Spiritual Growth: A Lifetime Journey for Us All
Commentary by Pete Haug
Evaluation criteria included “spiritual activities, attitudes and perspectives,” based on regular personal prayer multiple times a day; daily interactions with the Bible (distinguishing between reading and studying); weekly attendance at Bible study or prayer group; weekly attendance (in-person or online) at worship; and weekly group study of the Bible.
The research ranked three levels of “evangelical maturity”: success, stagnation, and delusion. Results reflected “a mixed bag.” The article also observed, “spiritual growth is measured by much more than activities.”
My Spiritual Beginnings
Activities were what got me into trouble as a child. My spiritual odyssey began when I started Sunday school about age eight. By 10 I’d already accumulated a record of mischief that included being thrown out of multiple public-school and Sunday-school classes. Then a Sunday-school classmate asked me whether I’d been baptized. When I went home, I found out I hadn’t. That worried me. I figured if I was suddenly hit by a truck, I’d go to hell. I had learned something in Sunday school! So I asked my parents to have me baptized. It was kind of like taking out a spiritual insurance policy.
As I grew, I started attending church, where I was confirmed at age 15. By 17, I found myself questioning my beliefs. During the congregational affirmation, I stopped abruptly after saying, “I believe…” I didn’t believe, and I was honest enough to admit it. “If God exists,” I thought, “He knows what’s in my heart. Reciting this, I’m lying to myself, to those around me, and possibly to God.” Thus began my 12 years of agnosticism.
Now I realize I did believe in God but not in theology, as an Episcopal bishop explained. After listening patiently to my many questions, he concluded, “You believe in God as much as I do, but I leave you at the church door.”
I continued attending church because I loved singing hymns and other liturgical music. I may be the last person living to have sung Mozart’s Requiem to commemorate bicentenaries of his birth and death (1756-1791). Both were profoundly spiritual experiences for me.
So, What Is “Spirituality”?
I have no definitive answers, but I’d like to explore some possibilities. I think our individual spiritual journeys start when we question who we are and why we’re here. Such self-awareness begins a fundamental search for the essence of our being, a search for what distinguishes humans from other forms of life.
Many scriptures provide partial answers. Early creation stories describe relationships between humankind and its Creator. God guides us spiritually to a better life, now and hereafter. God is unknowable, yet we’re called to follow Him as “a matter of faith,” or some say “blindly.”
How does one birth and nurture personal faith? As an agnostic, I wanted nothing to do with religion. Yet I believed in the teachings of Christ, the importance of loving and serving humankind whenever possible. Such idealism was unwarranted in what I saw as a crumbling civilization. (And the 1960s weren’t nearly as bad as things seem now!)
Then I discovered this explanation: God has sent spiritual teachers, “Manifestations of God,” to humankind since before recorded history. Each Manifestation expanded on earlier teachings, reiterating some, and offering new guidance commensurate with human capacity to understand and implement the new revelation. As Baha’u’llah explains:
God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery…“No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision; He is the Subtile, the All-Perceiving.”
Although Baha’u’llah wrote thousands of documents, the essence of his teachings is captured in “The Hidden Words,” a small book of aphorisms much like the Biblical “Psalms” and “Proverbs.” The Hidden Words begins:
“This is that which hath descended from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old. We have taken the inner essence thereof and clothed it in the garment of brevity, as a token of grace unto the righteous, that they may stand faithful unto the Covenant of God, may fulfill in their lives His trust, and in the realm of spirit obtain the gem of divine virtue.“
The opening lines offer the reader a path toward a lifetime of spiritual growth and maturity: “O SON OF SPIRIT! My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.“
Following this guidance, I haven’t gotten thrown out of class for decades!
Pete plunged into journalism fresh out of college, putting his English literature degree to use for five years. He started in industrial and academic public relations, edited a rural weekly and reported for a metropolitan daily, abandoning all for graduate school. He finished with an M.S. in wildlife biology and a Ph.D. in systems ecology. After teaching college briefly, he analyzed environmental impacts for federal, state, Native American and private agencies over a couple of decades. His last hurrah was an 11-year gig teaching English in China. After retiring in 2007, he began learning about climate change and fake news, giving talks about both. He started writing columns for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and continues to do so. He first published for SpokaneFaVS.com in 2020. Pete’s columns alternate weekly between FāVS and the Daily News. His live-in editor, Jolie, infinitely patient wife for 61 years, scrutinizes all columns with her watchful draconian eye. Both have been Baha’is since the 1960s. Pete’s columns on the Baha’i Faith represent his own understanding and not any official position.