All I want out of life is spiritual growth. What would this mean in a Christian sense?
I feel a strong calling to withdraw deep into my soul through some sort of meditative/mystic practice. I want to get as close to Truth as possible. I feel like nothing else in life is worth pursuing. Am I off the track here? How should I approach this? I don’t want to accidentally open myself to evil spirits.
The desire to draw closer to Truth and forge a strong connection to God, by making spiritual growth the most important pursuit in your life, is a noble one; as is your caution to ensure the zeal of this new undertaking will not blind you from recognizing dangers, and thus cause you to accidentally rush into pitfalls. In view of your sincerity, I will offer a few thoughts I hope is helpful on your path toward this honorable goal.
Life is about balance. It is the one-sidedness of extremes and excesses that cause great harm to both soul and body. Think of a seed: to grow strong it initially needs to sink into the quiet depths of the cool soil, then as it cracks and germinates, its natural path of growth leads it back above ground in becoming a plant. To mature, it must now be exposed to the elements: day, night, wind, rain, snow, storm, heat and cold. Only when it thrives in all these conditions does it mature into a strong tree that bears rich fruit for its environment. Similarly, to begin this spiritual journey, you might desire to initially sink into some meditative silence or quiet pilgrimage of inner attunement—just like the seed. But then, no matter how comfortable this space is, you must return “above ground”, i.e. daily life, in order to truly continue your path of inner growth. For it is in daily life that, to mature, we must be exposed to the different elements of human experiences: sorrows, joys, challenges, pressures, uncertainty, successes, failures etc. Only when we can navigate and grow through these in the course of life experiences will we mature, and thus come to know and find the deeper elements of Truth. After all, is this not the true purpose of spirituality? To be able to find and experience Truth everywhere.
Remember that Jesus entered the quiet wilderness and pursued deep silence in order to fully unfold His Power. All prophets, knowing ones, and called ones have also done the same and sought a meditative tranquility of inner seeking. But they have all invariably returned to daily life. They have returned because we are in a physical world and cannot live an exclusively “spiritual life”. Though we are spiritual beings, we are called upon to reach for eternal values and then integrate them into daily life by infusing them into all physical forms and pursuits. When we can stand and work constructively in the physical world, yet ennobling it with higher aims…then we approach the true goal of spirituality. It also establishes a balance between the desire to inwardly mature by transforming the spirit, and the endeavor of outwardly ennobling and transforming our environment into a reflection of this inner spiritual realm. Only when we do this do we approach the fulfillment of the sentence in the Lord’s Prayer that affirms “Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!” That is: as above, so below; as within, so without!
But should you one-sidedly pursue a spiritual life to the neglect of physical realities, then you will fall into misfortune! Let us take the case of an overprotected child whose mother refuses to let him outdoors out of fear of getting sick. Sealing the doors, barricading the child in an exclusive room, and refusing guests to visit him freely, she ensures no germs or bacteria comes into contact with him. She wishes to spare his immune system the unnecessary trouble of struggling. And so, the child has the appearance of vibrant health and seems to thrive under these conditions. Now a teenager, one day his mother suddenly passes away. Now free, he decides to enter regular life for the first time, but he soon suffers a misfortune: his weak immune system, rendered feeble through the lack of opportunity to develop a strong resistance through exposure to different germs and bacteria as a child, completely succumbs to the unaccustomed barrage of these new organisms. Falling gravely ill, the child almost dies through the weakness of his body. Ergo, it follows that the vibrant health was only an illusion of health that needed the quarantined room fashioned by its mother to give the appearance of health. The child had the façade of perfect health, so long as its immune system was untested.
As this occurs with the physical immune system, so the same process occurs with the spiritual immune system of those who one-sidedly pursue a “spiritual life”. In seclusion and meditative isolation, they appear to be inwardly strong and thriving. Feeling a sense of power in this mystical isolation, vanity develops and inveigles them to bethink themselves spiritually alert, knowing, and mature! But all this is short-lived, for when they return to engage the forces of new organisms of human experiences in daily life, this appearance of strength along with the vanity of maturity is quickly blown away, as the real weakness of their spiritual immune system is immediately revealed. Overwhelmed, they might decide to completely shun this “backward world”, forsake all material pursuits, and return to the exclusive “spiritual life”; for only in this untested isolation can the wounded vanity of personal greatness bask in the appearance of growth and maturity. The bitter truth is this: what we are unable to reproduce in daily life that we inwardly find in contemplative silence, has not been mastered. But the solution here, as in all things, is balance. We can learn from the cycle of the seasons in that there is a time of year designated to each season; it starts in one, progresses through stages, then after a period it turns back and begins the cycle anew. In our case it could be: a time for meditative seeking, then goal setting, then engaging daily life, then back to meditative seeking…on and on. Each person should do what works for them on their path of spiritual growth. The key is just balance.
Finally, I will address your concern: you do not wish to open yourself to evil spirits. To find a solution, we should ask the simple question: what is the strongest defense? To answer this question, we must contemplate the response Jesus is reported to have given the scribe who asked about the highest commandment: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The two operative words here are “love” and “all”—indicating a consuming devotional totality. Thus, if loving God is the first and highest commandment, then logic follows it must also be the strongest defense against “evil spirits”. However, human beings today cannot just, without further ado, start loving the Lord! Why? To love Him, which is the same as completely adjusting ourselves to His Will, we have to first know and understand Him through His Will. This knowing and understanding is what you desire to begin attaining by getting closer to Truth! Consequently, since a genuine love for God cannot just blossom without further ado, but can only develop over the gradual course of confirming experiences of His Will in daily life, what we can carry and should ardently nurture with our whole soul as a first developmental step toward this genuine love of God is a fervent desire to love and know God. Should you be inwardly ablaze with this pure desire, guard it as sacred, carry and nurture it in all you pursue, and always look upward for guidance whenever you are unsure about a step, then you will obtain a connection to the strongest defense and always find protection along your spiritual path against all evil. We are told: seek and ye shall find. When we seek with the purity of desire and effort of our whole soul, then the Love of God with Its bounty of help and protection will never fail to find us! “Finding” is tantamount to a connection.
I sincerely wish you well on your path, and hope you realize your desire of finding Truth and drawing closer to God.
~Ikenna Q. Ezealah