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Undertaking a Program of Spiritual Growth by Dr. Meredith J. Sprunger


When we seriously contemplate the meaning of our existence the most basic question we asks ourselves is: "Who am I?"; "Where am I going?"; and: "Why?" We cannot be effective and achieve satisfaction in living unless we know who we are; this knowledge brings meaning and direction to our life. It has taken us many centuries to learn that we were created over a long evolutionary process. And it has taken some of us a little time to realize that this amazing creative action, rather than limiting God’s role in our origin, actually increases, enhances, and glorifies Divine involvement in creation. It articulates and expands our conceptual appreciation of God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence in the universe.

In understanding ourselves, we first must recognize that we are continuous with the rest of creation. We are a part of the animal kingdom and differ from our animal cousins mostly in degree. Emergent evolution through its mutational potentials, however, does often produce unique qualities. In man, his large and complex brain give him the capacity for truth, beauty, and goodness perception, self-consciousness, and rationality potentials. He also possesses a number of anatomical characteristics, such as upright posture and the opposed thumb, which give him advantages for certain types of behavior.

Man’s superior mental abilities give him both worship and wisdom potentials. Because of these unique mental capacities, he is able to receive spirit guidance, and is endowed with various forms of spiritual ministry. Traditionally, this guidance is viewed in various ways. The Quakers speak of the fragment, or spark of the Father indwelling the human mind, as in the "Inner Light". The Apostle John refers to the Son’s influence as the Spirit fo Truth; and Christians generally talk of the "Spirit’s guidance", as the "Holy Spirit. The names and sources given to this spirit ministry make little difference, practically, since man’s experience of spirit ministry is unified. One.

We human beings, then, are animals with worship and wisdom potentials; and, at the same time, we are indwelt by the Spirit of God. From our biological-animal heritage, we are influenced by subconscious mental activities; through our spiritual endowment, we are lured by superconscious mind-qualities. The wide disparity of these two sources of unconscious psychic influence could cause serious problems, except for the amazing integrative capacity of personality, working through the rational and value perception capacities of the conscious mind. When we are born, we are almost completely dominated by our illogical animal heritage; but we are born, also, with the potentials for transcending this animal origin.

Where Are We Going?

It is necessary to have a knowledge, not only of our origin and nature, but also, of our destiny, if we are to understand and creatively relate to our problems and opportunities, as human beings. The Divine challenge to man is: "Be you perfect, even as I am perfect." Deep in man there is growth motivation toward spiritual reality – truth, beauty, and goodness. We are beings who are always I the process of "becoming". We start as animals, with a spirit endowment, who’s intended destiny it is, to recognize, and ever more realize, that we are mortal sons and daughters of God. Like the water lily…we have our roots I the much of animal origin; but as we grow and blossom, our faces transcend the murky depths of the human sea and are turned toward, and bathed in the sun of spiritual reality.

The physical mechanism of our birth is the scaffolding by which we evolve an immortal soul. The chemical-electrical activities of our unique brain enables our endowment of mind to perceive and choose universe realities which are supermaterial and eternal. Through the guidance of the indwelling Spirit of God and our decisions we fashion an immortal soul.

The central purpose, then, of our human existence is to participate in the shaping of a personality-character and nonmaterial soul which transcends our animal origins. It is the bringing into being of a New Person which is no longer dependent on the physiological mechanism utilized in its development. When the body dies, we are prepared t receive a new body, a higher energy mechanism, to continue our education and development I the universe.

How It All Gets Started

After viewing our origins and visualizing our destiny, let us look at how the task of character formation and soul growth begins. We have a long infancy and childhood because of the extensive foundation work required to provide an adequate base for acquiring superanimal potentials for living.

The first aspect of this substructure of human aptitude is contributed by maturation and development. It is governed by internal controls which cannot be altered very much by external stimulation. Very early, we learn there are no reliable short cuts in evolutionary development. This basic principle is inherent in all human life and society; and we are confronted by this pervasive truth many times. The evolutionary law of readiness underlies all of human development In the process of growth emergent capacities are co-ordinated with mechanisms of control but the control function is always a little behind capacity expression. This characteristic of maturation and development presents constant problems and affords the opportunity for much learning in the conscious co-ordination and integration of behavior.

The second foundation factor contributing to the potentials of human behavior is learning. The content and lessons of experience are the most immediate and important sources of knowledge and wisdom available to man. Much of our learning is unconscious. Through association conditioning and goal-directed conditioning much of our life is shaped without our being aware of it. The most significant learning, however, is a cognitive process. This type of learning is dominated by truth insight and the rational evaluation of alternatives in decision-making and action. The learning process enables us to acquire two basic mental resources: intellgence and creativity. Intelligence tends to be oriented toward facts, quantitative and analytical relationships, and logical thinking. Creativity is more related to insight, value, and holistic relationships, and integral thinking. A balance of both approaches to experience is required to acquire wisdom.

The slow and imperceptible work of maturation and learning give us the tools we need to build the character and value structures of our lives which we unconsciously recognize as the most important determinates of the future. These long developmental years teach us the evolutionary wisdom of mustar seed beginnings in human achievement. It calls our attention to the importance of the small, the insignificant, the unseen, and the unconscious aspects of an underlying divine purpose in our lives. While experiencing the priority of the physiological and safety needs in our material existence, we make the first, tentative discoveries that they are not as deeply satisfying as the love, achievement, and spiritual needs. At an early age, we become dimly aware that the lower animal drives and emotions are inferior to the being or spiritual values. We are arriving at the threshold of the time when we seriously think about taking conscious control of the direction of our lives

Developing Working Tools

After maturation has given us our full raw capacities for achievement, we are ready to begin the co-ordination and development of these potentials into reliable abilities and direct them in solid accomplishment. Often this training begins with physiologically oriented skills such as sports, art, music, and other performance skills. We begin to learn the mental and emotional disciplines required I goal-directed activity in areas of tangible feed-back in preparation for the time when we will be facing the more difficult, intangible aspects and challenges of character development.

The years of educational preparation become increasingly complex as we develop the working tools for personal achievement. Our most basic experiences involve assuming responsibility, developing interpersonal relationships, learning group co-operation and loyalty, and achieving the maturity required for marriage and family relationships. Later, as we grow, this concern, responsibility, and service is extended to the larger social community. We are acquiring the talents, the experience, and the urge for larger service.

Assuming Responsibility for Spiritual Growth

The increasing lure or threat of truth, beauty, and goodness in our lives leads us to an active confrontation with God. The challenge of spiritual dedication forces us to consciously or unconsciously make a decision or to actively or subliminally avoid making a decision. If we are fortunate, we consciously decide to give our allegiance to God and to direct our lives in harmony with his will. This whole-hearted desire for inner spiritual growth is the culmination of our material-emotional-mental development. We have consciously aligned ourselves with the ultimate verities of the universe. We strive to integrate our lives around key spiritual values. Our consciousness opens to new insights and larger truths. With an assertion of will we dedicate ourselves to search for spiritual reality wherever it may lead us. Almost immediately we experience conflict with outmoded traditional views and lower level animal drives.

As we attempt to exercise discipline and control over our lives, we discover that will power, in and of itself, is rather limited. Self-mastery cannot be achieved by self-discipline alone. But, in order to go forward, we must be willing to suffer and endure pain. This period of confusion, anguish, conflict, and struggle may be long or short, but even though it is a temporary state, we cannot avoid or escape it. And we need the courage and stamina to persevere and persist. We do not grow spiritually so much by what we do, but by what we attempt to achieve. Where we are is not as significant as the way we are facing. What we are is not as important as that with which we identify.

The Key to the Mastered Life

In time we learn that the key to spiritual growth is mind directionalization. We are transformed by our reality or spirit identifications. Soul evolvement proceeds through such mind affirmations and identities. This mind identification with the true, the beautiful, and the good (God) is a living faith which has the power to transmute potentials into actuals. When desire and belief are upstepped and converted into living faith, we actualize a new state of being. Thought is the master of drives, attitudes, and emotions. As long as there is dominance of lower level needs, opinions, and feelings, we have not achieved spiritual mind identification and control. Such doubt, or lower level thinking, is a part of our animal heritage and will strive to dominate our behavior until, through our persistent efforts and the power of the spirit, we achieve mind mastery.

Mind mastery, however, is a tenuous achievement. I traumatic experience and periods of stress it may break down and we fall back on our lower level resources and methods of adjustment. Repeated experience and testing are required to produce solid spiritually inspired character. Just as our physiological maturation required a long development period, so must our spiritual maturation be perfected through long and rigorous experience. We should never allow ourselves to become discouraged with our spiritual progress, and give up the struggle. Growth is always unconscious; and effort is ultimately rewarded by achievement.

Living the Mastered Life

As we achieve increasing degrees of mind control or living faith, new levels of being are actualized. These successive stages of growth are circles or stages of mind-personality attainment. At each step of mind-faith achievement we become more real and effective. Such soul growth reflects a harmonious and balanced functioning of the entire personality. This mind mastery actuates a faith power which dominates our animal drives, thoughts, and feelings, and transmutes them into higher needs, attitudes, and emotions. We emerge from the level of living by self-control to the freedom and joy of self-mastery. We have learned to love God, our fellowman, and ourselves so wisely and completely that we can do as we like because we desire the good; that which is in harmony with Universe Reality. We no longer have to live by the discipline of self-denial as the desire for evil no longer exists. Not only are we more effective persons, but we have achieved a state of being that utilizes the highest resources and mechanisms for the health of body and mind. Our entire personality is harmonized in integrated living with joy and happiness. We have found unity with the Father’s will and way. We have entered a new state of being; we have become a New Person.

Soul growth is a learning process stimulated by the spirit urge to strive for perfection (truth, beauty, and goodness), whereby succeeding circles of attainment or stages of being are achieved. At each advancing level of mind mastery, we become less dependent on the lower animal needs and emotions and more attuned to spiritual, being-values. At each stage of growth we experience greater freedom, more encompassing love, and deeper happiness.

All who are fortunate enough to make this spiritual pilgrimage, experience the culminating purpose of human existence. They have evolved a living, vibrant soul whereby new levels of being and reality are progressively experienced. But this growth and inner peace has come so gradually and unconsciously that its realization comes almost as an unbelievable surprise, a joyous discovery! It al began in earnest when the mind and will of our animal heritage made the decision to dedicate itself to God and spiritual values, in the place of the lower animal drives and pleasures. With this decision we were born again. Our embryonic soul was born into the light of a spirit illuminated mind.

From this point of spiritual infancy, step by step, circle by circle, our personality and character progresses by decision and action under the guidance of the indwelling Spirit of God, to achieve mind control and living faith which factualizes the evolving, immortal soul. This nonmaterial soul gradually masters and dominates the physical mechanism, the animal body, in which it was born, transmuting it into higher needs, attitudes, and emotions and finally prepares to discard the old physical body and its lower animal nature in anticipation of advancing to the mansion worlds on high and receiving a new body; a new energy mechanism, where more advanced spiritual and universe education will begin.

What a glorious life and destiny the Master has provided for us animal-origin children of time. We have begun an endless unfolding of exhilarating service, thrilling adventure, and boundless attainment. But we need never worry about the degree of our mind mastery; the level of our circle attainment; or the status of our soul growth, for the Father allows each of us to proceed at our own pace. Each step is taken at the time of internal readiness, and in the eternity ahead, we have ample time to achieve all of the purposes and goals of our spiritual destiny. At every crossroad of decision, and in each crisis of living, the Master’s Spirit of Truth will always speak saying, "This is the way."

© The Urantia Book Fellowship, Inc.