Cardinal John Henry Newman once said, “In a higher realm it may be otherwise but here below to live is to change; and to be perfect is to change often.” From the moment we burst into this existence we scream out with divine spiritual energy planted inside us and embark upon a world of physical matter. It is a life of constant change with a nature toward growth and spirit. For the first twenty years or so, we are aware of growing physically. We witness it in class pictures, clothes of bigger sizes, and marks in our house that measure children’s height.
Though it is our essence to grow, and we appreciate it from infancy, childhood, youth, and young adulthood, we eventually cease to grow physically and notice other changes. In our teens and young adulthood, we enter a different kind of growth period. We mature in independence, finances, identity, prestige, and other ways that make us successful in our corporeal reality. We grow our resume, our accomplishments, and our ego. Along the way, we also consider commitment, loyalty, devotion, and how we want to increase emotionally, empathically, spiritually, and in matters beyond the physical and material. Eventually, we realize, as the ole adage contends, change is inevitable while growth is optional. We have no choice about change—it will happen with or without our push or pull. But the growth is up to us, and it can be a bit frightening.
As the author, Marilyn Ferguson, wrote, “It’s not that we’re so afraid of change, we might even value its importance for us, but that in-between time can be frightening. It’s like a trapeze artist between trapezes or Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. We have nothing to hold onto.” Yet we know that something else lies ahead and it may be good, so we’re willing to be temporarily suspended amidst the unknown. We may even realize, during that time, that we’ve got to commit ourselves to something in life—so it might as well be something honorable, selfless, and other-centered. Though fewer young people are committing themselves in marriage, or remaining loyal to a particular company or career, or pledging themselves to a religion or philosophy of life, they want to make that pivotal decision that unifies change and growth and directs them to what is more important than the physical and material parts of our existence.
Spiritualists Richard Rohr, Ronald Rolheiser, David Brooks, Mo Gawdat, and others write about the pivotal times in which we decide to grow spiritually, even when (and sometimes because) we have achieved everything we sought materially. This shift can happen anytime in adulthood, usually around mid-life. The adult shift moves us from a career to a vocation, from being ego-driven to being soul-driven, from individualism to solidarity and interdependence, from a desire for self-betterment to using our gifts for the betterment of society, from accumulating things (even our personal identity) to sharing them and embracing our identity in Christ, from pursuing happiness to seizing joy. Instead of focusing on resume virtues, we are motivated by eulogy virtues like kindness, wisdom, and goodness. Instead of thinking primarily about our own reputation and what the world wants us to want, we think about our contribution and what God wants for us. Rather than trying to conquer the world we begin to surrender to something greater than the world as we know it with its physical limitations. As the Gospel proclaims, we begin to realize that God is in us and we are part of God or, as Chief Seattle stated, “One day the white man will know what the red man has always known: our God is one.”
Sometimes it does, indeed, seem like we are free-falling in between trapezes. But that is part of understanding our spiritual nature of falling upward or falling into divine gravity and welcoming change with outstretched arms while trusting that God is reaching back for us. In a higher realm it may be otherwise but here change is inevitable while growth is optional.