Richard Rohr – Levels of Spiritual Development 2

Stage Two: My External Behavior Is Who I Am

Most of human history up to now has been at Stage Two, and, frankly, much of Jesus’ teaching is most aimed at this level because it is all about purity codes, debt codes, dogmas, and external rituals—because that was the stage where most of his listeners were. At Stage Two, your concern is to look good outside. Your concern with pleasing the neighborhood, the village, your religion, or your kind of folks becomes such a way of life that you get very practiced at hiding or disguising any contrary evidence. That’s why it is so dangerous.

This becomes the birth of the shadow self. Eventually your shadow side—your denied motives, your real self—is actually hidden from you. You have to start pretending that you are what looks good to your group and your religion. Your whole identity becomes defending your external behavior as more moral than other people, and defending your family, your community, your race, your church or temple or mosque, your nation as superior to others.

This is tribal thinking. It is a necessary stage, however, so that you can feel like you are Chosen, are significant, or have dignity. It gives you a strong sense of your identity and boundaries, which serves you well as a child. But many people remain trapped here, in a worldview of win/lose and good guys/bad guys. Far Right-wing thinking—the false conservative, in any country and in any religion—largely proceeds from Stages One or Two.

Eventually, your own behavior or group is going to have to disappoint you. You will begin to see that you yourself, or some people in your group, are, in fact, unkind, dishonest, or violent. That is the beginning of integrating the negative, of a necessary shadowboxing. If you are incapable of such appropriate critical thinking, you will not go through the darkness, the necessary deeper faith journey that will move you on to Stage Three.

Adapted from The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis (CD);
Where You Are is Where I’ll Meet You: A Guide for Spiritual Directors
(CD, MP3 Download);
and The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, pp. 163-164

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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