The Spiral Staircase

scan020Just for fun, our CSL ministers have been sharing the jobs they held before they became ministers. Since we tend to be “seekers” who came to the ministry later in life, we had great stories to tell about earlier jobs. Our email list is confidential, so you’ll just have to believe me, every pathway was unique.

I worked as a camp counselor, ironed clothes, sold dresses, taught school, owned a folk art store, wrote for a newspaper, wrote books, wrote curriculum, sold real estate, was a marketing director for a development company and then I became a minister.

My work story is pretty dull compared to many of my colleagues but it helped me move upward to a place of trust and love. I had a lot to learn emotionally and journey into a few cull de sacs before I could be a minister.

I believe New Thought ministers are, as a group, wiser about life and better at working with people because we tend to come to our calling later in life. Late blooming spiritual leaders have an advantage because we’ve been around the block a few times. My grandmother would say, “We didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.”

We are fully grown adults, ready to be leaders in a grown up religion. We’ve made some mistakes ourselves. We know mistakes create an opportunity to learn.  Most important of all, we know it is never too late to learn.

Maturity is only one factor in the effectiveness of a spiritual leader, of course. You need knowledge, enthusiasm and energy as well. There is a lot to be said for youth and a whole lot to be said for maturity.

I have always felt sorry for young people who enter seminaries and convents at such young ages. Young and old can be genuine seekers but it is easier to for the slow starters to attain the wisdom and clarity necessary for the ministry.

I am writing about maturity in spiritual leadership today because I watched Karen Armstrong on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Armstrong wrote the best-selling book,  A History of God and many others. On Oprah, she  was pitching her spiritual memoir The Spiral Staircase.

Armstrong talked about going into an English Catholic convent at age 17. She said she wanted to know God and chose the vocation independently but she could never learn to meditate, lost focus in her prayers, and hated her mandatory three hours of sewing. She struggled for seven years before she finally made herself so ill she dropped out. Poor child!

She gave up on seeking God for a while but continued her Oxford studies. She also continued suffering from a mysterious illness. She was treated for mental illness until they finally found it was epilepsy. Despite these difficulties, she went on to become one of the world’s greatest religious scholars.

As I listened, I respected her perseverance and I was especially touched by her use of the spiral image for her own spiritual journey. She said she used it because of a poem by T.S. Eliot. It seems to me to a beautiful image for our spiritual journeys. We may feel as though we are stuck or going backward but we are always climbing higher toward the Light.

Armstrong talked about how our challenges can seem to be healed and then return again. She said that when these problems return, they come around again to be healed on a higher level. The return of an issue is not failure.

As she talked, I admired her courage, perseverance and intellect. I am glad she was able to create a successful life for herself after such a difficult beginning. Armstrong now holds a belief in God based on her studies of world religions. She says compassion is the most important similarity in all of them.

As she talks, she sounds to me like a very bright New Thought spiritual leader. She believes God is all Life, present everywhere. God is basically unknowable, except through Love, which she calls compassion.

I have certainly oversimplified her thoughts. But it was her story that story that struck me as the important thing to share. She is very honest and her story is certainly unique. She has come a long way and accomplished a great deal.

Like most people, her life did not follow her initial plan. When she entered that convent as a seventeen year old, she was a starry-eyed child with map that she believed would be a straight path to knowing God. Life led her on a quest that forced her to abandon her beginner’s map. She and the world are richer for the spiraling path.

I love the image of the spiral because I find it hopeful and true. The first time I heard growth described that way was a creative artist who showed it as an ever-expanding illustration. This artist helped me by saying we shouldn’t be discouraged if a problem showed up again and again. She insisted it wasn’t failure, but just the next step in the discovery process. What looked like a relapse is just the next step in the healing journey.

That concept helps me. I have been discouraged. Have you? It is fairly common to face the same issue in different circumstances. The point is to keep on moving upward, toward Love and Light.

You and I could not have predicted what our spiritual path would look like when we started out at 17, anymore than Karen Armstrong could. Her path included disappointments and difficulties, yet she grew into a phenomenal woman.

You and I are also phenomenal. Take a look backward at yourself when you were seventeen. Can you see how far you have come? Doesn’t it seem as though you can go even farther? Of course you can.

Everyone is on a quest toward greater spiritual wisdom, whether conscious of it or not. If you can see that you have greater wisdom and light than you did as a teenager, you will see you are spiraling upward, whether it feels like it today or not.

As we move through life, we gain wisdom and balance and there is always more to come. Change and growth develops in unique and wonderful ways. We gain compassion and a genuine belief in the goodness of life and God. There is no end to that learning because God is Infinite Wisdom and Infinite Love.

We learn to embrace our uniqueness and to love ourselves. We are then able to love others. Our honesty touches others and shows the way. Our spiritual wisdom is contagious in wonderful ways and we are overjoyed to be connected to others through love.

I thank Karen Armstrong for reminding me of the spiral staircase of life. It is a beautiful image of how Love grows and expresses in each of us.

Ask Yourself

What did I believe about God at 17?

What do I believe about God now?

What have I learned?

What pattern or patterns do I seen repeating?

What do I need to believe to release negative beliefs?


6 Comments on “The Spiral Staircase”

  1. Rev. Sally Robbins says:

    Hi, Jane,

    Wonderful blog! I got a lot out of this, and it was very helpful to view my path as “the spiral staircase”.

    Keep up the excellent writing!

    Love and blessings,


    Rev. Sally Robbins

    Columbia CSL

    • Jane Claypool says:

      Thanks Sally, I am always pleased to hear from readers and glad to find that my blog is traveling far and wide. Keep up your wonderful work. Love, Jane

  2. Lynn Gabrielson says:

    Thank you Jane. I always look forward to your insights!

  3. Joanne Lynn says:

    I also watched that interview and was inspired by her quest and where she is now – I enjoy reading your blogs and considering your questions. Joanne

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