The late psychiatrist and author reflects on the nature of spiritual breakthrough
GOING IT ALONE. "Conversion means 'turning with.' Turning with what? With God. When we are converted, we turn and begin walking with God. But what about before conversion? With whom were we walking then? The answer is, no one. We were walking alone. We were walking alone because we preferred it that way."
WANTING TO BE IN CHARGE. "Those of us who have been converted know now that God was walking with us all the time. Only we didn't know it then. Because we were not ready to acknowledge His presence with us. Because we still thought we could go it alone. We wanted to go it alone. We wanted to be in charge, and because we wanted to be in charge so much, we actually believed we were. And because we believed we were in charge we could not see God--except sometimes perhaps at very great distance and never close enough to actually experience Him as real."
THE LIMITS OF SELF-DETERMINATION. "It is good that we should take responsibility for ourselves and have what psychiatrists call a 'sense of autonomy.' It is, in fact, an essential foundation for spiritual growth. But there is a subtle yet crucial point beyond which a sense of self-determination not only becomes prideful and begins to interfere with further spiritual growth but also denies reality."
A SORT OF EGO DEATH IS REQUIRED. "The essential turning point of the conversion process, then, is the new understanding that the individual human ego--important though it its--is not King. The King is the Lord God. But the ego is not easily dethroned. A very real sort of ego death is required. In order that this death may occur, the individual must first in some way be broken..."
DROWNING IN BAPTISM. "This breaking--this ego death symbolized by the drowning of baptism--the death of which Christ spoke when he said, 'Whosover shall lose his life shall save it"--occurs in many different ways. For myself it was mercifully slow, taking place in gentle stages over a dozen years. For others it may come through weeks or months of illness or other agonizing suffering. For still others it may come almost like a searing flash or pure blazing pain. If it comes at all. Many will never be broken--at least not until death..."
WHY NOT GET ON WITH IT? "A wise priest said to me when I was dragging my feet over becoming baptized: 'We all have to die sooner or later; why not get on with it?'"