In almost 18 years of my childhood religion, I never hear the phrase Spiritual Awakening. I suppose that’s because my church believed I had been born into the true faith, so I didn’t need to be awakened. That’s unfortunate … although some seem to be comfortable believing what they were taught for life, some of us crave a Spiritual Awakening of our own. I suppose it’s the nature of many religions that they’d rather risk no Spiritual Awakening than one that leads to something else.
I first heard the phrase when, after 30 years of searching in vain for something to cling to, events in my life led me to begin working the 12 Steps. At the bottom of the page … Step 12 …were the words, Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs. I hadn’t a clue what a Spiritual Awakening looked like but I was desperate, so I did as my sponsor suggested and began with Step 1. If I Google Spiritual Awakening, I find definitions (a realization or opening to a sacred dimension of reality) and descriptions from every spiritual and religious perspective, including this one offering 51 symptoms of a Spiritual Awakening. I suppose that people who find Jesus or are Born Again see that as a spiritual awakening. In my entire life, I’ve never had a spiritual this-is-it moment, so I don’t know what that would feel like. In the Big Book of AA, Bill W., one of the founders, stated that his Spiritual Awakening was a blinding light alongside an ecstatic sense of freedom and peace that he experienced while in rehab. I’ve had the impression that Bill W. was a grandiose man so maybe that’s why he had a grandiose Spiritual Awakening. In 19 years of meetings, I’ve probably heard people share on Spiritual Awakening hundreds of times. I came to the conclusion that most people have enough trouble describing their own awakenings … they’re unlikely to tell me what mine would be like. I just hoped I’d know it when I saw it.
I’ve always been protective … in fact, defensive … of my faith. It seemed fragile, tempered as it was by doubts and as vague as my beliefs were in comparison to those of others. When people talked to me about their own beliefs, I heard criticism whether they intended it or not. As so often happens, the next spiritual step required a spiritual crisis. The details are personal but the essence is that several friends did question my faith and told me I needed more. For weeks I was angry. I didn’t share at meetings. Then, almost without noticing, I found myself at peace. I still can’t articulate exactly what I believe beyond this: I believe in a God that guides our lives in mysterious ways. But I believe it with no doubts and I’m no longer defensive. There was no blinding light, burning bush or sudden revelation. It was an awakening like opening my eyes on a sunny Sunday morning when there’s nothing that has to be done. The sky is blue in our bedroom window and all is well. More may be revealed for me spiritually but whether or not that happens, It’s good.
Zen masters say that enlightenment requires Great Doubt, Great Effort, Great Faith. I would add Great Patience.