Updated: Aug 10
You are a person with three parts:
The body is the tent you live in, but not your truest self. Your truest self is spirit, and the soul is the space between spirit and body which connects the two. The more we lose a sense of our spirit, and begin thinking of ourselves as just a mind in a body, the more disconnected we will become in our personhood. Part of my spiritual journey has been God awakening me to how all of my parts are meant to work, and meant to work together.
Spiritual awakening is good, but not always pleasant. My spiritual awakening began in my twenties, but culminated with a breakdown when I was forty-two. Though I didn't understand it at the time, the reason my spiritual awakening culminated in a breakdown was because God was increasing and restoring my inner spiritual sensitivity. Becoming more sensitive doesn't feel good at first. But it is a necessary part of being restored in all the parts of our personhood. It's kind of like a baby being born. Jesus used this kind of metaphor when talking about the new life he came to give.
When Jesus met with Nicodemus in secret, he told Nicodemus that he would not see the kingdom of God unless he was born again. He went on further to explain what that kind of rebirth entailed, saying "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5 ESV).
Spiritual awakening is being reborn, in a way, because we are coming back to our true self in a more full way. But when the "self" you have known and lived out of has been less than your full self, then spiritual awakening can be awkward and disorienting.
My wife and I have raised four babies now, two biological and two foster. The first few months of a baby’s life are like recovering from the PTSD of getting born. Much of what we did to comfort them during that time could be described as recreating the environment of the womb experience. Rocking, swaddling, and holding them close to the chest so they could hear and feel our heartbeat all had to do with the previous stage of life they were in before being born. It’s no different for us when we wake up spiritually.
We can often, suddenly realize that we are more aware of a much bigger world than we were before. That can be scary, at first, simply because it's new and different. But like any new ability of sense, eventually we acclimate and adjust.
Spiritual awakening isn't like turning on a switch. It's a process, not a point. It comes through steps and stages, just like a baby growing up. First we learn to crawl, then walk, then to run, climb, and soar.
Spiritual awakening, in practical terms, is learning to become more sensitive in all the parts of our personhood; mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit. What are we becoming more sensitive to? The spiritual energy of God.
It's kind of like the Force in the Star Wars movies. Remember when Luke was learning from Obi-wan how to become more sensitive to the energy of the Force. Obi-wan said, "A Jedi can feel the force flowing through him," and instructed Luke to “Stretch out with your feelings." The energy of God in the universe connects all things to each other, and so allows for a connectedness in all things and to all things. When we are connected to God as we are meant to be, we will be more connected to our world as we are meant to.
Disconnection breeds destruction.
Connection brings healing and wholeness.
When I understand my place as a part of the universe, and when I am more sensitive to how I effect it, then I can feel the good and bad of what I do. That increased sensitivity will prevent me acting in detached ways that allow me to do harm. When we are all turned on in this way, the world will experience peace. The Jewish concept of peace, Shalom, was things as they ought to be. Things as they ought to be entails a greater sensitivity within myself to how I affect the world around me. If I cannot hurt you without it hurting me, I will no longer hurt you, because I will understand that we all have a shared experience through the shared connection of God. But this all comes through a long journey of reconnecting our whole self back to the wholeness of God.
The reason spiritual awakening entails increased sensitivity, is because the main dysfunction in our personhood is insensitivity. Our spirit is the most sensitive because it is the most connected to the world around us.
We are not a closed system.
We have become much more closed off because we have lost touch with the spirit part of our personhood. The journey back to a more full sense of self is the healing of our insensitivity. Usually, we have started down the path of numbing because we have encountered an insensitive world. So, the process of reversing that journey is God revealing the inner wounds that have led us on the path of numbing. I call that process Reveal and Heal.
I've had so many experiences of the "Reveal and Heal" process, especially in the first year after my breakdown. It doesn't usually feel good to have inner wounds revealed. It's like pulling the gauze off in order to address what's going on underneath. Jesus described the process as death, burial, and resurrection. Contemplation calls this the Dark Night of the Soul.
About a month after my breakdown, I was riding in the car with my brother. On the way he started venting about something that was bothering him. In the past I would have listened and empathized. But with my inner spiritual sensitivity increased, this experience went differently. As he talked, it felt like he was spewing a black cloud of coal dust from his mouth into the car. It was so oppressive in my heart and spirit. It felt like a pressure that kept building, until I couldn't take it anymore. Finally, I blurted out, "please stop talking." After that we both sat in silence the rest of the way. I think I was as surprised by my response as he was.
Though it may not make sense at first, to become more sensitive to negativity can have a positive effect over the long run. What we're not aware of, we won't address. The goal isn't just to become more sensitive to negativity, but to learn how to become strengthen in our ability to handle that sensitivity. That strength comes as we address the source of negativity in ourselves. The negativity we feel from the outside only feels oppressive when it finds a corollary connection inside us.
The energy of God in the world draws us back to what we need to work on in ourselves, which will birth an ever-expanding capacity to bear with the brokenness of others. Though it's true that hurting people hurt people, it's also true that healing people heal people.
A growing awareness through greater spiritual sensitivity will naturally reconnect us to ourselves and God in ever expanding ways. We learn how to die to our old insensitivity and get reborn into the bigger container of a more sensitive self. As we mature, we'll move along on the spectrum of transformation from selfishness to selflessness.
That's what spiritual awakening and spiritual growth is about.