Richard Rohr’s Levels of Spiritual Development – Part 1

This morning at St. Paul’s Episcopal, here in Waco, I’ll be facilitating our second conversation on what it looks like to bring faith into every crevice of our lives. What does it mean to be a “Christian Businessperson, “Christian Teacher,” “Christian Parent,” or “Christian Grocery Shopper?” Most of us acknowledge that there is much about Christian faith that is “subversive” to he culture, and yet most of us participate in the culture, usually, without thinking twice about it.

I’ve asked the members of the class to be reading to classics of Christian Spirituality: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence and In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. Each of these books raises the question “What would Jesus do?”

This morning at St. Paul’s I’ll begin to raise questions about what we mean by “spiritual formation,” which is the fancy term we now use rather than the older term “discipleship.” Anyone raised in a religious setting is familiar with the concept of “spiritual growth.” This concept is all over scripture, especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (1st Corinthians 13:11).

There have been many, many attempts to describe, in more detail, what this process of growth looks like. Rohr does an excellent job of integrating many of these attempts into the following “levels.” He presents this material in his book The Naked Now. I’ve relied very heavily on the summary is from this site in presenting this material.

I’ll open the conversation this morning with my elaboration on Ken Wilber’s metaphor of the warehouse, and then get into Rohr’s material.

Here’s the basic list of the stages:

  1. Level One: My self-image and my body is “who I am”.
  2. Level Two: My external behavior is “who I am.”
  3. Level Three: My Thoughts / Feelings are who I am.
  4. Level Four: My deeper intuitions and felt knowledge in my body is who I am.
  5. Level Five: My shadow self is who I am (The dark night).
  6. Level Six: Who I am Is Empty and Powerless (God’s Waiting Room).
  7. Level Seven: I am much more than I thought I was.
  8. Level Eight: I and the Father are one.
  9. Level Nine: I am who I am, just me.

And here’s a bit more on the first two levels…

Level One: My self-image and my body is “who I am”.

Level one spirituality is the natural state of a new born. Security is of the highest importance, and a new born is truly at the mercy of adults for getting all needs met. This is a time of natural “narcissism.”  However, some adults continue to live in this stage. If I am living here, I am consumed with safety and security first, and then with simply getting what I want. The narcissism that is natural to a young child continues into adulthood. Such a person, for example, will vote for the candidate which promises to provide security and “stuff.” Thinking on this level is usually dialectical: either/or, black/white, right/wrong. This person is controlled by fear and anger. “Grace” is an unknown force. The concept of faith is “believing in things that are impossible to believe”.

Level Two: My external behavior is “who I am.”

In this stage a person needs to look good “outside” and to hide or disguise unfavorable traits from others. This is the natural stage of later childhood and early adolescence. Adults who are stuck here are preoccupied with accumulating the symbols of status (car, home, clothing), while hiding flaws. One becomes so good at hiding flaws that soon their negative qualities are hidden even from themselves. This leads to the emergence of the “shadow self” that is hidden inside the person (psychological denial). Carl Jung observed that we can be so good at hiding our flaws from others that we hide them even from ourselves. Many people living in this stage, and who are active in religion, find it important to “follow the rules.”  Anyone who does not is considered “wrong” or “sinful”. The Scribes and the Pharisees exemplify this level showing judgmental attitudes of hate and a lack of love. The Scriptures, the aim of which is to foster conversion and growth to this level of person, instead are used as ammunition to convert others. Getting stuck at this level is very common among conservatives.

Growth to the next level involves a “letting go” of current values, being able to live with confusing darkness until the Spirit opens the door to new life.

More next week….


About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
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