On Transformation

Spirituality can easily be misused and abused. A strong temptation can exist to “spiritualize” away real pain and suffering. I have been that person who is more comfortable spouting spiritual cliches than really listening to another share a personal story of pain and struggle. Emotional dissociation masquerades as transcendence, and intellectualization as spiritual wisdom. Unfortunately it is possible to engage in apparently spiritual practices to avoid facing unhealed hurts and necessary struggles. Instead of increasing our capacity for turning towards life, dysfunctional spirituality turns us away—from our world, from our bodies, from our problems, from here and now. We escape, avoid, deny, and pretend, all in the name of God. This is without a doubt one of the worst forms of spirituality.

The story of Jesus challenges all forms of spiritual bypassing. For even the resurrected Christ displays the signs of his suffering. Though dramatically transfigured, his body remains marked with his wounds. His transformation has a history.

Spiritual bypassing can be so seductive because we often want to be resurrected and transformed without having to experience significant suffering or loss. We want peace without pain, joy without sorrow, life without death, heaven without earth. We want an easy way to change and growth—not the way of the cross. We may believe once we’ve truly “arrived” our life will be pain-free. Yet Christ reveals that the pathway to deep transformation is found in radically accepting all of life, including suffering, struggles, and loss. It is by descending that he ascends. And by embracing even death itself, he becomes fully alive.

Most of the time I am terrified of accepting pain and loss. Doing so disturbs me to my core. But spirituality, at its best, knows true healing and growth are found in moving through pain, not around it. The central image of change in Christian spirituality, celebrated every Easter, is death and resurrection—in that order. Here we behold the mystery of Christ.