Four Shapes of Transformation — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Four Shapes of Transformation

An Evolving Faith

Four Shapes of Transformation
Tuesday, June 1, 2021

An evolutionary faith understands that nothing is static. The universe unfolds, our understanding of God evolves and deepens, and our moral development surely evolves as well. We simply cannot, as adults, live by the same overly simplistic rules that governed our morality as children. St. Paul seems to be intuiting the same wisdom—as we love more deeply, we will behave differently (see 1 Corinthians 13:11–13). I have built upon the very helpful and clarifying language of Ken Wilber in describing the evolution of moral and spiritual development. He offers four major stages: Cleaning Up, Growing Up, Waking Up, and Showing Up.

We ministers talked, wrote, and preached about Cleaning Up the most, but actually did this very poorly. We largely reflected the moral preoccupations of the dominant culture in every age and every denomination. Our mostly external understanding of morality was very superficial and reflected our not-so-grown-up culture’s values of various “purity codes.” These were bound to our time in history and seldom driven by the brilliance of Jesus’ moral ideals, which have to do, first of all, with our inner attitudes (see Matthew 6–7). In other words, Jesus teaches and embodies a change in consciousness itself. Mature morality is largely a series of religious encounters leading to a deep transformation of consciousness. Any preoccupation with our private moral perfection keeps our eyes on ourselves and not on God or grace or love. Cleaning up is mostly about the need for early impulse control and creating necessary ego boundaries—so you can actually show up in the real and much bigger world.

Growing up refers to the process of psychological and emotional maturity that persons commonly undergo, both personally and culturally. We all grow up, even if inside our own bubbles. The social structures that surround us highly color, strengthen, and also limit how much we can grow up and how much of our own shadow self we will be able to face and integrate.

Waking Up refers to any spiritual experience which overcomes our experience of the self as separate from Being in general. It should be the goal of all spiritual work, including prayer, sacraments, Bible study, and religious services of any type. The purpose of waking up is not personal or private perfection, but surrender, love, and union with God. This is the Christian meaning of salvation or enlightenment.

For me, Showing Up means bringing our heart and mind into the actual suffering and problems of the world. It means engagement, social presence, and a sincere concern for justice and peace for others beyond ourselves. If we do not have a lot of people showing up in the suffering trenches of the world, it is probably because those of us in the world of religion have merely focused on either cleaning up, growing up, or waking up. Showing up is the full and final result of the prior three stages—God’s fully transformed “work of art” (see Ephesians 2:10).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Four Stages,” homily, May 26, 2019; and

“Four Shapes to Transformation,” “Transformation,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2017), 39–45.

Story from Our Community:
These have been extremely challenging times and, though difficult and often dangerous, inside each of them lay opportunity. I can enmesh myself in ego (my own and of others), yet I do my best to awaken to Christ consciousness. Everything is for the sake of spiritual evolution. It’s all about love for the sake of more love. Each of us has been Divinely granted yet another day to recognize the only real force—LOVE. —Robert L.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, bamboo 天竹子 (detail), 2015, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The capacity of bamboo to grow mirrors our own potential for inner unfolding. As long as there is life, there is evolution. As long as we have breath, our faith can continue to grow.
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