Richard Rohr’s Levels of Spiritual Development – Part 4

I’ve been blogging the last few weeks about the Rohr’s stages of spiritual formation as a part of the Sunday School class I’m teaching at St. Paul’s Episcopal here in Waco, America. I’ve summarized Rohr’s first five stages previously, and I’m finding it harder and harder to comment thoughtfully on the later stages. I know that part of this struggle has to do with my lack of experience with the later stages (I’m just not all that spiritually mature!), but I also believe this has something to do with failure of intellect to grasp these stages as well.

Here’s a summary of the last three stages, which I’ll follow with a few reflections.

Level Six: Who I am Is Empty and Powerless (God’s Waiting Room).

This is a stage of profound emptiness. A danger here is that a person will regress back to a place of simplistic, perhaps superstitious, religious practice. All a person can do is wait and ask and trust. Here is where the deepest expressions of faith are taught, and a person is asked to trust that darkness can be a good teacher. Here is where we truly start turning loose. Defeat is a better teacher than accomplishment. Darkness is greater than light. You begin to sense that the divine presence may be in you and in others. God is about to become real.

Level Seven: I am much more than I thought I was.

This stage represents the death of the false self, and birth of the True Self (I, that is Wes, prefer Burleson’s designations of small self and Authentic Self). I am who I am. At first, because you are not at home yet, this level will feel like a void. Even if a wonderful void. there is a sense of “I have never been here before.” Gentleness and Compassion become a part of your demeanor. You have been patterned to see and act oppositionally, now you drop dualistic thinking. You move towards “both/and” rather than “right/wrong”. John of the Cross would call this the “luminous darkness”

Until you get to levels 5, 6 and 7, the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t make much sense.

Level Eight: I and the Father are one.

This stage is captured by St. Teresa’s declaration, “One knows God in oneself, and knows oneself in God.” All else is a passing ego possession, and I do not need to protect it, promote it or prove it, to anyone. This is a place of true freedom. The fig leaves from the Garden have finally been totally discarded because one has nothing to hide. A person who is living in this space is no longer governed by guilt and shame.

Level Nine: I am who I am, just me.

The stage seems to be a fuller living out of level eight. There is no need to appear to be anything but who I really am. Fully detached from self-image, living in God’s image of you–which includes and loves both the good and the bad. The serenity found in the saints. Totally non-duality. This person fully realizes the religion is a container that we humans need in order to approach the Mystery. The Mystery can never be contained by any religious container, but religion is valued as an avenue to open ourselves up to a very graceful and loving Mystery.

One thing I’ve realized as I’ve worked through Rohr’s stages intellectually is that, for me, things get really fuzzy with levels 4, 5, 6, and even 7, all of which reflect great unrest and darkness. It seems to me that Rohr offers 4 stages to lay out what James Fowler describes in one stage (Fowler’s stage 5).  What I think I’m seeing from my current vantage point, that of a privileged white male who is 58 years old, is that I’ve certainly sat in the pain of these dark stages, and grown from it. Still, I can see how I’ve routinely retreated back to the pseudo-enlightenment of stage 3 as a way of soothing my anxiety and regaining the illusion of solid ground. I’ve believe my Authentic Self has solidified to a place where I can parent my small self effectively, yet I can’t say I’ve really tasted the sort of freedom that Rohr tells us is available.

I guess I’m saying that it sometimes seems ridiculous that I’m trying to teach this stuff!



About Wes Eades

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