group work

If congregations as corporate bodies are on spiritual journeys as well as the individuals who comprise them, what might be the applicability of the awakening/purgation/illumination/union paradigm to congregations as a whole, as an entity?

Great question. I think the awakening/purgation/illumination/union model can be used very fruitfully with congregations, especially when it comes to corporate discernment.

First, regarding Awakening: a great question for small group discernment is, “What is the vision that God has given us?” Very often, a congregation has a sense of how God has touched them uniquely.

Having discerned that, the group can move to Purgation: “Knowing what our vision is, how can we live in alignment with it? What do we need to let go of? How do we need to do things differently?”

That discernment process complete, a congregation can move on to Illumination: “In what way is God present in what we are doing? In what way are we present in what God is doing?”

Finally, the group can move on to the powerfully incarnational Union: “How does God want us to reach out and touch/heal/care for/minister to the world around us?”

The process won’t necessarily move individuals into great intimacy with God, but the group discernment will certainly invite them into deeper intimacy and commitment, and can serve as a very helpful model for corporate visioning and exploration.

Paradox

In your book you lay the Christian mystical journey out as a progression, but then you turn around and suggest that it’s cyclic. It can’t be both—which is it?

Religion, meet paradox. Paradox, this is religion. I’ll just go get some coffee and let the two of you get acquainted, shall I?

This is confusing, and it’s one of those things that you have to feel your way into, rather than try to understand it logically. The mystics speak of the process in a linear fashion, but the experience of more contemporary mystics (influenced, no doubt, by psychotherapy) are that all these processes are happening at the same time, or in a back and forth motion (as in “two steps forward, one step back”), or cyclically. It’s like that particle vs. wave thing again, it kind of depends on the context you want to hold it in, and what you are looking for.