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Chrysalis: The hidden transformation in the journey of faith – Alan Jamieson

January 3, 2017

chrysThe author uses the life-cycle of butterflies as a metaphor for the faith journey that many contemporary people are experiencing. He examines these stages of faith:
Letting go (in the dark)
Letting come (from deep within)
Accompanying (being alongside)
Emergence (going solo)
Being (Imago)
Flying (butterfly effect)
Seeing the whole (looking back)
Being strategic (monarch waystations)
Beautifully hopeful (butterfly house)

Increasing numbers of Christian people find their faith metamorphosing beyond the standard images and forms of Christian faith but questions about where this may lead remain. Is this the death of personal faith or the emergence of something new? Could it be a journey that is Spirit-led? Drawing on the three principal phases of a butterfly’s life and the transformations between these phases, the book suggests subtle similarities with the zones of Christian faith that many encounter. For butterflies and Christians change between these ‘phases’ or ‘zones’ is substantial, life-changing and irreversible. This book accompanies ordinary people in the midst of substantive faith change. Chrysalis is primarily pastoral and practical drawing on the author’s experience of accompanying people in the midst of difficult personal faith changes.

He has a very good explanation of post-modernism for those who don’t understand philosophy.

There’s background information about John of the Cross that I never knew.

Many dioceses ate encouraging evangelical churches which start people off in faith but they are also closing more liberal churches so that there is no home for mature Christians.

The author: I Know Bruggemann speaks of disorientation and re-orientation. To do this he draws on the framework of many of Psalms. The Psalms, of course, are the prayer book of the scriptures and are much beloved and utilized by the monastics. Certainly many today also have to flee church in order to find and form their faith.

Drawing on Sharon Parks work I have argued that the move from dependence to a true interdependence of faith necessitates intermediary steps the move through counter-dependence and then later to inner-dependence before becoming at home in relationships of interdependence. The counter dependence stage involves pushing against everything we might have previously depended on. Inherently it involves some anger, some rebellion, some over stating of everything that is wrong with the church. Further down the path we may come to a point where blaming ourselves or the church becomes less important in comparison to finding a deep inner sense of self, of identity, or connection with God, of connection with others, of ‘call’ and role and place and significance. I call this inner-dependence. Both counter-dependence and inner-dependence are necessary steps on the path to being able to live securely in relationships of interdependence.

Sadly many people get stuck in the counter-dependence phase and seem eternally angry and eternally anti the church and their past expressions of faith. Sadly they are unable to move beyond this place.

For me the ability to live comfortably with paradoxes that are integrated in our faith and life is a sign of personal growth of faith. One aspect of this is realizing we are both very insignificant in the grand scheme of things; that the world does not spin around us but also realising we are loved by the God of all and the way we live is enormously significant. Few, if any of us, will change the world but we can all be far more significant than we could ever grasp..

Fowler says higher education (that teaches us to think independently, to critique and to question) and personal suffering are two spurs to continued faith development. Of course they can also cause faith to stagnate and become entrenched. I believe our journey in faith is fundamentally determined by the matrix of our experiences, friends and mentors, our courage to follow our inner lives & truth (voices) and most significantly the drawing and pushing power of the Holy Spirit. We can’t untangle this matrix or produce a fertilizer that will guarantee quick growth.


Imagine going to a beach for the first time and observing people swimming and playing in the water. They seem to be enjoying themselves enormously and are obviously proficient at swimming. After a while you get to know some of the swimmers and they offer to teach you to swim so you too can enjoy the water. Seeing what they have, encourages you to join them. Swimming turns out to be a great success and for the next few years you enjoy swimming at the beach as part of the club. Eventually you become a swimming instructor yourself. You are challenged by the opportunity to help others learn to swim between the flags and enjoy the sea as you have learnt to do.

One day, standing on the beach, you wonder what it would be like to swim further, or to go exploring the rock edges, or maybe to dive to the depths of the bay, out beyond the flags. The yearning to stretch out beyond the beach doesn’t simply go away, but appears to get stronger and builds within you. Around the same time, you notice that you are becoming increasingly self-conscious about going swimming. It doesn’t seem as important, or as much of a challenge as it used to be. Thinking about this, makes you realize you don’t enjoy the swim club like you used to and you’re becoming critical of all the swimming and playing near the beach. But then, socializing with a group of deep-sea fishermen each weekend and hearing their stories of fishing trips adds fuel to your desire to go beyond the flags. As time drifts on, dislike turns to resentment and you tentatively mention to some of the others at the beach your desire to go beyond the flags. The coach gets to hear of your comments and warns you of the dangers of swimming outside the flags. He tells stories of people who went out there and have never come back. Instead, he suggests that you go to a swimming gala to rekindle your enthusiasm.

The swimming gala seems to do the trick – at least, for a while. But then, standing on the beach one day, the yearnings return. This time they are even stronger than before. On swim days you find it harder and harder to get yourself out of bed and are aware of making all sorts of excuses as to why you shouldn’t swim that day. One swim day you wake up realizing you haven’t been to the beach for three or four months. You wonder what to do next. Should you go back or not? Eventually you come to the conclusion you don’t ever want to go back again. All you do there is swim backwards and forwards and play in the waves. It was fun, even exciting for a number of years, and you thought swimming was all there was to life: but not now. Now you want more. Of course, you remain a swimmer; after all, no one can deny your experience of the sea. But you’re rarely seen at the beach between the flags. It is time to push out into the deep. It is like when Peter and the disciples had been fishing all night in the relative shallows, and then Jesus came along and asked them to push out into the deep; and it was there that they caught the surprising catch.

Why do some people become dissatisfied with the swimming between the flags, or need to be called into the deep? I don’t know the answer. Equally, it is hard to explain why some people become dissatisfied with the ingredients of faith (maybe even church) that have been so good for them for so long. Like the caterpillar that decides to stop eating and start weaving, the swimmer who wants to leave the safety of swimming within the flags to go scuba diving, or the bird that leaves the nest to begin an epic journey, it is a mix of an internal desire, instinct, compulsion or need, and external triggers. What is clear is that continuing to do what we have always done is no longer helpful. The more we try, the more we become alienated, dissatisfied, and even angry.

It seems to be a maxim of the Spiritual life that no-one undergoes spiritual or psychological growth and change willingly. We are either dragged into it kicking and screaming, or circumstances force us into the next scene of the human comedy. Ironically, the institutional church is often an obstacle to spiritual growth … it has something of an investment in keeping its members in an infantile state

And around this mystery hang many questions. Some of those questions are: Why do some people never move to the edges of a pre-critical faith phase? Why do some people begin a faith transition and then go no further? Why does pain and suffering, disappointment and loss, personal failure or serious critical study propel some into the beginnings of a faith transformation? Why do the exact same events leave another person’s pre-critical expression of faith stronger? While we can attempt to answer these questions by talking about global changes to society and personal life experiences, we can’t predict or perceive the internal work of the Spirit. It is simply a mystery.

That said, some people come to this seismic faith shift and some don’t. We must remember what Kester Brewin says, ‘It is no good egging someone on . . . what is important is that the path is clear for them to travel when they find their way there in their own time. In fact, it would be criminal to force people on before they were ready.’

my advice would be: if you have a church base where you have been significantly involved and if you are able to maintain nominal links while you move into the next phase of faith that God is opening up to you, then do so.

Only leave if you really can’t stay. Only leave if staying is becoming toxic to your faith and life. Learn from the caterpillar that attaches itself to the plant that it has lived on to this point; it weaves a silk anchor point on the very plant it has depended upon as a food source, but no longer needs. As we enter this time of radical transformation, we too need to hang securely independent from, but nevertheless relationally linked to, a community of faith.

the Greek word for chrysalis means gold. This transition, which we are ring, can open up ways for the Spirit of God to bring new things into our lives that are as precious and priceless as gold.

Again Nouwen was helpful: ‘To be chosen as the beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice.

We are deeply devoted to eliminating chaos and ‘we want to organize and orchestrate things so thoroughly that messiness will never bubble up around us and threaten to overwhelm us’. Rather than attempting to plan and control our lives and faith to protect ourselves from chaos, we need to leave room for it; we even need to invite chaos, for it is out of chaos that the Spirit creates. This time of chaos is necessary. In the open space of chaos there is the possibility of something new. Without chaos, nothing new can come.

St John of the Cross knew this darkness personally and he came to love it. His life was marked by real darkness.

Not long after John was born his father died. He, his mother and two brothers were forced onto the streets, becoming transients who moved from place to place in search of work. His mother eventually found space for John in an institute for disadvantaged children where he lived till he found work as ‘a nurse-cum-porter’ in a hospice for people dying from syphilis. At twenty-one, he left the hospice and joined a community of friars, where he trained to be ordained as a priest. Many years later, innocently caught in political battles within the order, he was arrested, imprisoned and subjected to emotional and physical abuse. He was imprisoned in an old unused toilet cistern in what he described as ‘hour upon hour of interminable blindness’. The only light he had was a midday ray that poked through a slit, high in the wall of the prison, which served only to mock him as it passed on, leaving him in twenty-three more hours of blackness.

St John of the Cross experienced not only this physical suffering and darkness, but also inner darkness as he felt God withdraw and leave him in his despair. It is from these experiences that John writes of the dark night of the soul.

A person’s faith journey is not helped in any way by being depressed and it is always important to seek medical support if we suspect signs of depression. As Gerald May says, ‘There is a persisting notion in some circles that the medications used to treat depression and other psychiatric illnesses can somehow interfere with deeper spiritual processes such as the dark night. Nothing could be further from the truth. To my mind, there is never an authentic spiritual reason to let any illness go untreated.’

The support they need at this time is the accompaniment of people who are themselves immersed in the deeper stories, promises, metaphors and values of the Christian faith. They need people who do not so much give advice as give images and metaphors that help a person reframe and re-evaluate their own faith.

Buechner’s definition starts with the self and moves toward the needs of the world: it begins, wisely, where vocation begins — not in what the world needs (which is everything), but in the nature of the human self, in what brings the self joy, the deep joy of knowing that we are here on earth to be the gifts that God created. … Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I -am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfil the original selfhood given me at birth by God. It is a strange gift this birthright gift of self.

A sense of being trapped in too many expectations and, therefore, of being unable to really pursue my sense of my vocational imperative (this is what I need to do)

As he and a friend, Brother Leo, entered the centre of a village, they saw a man leaning against a stone wall playing a small wooden flute. The music he played was sweet and melodic and Francis began to dance happily in the street. Within minutes a crowd gathered to watch the strange but interesting way he swayed to the music, back and forth, leaping in the air with his arms outstretched. Brother Leo was embarrassed but the man playing the flute and the crowd that had gathered greatly appreciated his dance. When Francis stopped dancing, everyone in the crowd, which had by then grown to over fifty, began to applaud wildly. Even the man leaning against the stone wall showed his gratitude and clapped his huge hands together. Though Francis was nearly out of breath, he launched into one of the impromptu sermons he was famous for … ‘Oh, Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,’ he prayed … ‘carve me into a flute that is placed to your Divine lips, and fill me with the breath of your spirit. Wrap your fingers around my soul and cover the holes of my life. Make of me a song to the Beloved ….’ Later, Francis explained to Brother Leo the meaning of the two key words ‘instrument’ and ‘your’ from his now famous prayer ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace’ saying, ‘Each of us is called to be an instrument of peace. And yet it is only when we surrender to the Divine current within that we are played, just like the flute. Otherwise we are as silent as a reed, anticipating sound and music, imagining the flow of wisdom and insight that leads us nowhere. Until we realize the futility of trying to play ourselves, we are like an instrument that sits in the corner of the room. It is soon forgotten by everyone in the house … it is the tomb that brings us to life, Brother Leo, not death. It is like the tomb of our Lord who saw the futility of death, then rose to eternity. Likewise, we too will experience the futility of our ego and rise to a life that exists beyond our hollow definition.”

Maybe the story of St Brendan the Navigator can provide us a model and inspiration of what I mean by this inner authority and compass that develops for people. Brendan lived over fifteen hundred years ago, yet his life speaks to us across the centuries about the ways of navigation, both as a sailor and a man of Christian faith. Brendan’s home was a mountain monastery, till he sensed a call to set sail for new lands to take the gospel. After fasting and praying for forty days, he stood on one of the beaches of southern Ireland and looked out across the ocean. In front of him lay a small boat. It was a simple boat, just leather skins smeared with animal fat stretched across a wooden frame. It was a flimsy craft for what would become, for Brendan and his companions, a seven-year journey from Ireland to Wales, Iona, Scotland, France, Iceland, Greenland and possibly even America.

The oldest account of St Brendan’s explorations dates from the tenth century. Many of the details are debated. Historical fact and inspiring myth seem interlinked. Did he reach America? It is possible that he did. Some of his descriptions of the land he found indicate that he may have. But, if he did travel such large distances, how did he navigate? The common icon of St Brendan gives an interesting clue. In these iconic pictures, Brendan is depicted holding a paddle in one hand and a large Celtic cross in the other. Old burial sites indicate that Celtic crosses may have begun as a form of navigation aid: the first sextants. If so, it was the first sextant known to humankind.

Is this myth or historical fact? We will probably never know. But I am inspired by the notion of St Brendan navigating with a simple cross through the storms and times of being becalmed.

It takes real courage to set out trusting our own internal compass: the deep place where we have met God and the sense of who we are called to be that has emerged from within us. It is the same courage and commitment that Brendan must have needed as he followed the internal call of the Spirit to set sail into an unknown ocean and future.

Imagine the fearful-faith and courage he feels as he sets sail. A prayer attributed to Brendan opens a window on his feelings:

Shall I abandon, 0 King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home?

Shall I turn my back on the native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at Your mercy,

Without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honor? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword and shield,

Without food and drink,

Without a bed to lie on?

Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?

Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins And begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, A record of my final prayer in my native land?

Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean?

0 King of the Glorious Heaven,

Shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

0 Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?

Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins And begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, A record of my final prayer in my native land?

Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean?

0 King of the Glorious Heaven,

Shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

0 Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?

The corresponding change of habitat for post-critical faith people is very difficult for people with a pre-critical faith – and especially their leaders – to understand. I have often heard the question, ‘Why don’t these people commit to a church in the same way they used to?’ The answer is quite simply that what they need to nurture their faith has changed. The contexts they will draw from and give into have, typically, increased substantially and their sense of loyalty is globally, rather than singularly, located.

Post-critical people seem to flit as gently and move as easily as butterflies. They are no longer committed, grounded and dependent as they were before. For church leaders with a pre-critical faith this response lacks commitment and loyalty and can seem quite threatening.

In faith terms, waystations may be churches and Christian communities or groups for the people who have made them their home base; but, for many wayfarers (post-chrysalis faith people), they will be a place to alight, to be refreshed and then they will be beckoned on again. For those at the heart of these churches, communities and groups this can be hard to accept. People come and people go. The great majority will be here briefly or, at best, visit infrequently. If we are trying to build an institution rather than support individuals, we will inevitably find their transient nature discouraging. But being a waystation means having a bed and breakfast proprietor’s mentality, rather than that of an institution builder.

The denomination had moved so far in ecclesiology, decision-making practice and theology towards conservatism and control that these two ministers felt sidelined, even unwanted. In the language of phases of faith, many church structures are strongly focusing on pre-critical faith expressions. They are encouraged to do this because this is the phase in which many people, especially young adults, come to faith. It is a style of church that can grow quickly as they can provide clear answers and beliefs, quick fixes to problems and a ready sense of belonging. But as denominations and churches increasingly focus on this phase of Christian faith, people who are moving beyond it into a critical phase of faith – a phase of faith characterized by questions, doubts, personal suffering and difficulty – find there is no room for them.

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