Going around in circles?  Not quite.

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For the most part we are caught up in the repeating cycles of our ordinary lives. The French have a way of saying it: metro (subway), boulot (job), dodo (sleep). Repeating patterns can be daily or weekly or monthly or yearly. We may wish to escape the boredom that they bring, but they give us some security.

This is true of the spiritual life as well. We chafe at what appears to be endless repetition. Nothing seems to really happen once and for all. We may have had a conversion experience, or a wonderful retreat but then we wake up one day and realize that the struggles of our lives are still with us. We remain ourselves.

We keep on reentering into a pattern of retreat, graces received, the blurring of our renewed vision under the pressures of life, of the recurring of old issues, of the emergence of new ones, after which we feel the need for return to a time of retreat. Or else we experience the pattern of confession, forgiveness and liberation, followed by the continuation of our struggles with sin, confession again, and so on. And many simply give up.

We would like to move forward spiritually in a direct line. We may have begun our spiritual journey with a conversion to the living God, but we want to experience continued and unabated progress, which ends in unfailing closeness to God: in classical terms to go through purgation and illumination in order to achieve union, but also to be able to measure it.

But what we experience is going around circles. Nothing seems to change. We return to where we were before and begin again. We want the linear movement, but experience the circular one.

Let us remember that linear plus circular equals spiral. Imagine a helix-like coiled spring, and and a first circular movement at the bottom. Every time we follow the circular movement, we end up nestled just a bit higher, and we reenter the movement at that higher point. This is true of the unending circles of our spiritual life. There is also an almost imperceptible yet ultimately decisive upward movement  which leads us to our final destiny.

God cares for us, drawing us out of ourselves, gradually perfecting us through many ups and downs, and preparing us for our final encounter with Him. Our growth is slow. We cannot watch a plant grow, and likewise we cannot watch ourselves grow. If we could, we would be caught up in ourselves rather than in God.

In this world we are called to find our roots in faith rather than in our feeble efforts at vision. Still we can look back periodically, notice, and rejoice in the signs of our spiritual growth, slow and meandering as it is. We need to be reminded from time to time of our growth, otherwise we might succumb to discouragement.

Yet for the most part we live in unknowing. Our progress is God’s business and we let it happen. We do not control it but have faith in the God that controls it. That is enough for us.

Jean-Marc Laporte, SJ lives in Montreal where he is the socius to the novice director for the Canadian Jesuits.

  • Charles Pottie-Pâté
    Posted at 09:18h, 20 September Reply

    Merci Jean-Marc, great reflection with “spiral” image. Onward and upward at every level of our lives!

  • Pauline Mary Theresa Lally
    Posted at 10:27h, 20 September Reply

    Thanks. Your reflection makes a lot of sense and is most encouraging

  • Enid Robins
    Posted at 11:10h, 20 September Reply

    My favourite nursing theorist, Martha Rogers, also believed that we move through life in a spiral manner. She used the slinky as an analogy. I like that you have added a spiritual dimension.

  • Eric Jensen
    Posted at 11:49h, 20 September Reply

    Brilliant, Jean-Marc!

    It sounds a lot like purgatory!

  • Peter LeBlanc
    Posted at 11:55h, 20 September Reply

    What a marvelous metaphor, Jean Marc. How apt. I used your passage for reflection this morning at our prayer group for spiritual directors. All were nodding in recognition of a familiar experience. P.S. Your in inclusion of the French at the beginning recalled to mind the time you and your sister did the simultaneous translation for the interdenominational National Theological Students Conference during your days at Regis College in the 1960’s. Peter.

  • Caroline Maloney
    Posted at 14:45h, 20 September Reply

    This is a keeper! I will need to read this insightful reflection over and over again! Thank you!

  • Dee Sproule
    Posted at 22:23h, 21 September Reply

    So true!! Many thanks for your insight and metaphor – parfait!

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