Sooner or later, if you are on any classic “spiritual schedule,” some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong will power. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point you will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isiah calls it; or to state it in our language here, you will and you must “lose” something. This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey. I wish I could say this was not true, but it is darn near absolute in the spiritual literature of the world.
There is no practical or compelling reason to leave one’s present comfort zone in life. Why should you or would you? Frankly, none of us do unless and until we have to. The invitation probably has to be unexpected and unsought. If we seek spiritual heroism ourselves, the old ego is just back in control under a new name. There would not really be any change at all, but only disguise. Just bogus “self-improvement” on our own terms.
Any attempt to engineer or plan your own enlightenment is doomed to failure because it will be ego driven. You will see only what you have already decided to look for, and you cannot see what you are not ready or told to look for. So failure and humiliation force you to look where you never would otherwise. What an enigma! Self-help courses of any type, including this one if it is one, will help you only if they teach you to pay attention to life itself. “God comes to you disguised as your life,” as my friend Paula D’Arcy so wisely says.
So we must stumble and fall. I am sorry to say. And that does not mean reading about falling, as you are doing here. We must actually be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern. This kind of falling is what I mean by necessary suffering, which I will try to describe in the next chapter. It is well dramatized by Paul’s fall on the Damascus Road, where he hears the voice “Why are you hurting yourself by kicking against the goad?” (Acts 26:14). The goad or cattle prod is the symbol of both the encouragement forward and our needless resistance to it, which only wounds us further.
It seems that in the spiritual world, we do not really find something until we first lose it, ignore it, miss it, long for it, choose it, and personally find it again – but now on a new level. Three of the parables of Jesus are about losing something, searching for it anew with some effort, finding it, and in each case throwing a big party afterwards. A sheep, a coin, a son are all lost and found in Luke 15, followed by the kind of inner celebration that comes with any new “realization” (when something has become real for you). Almost every one of Odysseus’s encounters coming home from Troy are losses of some type – his men, his control, his power, his time, his memory, his fame, the boat itself. Falling, losing, failing, transgression, and sin are the pattern, I am sorry to report. Yet they all lead toward home.
From “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” by Richard Rohr