occasionally since then), I was what I would call a lost soul. For me, that means being unable to imagine my life as a journey. There have been times in my life when everything seems to be a string of somewhat related but not deeply connected events. At those times, I am unable to imagine anything like an arc that connects the various phases and stages of my life.
At some point in my 30s, I began to understand that I was being held back by my expectation that life would unfold in a linear fashion-that one thing would lead to another in a neat progression. And when that progression failed to materialize, all I could perceive was chaos. The moment I was able to let go of linearity was the moment that my life as a journey (at least metaphorically) began.
Therein lies a truth about transformation: it does not occur in a straight line (or even a wiggly one). It’s more like a circle, but not quite. We do keep coming round and round to the same issues/problems/challenges in our lives and in our world. But, if we are on a path of transformation, each time we come round to that familiar challenge, we find that we have gained a bit more awareness-awareness about ourselves and others and the world-that helps us choose a slightly different direction.
In short, transformation moves in a spiral. We go around the circle one way or another, but, when we are undergoing transformation, we move in a third dimension outward (or upward or downward). Such is the transformative path.
In religious transformation, the outward (or upward or downward) direction depends upon our individual and shared discernment. The beauty and the challenge of religious transformation is that we have a profound influence upon one another’s paths, as well as our shared path. In the free religious tradition, we are transformed not by marching in lockstep with one another but by listening to the voices of others and the still, small voice within and by acting as we are called to do.
Often, religious communities and institutions are limited by their inability to imagine growth and transformation as a spiral path rather than one that is strictly linear. When the expectation is that we are on a straight and narrow path that leads in just one direction and that our worth and value can be measured by how far we have progressed on that very particular path, then we are on a death march. Little if any meaningful growth takes place in a straight line.
So, the challenge becomes reimagining the course of religious transformation, not as a mere linear progression, but as a spiraling orbit. I am grateful to be here at Sunnyhill as we join in this great, spiraling orbit together-a spiral that I hope brings more justice and compassion into our world.
–Rev. Jim Magaw