Review of My Spiritual Life
I believe that if my life were to be divided into chapters of a book, the chapters would have to be divided along two main periods. These periods are the time before feel I gained an understanding of how the world works, and the time I had this realization. In the first period, which I will call Childhood, I was mostly doing my parents’ and other adults’ bidding while the second period, which I will call Adulthood; I have been largely acting on my own counsel. The second period can be said to be the one that best describes who I am as a person since I have been responsible for most of my actions
The first part is mostly self-directed and does not have much to contribute to my present lifestyle although some of its elements are still relevant in the present. It is often argued that the events we go through as children will reflect on our adulthood although the amount of influence this has is debatable. My adulthood would have many chapters although the most relevant ones would be before I became aware of other peoples’ need for help especially the weak and after the realization that I could do something to help. This realization could be termed one of the main turning points in the direction my life took. Earlier, I had been doing things mostly in a self-serving way seeking to get most of what I had.
However, since I realized that I could help others who were in need and grow at the same time, I began to take a new path in which I learnt a lot from both those I was helping as well as colleagues with whom I was working with. In Becoming Human by Jean Vanier (2008), he suggests that people could change society by being open to the weak and those that are perceived as useless. This is because the weak would ultimately humanize the society by helping others to see the frailty of human life and the need for compassion and care in the community. Therefore, that the weak are essential for the wellbeing of society given the fact that modern societies are increasingly becoming impersonal and uncaring. Emphasis on efficiency, productivity, and some set images on how an individual ought to look and live in the media has not helped in creating a more caring world. As such, I believe that I need to become more than is needed of me by society by reaching out to the weak and creating a world that is both caring and harmonious.
The main chapters in the book that is my life would be best started with my childhood, which was significantly troubled. My parents were often fighting and by my fifth grade, their relationship was so bad that they had to separate. My situation was not helped by the fact that I was the only child and had to attend school where every other child had two parents. I was often sidelined by other children at school due to my background thereby making my time at school difficult. While this was a complicated situation for me, my father remarried while my mother remained unmarried due to her religious beliefs. In addition, we started living with my grandparents and the quality of our livelihood decreased significantly. Under these changes in my life, I was often depressed and lonely because of thinking about my divided family. I had been studying at a public high school but I soon moved to a private catholic school under these circumstances. This was quite a transition given that my previous school, being a public school, was more liberal and I had to get acquainted with the stricter catholic school. There were religious inclinations that were mandatory for every pupil unlike the previous school.
An important turning point in my life came with the fall of communism in 1989. With it, came the freedom to travel, and live and work in a foreign country. I got my break in the form of an opportunity to work for three years at L’Arche Canada as a live-in assistant. L’Arche is a society that is based on faith and it helps people who have developmental disabilities that may be physical or mental. People with disabilities usually exhibit a lack of interest in contests and in accomplishing great things and rather focus on building relationships and achieving companionship with others. Society has been growing detached and compassion is decreasing, therefore, there is need for disabled people since they help humanize communities by contributing their compassion and companionship. At this point the various traits that had been imprinted in me during my time in the catholic high school came in handy. They facilitated me in encouraging the disabled individuals and answering some of their tough life questions. Moreover, it was reassuring to most of them as I explained through the foundation of faith acquired in the catholic high school, about God having a purpose of each of His creation.
At L’Arche, I learnt how to care for people with disabilities, sharing a home with them as I worked. The duties assigned to me included catering for them, cleaning, organizing tours during the day and retreats, prayer participation, taking part in games and congregations, and taking part in communal activities. Some of the people there were so disabled that they had to be assisted to bathe and cloth themselves. My experience in working with disabled people was eye opening in a way since from then onwards I became aware of the need for help by others. I became aware that I could fulfill this need and hence positively affect the lives of others as they did mine’s. The time at L’Arche was therefore one of personal growth and realization.
This was especially enhanced by the fact that there were people from all over the world at L’Arche. This brought on the realization that we were all human beings with the same needs, aspirations, and drives and that people who were from radically differing backgrounds could work together to help others and themselves as well. I was also able travel in Canada and thus I was able to see and experience another culture firsthand. I was also able to polish my English speaking skills since I was among native English speakers. During my childhood, when my father and mother separated, we had lived with my grandfather who was ailing at the time. My mother had compassionately taken care of him and I had aspired to be like her and help people who could not take care of themselves. Therefore, the move to L’Arche was the fulfillment of one of my childhood aspirations.
However, though the job at L’Arche was personally rewarding, I could not help but feel that I was very far from home and I was sometimes homesick. I was far from my family and this made conditions a bit harder but I was, for the most part, satisfied with the work I was doing. Therefore, when I got the opportunity to go work in the UK, I took it gladly since I would move closer to home and hence I would not get as homesick as I had been earlier. In the UK, I met a different culture and people although they spoke English as in Canada. The work here was also slightly different but the overall sense of satisfaction was prevalent particularly when people said “thank you” for the services I had rendered to them.
During this time, I was never very interested in making a lot of money, as are some people today. Instead, I was driven by a sense of purpose towards helping other people live comfortably and fruitfully. Therefore, helping other people and getting the satisfaction that came from it motivated me towards further pursuing the cause of making other’s lives better. However, during the communist era, I had been preoccupied by the question whether the country would ever become better economically. This may have led to the search for a country to immigrate to immediately after communism fell since I wanted a place where I would be independent socially and financially. My ideas about God at the time were not refined by study but I took on the same view I had as a child. I had been raised a Byzantine Catholic and my faith has remained virtually unchanged since childhood. I have always found companions who had the same type of faith and moving in their circles may have contributed to my unchanging view on God.
I believe that the question “…does not a child give life to its mother, just as the mother gives life to the child?” asked by Jean Vanier would best describe my life now (Vanier, 1988). This question reveals a lot about the need for love in society. Though the mother may seem as the independent individual who gives selflessly to her child, this is not so since she stands to benefit from the love and companionship that the baby gives to her. Therefore, people in society need the people who are seen useless but who are in fact more useful than they would appear. I have been trying to help people who in turn have given me much in return since they have shown me compassion and companionship. My work in L’Arche was the beginning of a need that grew and one that I have been striving to fulfill in helping others.
Though the need to help others was especially wakened by people who did not have much but who endured their situations and lived without complaining. This brought me to the realization that without appreciating what one has, then life would be empty of joy. Most people have a lot in their lives although they do not see this and are only open to the problems. Therefore, people who have less bring to us not just the gift of appreciating life, but also the chance to share it with others who are less gifted. This realization at L’Arche, and the need to put it to work has evolved into my mission in life ever since.
Kegan (1980, p. 417), states that cultures have differences that possess non-comparable dignity and stature. He adds that the there should be none which should be said to better than the other since they all have good attributes as well as bad ones. This is also applicable to people since they are like nations or societies of people, only smaller. One ought not to discriminate people on account of either less gifted or being incapacitated in any way. This is because every individual is unique and has something to offer and as such, should be treated and handled with respect. The ability to do this would mean that we would have a harmonious world where differences are respected and tolerated thereby eliminating strife.
Fowler state that an individual develops faith through several stages such as intuitive projective faith, mythic literal faith, synthetic conventional, individualtive-reflective, and conjuctive faith (Fowler, 1987). I believe that I went through such stages in becoming who I am in the growth of my faith. I do not have the same view of God as I did as a child since God has become much more meaningful. I believe I am in the fifth stage of faith development according to Fowler which is the conjuctive faith step. In this step, the individual realizes that truth is a difficult subject to comprehend and arrive at than had been previously realized. Additionally, he/she becomes more open to interpretation of phenomena other than the previously rigid methodologies used to arrive at a conclusion. As such, the individual is able to be open to other’s truths and traditions in the realization that truth may have many forms before different people and cultures.
I have become more open to the others views although they do not necessarily change the way I see the world. I have embraced the fact that there are phenomena we cannot understand and as such have to live and accept. Therefore, it is my belief that rational ideas that present some sense of the truth have to be accepted until more information about the phenomena emerges. The implications and meaning of believing in God have also become clearer against other possibilities and theories and propositions advanced by other people. Kegan (1980, p.408) suggests that we are more dynamic than our development stages and thus we can develop in many different directions other than the set ones.
Therefore, one can grow in faith different ways and hence every individual may have their own view of God. The same god may manifest himself to different people in different ways though radically different views may not point to the same god. As a Christian, I strive to be Christ like and one of his main themes was love. Love demands accepting others for who they are and therefore trying to tolerate ideas that differ from ours should be the first step in earning their respect and possible love. Through these means, Christians will be better able to expound on their views and possibly convert the others or win them over to the Christian view. This same view is applicable to people with disability and those without means and it I only through love and understanding that communities will achieve a sense of togetherness.
Vanier (1988), states that the communities need all people, especially the weak, in becoming human and compassionate. Therefore, such a realization may be termed as spiritual growth. I became aware of this while working at L’Arche and hence I would call it one of my moments or periods of spiritual growth. This realization, coupled with a better understanding of God have made me a more caring person of the community as each of us should in the imitation of Christ who was sent to show as the way to God’s grace.
Fowler, J. (1987). Faith Development and Pastoral Care. Philadelphia: Fortress Press
Kegan, R. (1980). Towards Moral and Religious Maturity: The first International Conference on Moral and Religious Development. Needham Heights: Silver Burdett
Vanier, J. (1988). The Broken Body: Journey to Wholeness. Toronto: Anglican Book Center