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Center for Action and Contemplation
The First Half of Life
The First Half of Life

The First Season of Faith

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

CAC teacher and author Brian McLaren writes about the passionate innocence that characterized his “first half of life” as a young Christian:  

Many of us have memories of when our spiritual lives first came alive—the season of our “first love.” For example, in those initial months after my [powerful spiritual] experience … I felt the Bible speak to me as never before. The simplest word or phrase would stir my soul…. I started wearing a big wooden cross around my neck, and I carried a big, green Living Bible on top of my high-school books—in hopes that someone would ask me about either of them, so I could “bear witness” to my exuberant, contagious faith. I loved to insert “Praise the Lord!” into my speech as often as possible—which elicited “Amen!” from my Christian friends and surprise or annoyance from my other friends. Speaking of my Christian friends, we could often be found huddling in a stairwell … praying for a miraculous intervention of some sort. And our prayers, it seemed to us, were answered way beyond the statistical norm. We seemed to “live and move and have our being” [Acts 17:28] in the holy glow of God’s presence. It was spiritual springtime, and we assumed it would never end.  

McLaren charts growth in the spiritual life as coming to greater fullness when we move beyond the simplicity of that first season:  

Just as all higher mathematics depends on learning basic arithmetic, and just as all more sophisticated music depends on mastering the basics of tempo, melody, and harmony, the spiritual life depends on learning well the essential lessons of this first season, Simplicity. If these lessons aren’t learned well, practitioners will struggle in later seasons. But if in due time this season doesn’t give way to the next, the spiritual life can grow stagnant and even toxic. Nearly all of us in this dynamic season of Simplicity tend to share a number of characteristics. We see the world in simple dualist terms: we are the good guys who follow the good authority figures and we have the right answers; they are the bad guys who consciously or unconsciously fight on the wrong side of the cosmic struggle between good and evil. We feel a deep sense of identity and belonging in our in-group…. This simple, dualist faith gives us great confidence.  

This confidence, of course, has a danger, as the old Bob Dylan classic “With God on Our Side” makes clear: “You don’t count the dead when God’s on your side.” [1] The same sense of identification with an in-group that generates a warm glow of belonging and motivates sacrificial action for us can sour into intolerance, hatred, and even violence toward them. And the same easy, black-and-white answers that comfort and reassure us now may later seem arrogant, naive, ignorant, and harmful, if we don’t move beyond Simplicity in the fullness of time.  


[1] Bob Dylan, “With God on Our Side,” The Times They Are A-Changin’ (New York: Columbia, 1964). 

Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 29, 30. 

A hawk judges its environment for survival and eventually takes flight.

Story from Our Community:

After a slow decline from dementia, my wife of forty years lost her ability to speak. Although we lost verbal communication, it was during that time we experienced a deeper intimacy than at any time before. It was clear that she loved me and that she knew I loved her. There was something in her that connected with me and something in me that connected with her. Words were not necessary. Love unified us beyond anything words could describe. Love was our conversation. Those last days with Jan were the most challenging and the most precious of our marriage. I will always treasure them. —Elton N. 

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