Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Spiritual breakthroughs

There's been so many comments in here about Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull and my daughter gave it to so many of her friends over Christmas that I dug out my old copy and sat down to experience it again. (Read the entire text here.)

My copy is one of the earliest, from 1971. It includes black & white seagull photos, along with a section of parchment pages with bird-in-flight images that functions like a flipbook. If you flip the pages real fast, you can see the bird landing on the rocky shore. I remember this fascinating me when I was ten. I would flip and flip again.

In the story, Jonathan pushes himself to achieve something none of the other gulls around him are attempting. In doing so, he catapults himself to a different level of consciousness, where he finds other birds who have gone before. Eventually he yearns to go back to where he came from, to teach other gulls how to fly. He does so and finds a student, and then more students, and he shows them what he's learned. They learn it too, and become teachers in their turn.

Jonathan's story of breaking through limitations and then going back to coach others on how to do the same remains a terrific metaphor for spiritual growth. Once we overcome a specific spiritual hurdle, the sometimes astonishing results make perfect sense to us, although they may still seem strange to those still have this hurdle to overcome. We yearn for others to experience the same blessings we have, so we share what we've learned.

The only thing I might add to that from my vantage point of today is the idea that everyone has something to teach me, no matter what I've already overcome. Jonathan's story is somewhat linear, meaning progression comes in an orderly fashion and all who are growing take the same path. At different rates, perhaps, but they move "ahead" through the same steps. Teachers are always teachers, and students are alway students.

But what seems to be happening in my life anyway is breakthroughs of all kinds are occurring in everyone, all the time. I can learn from another's breakthrough even as I'm having my own. One is not more advanced than the other. We're all moving forward together.

Of course there have been Christ figures like Jonathan throughout human history, towering examples of extreme spiritual breakthrough that we can all learn from. Yet I might make the case for it being even more important to the spiritual progress of the race that each and every one of us—the little people, if you will—continually make our own breakthroughs, bit by little bit. We need to take it on individually to encourage humanity's advance collectively.

For most of us, we're neither exclusively the teacher nor the student. We're learning and teaching simultaneously. We have much to contribute and much to gain from this spiritual dialog. We can learn by doing, we can learn from others, we can learn by being teachers ourselves.

The important thing, I think, is to be constantly breaking through.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 1/17/2007 10:34:00 AM, Anonymous Emily said...

I could write a book about how much JLS has meant to me over the years. I jokingly refer to it as "Science and Health for Dummies." Such a little book, but it reflects so much Truth, and it works on so many different levels. I identified with Jonathan when I was a kid, feeling Outcast because I wanted to fly high above the Flock's shallow expectations. I've advanced far beyond the point where I was when I first picked up the book, but the more I advance, the more I identify with Fletcher -- his enthusiasm, his impetuosity, his frustration. Funny how the more we grow, the more we realize how big this thing is that we're trying to grow into.

At 1/17/2007 11:43:00 AM, Blogger Kate said...

Well....I was not ten...I was in high school when JLS came out and I was given my first copy for Christmas by a boy that I thought was the most spiritually kind person I had ever met...he was also in High school and would organize weekly Sunday evening meetings in the Reading Room for a bunch of us from our area to talk with eachother and others who might be invited about ideas from a spiritual Sunday evening we walked in and there was a guy there we didn't was Richard Bach...what a night that was...I still have my old copy too Laura...parchamenty pages and all...I too love this little book...and Fletcher...he went with me on peace marches, early feminism rallies, to the democratic national convention, and to jail for a very brief stay for protesting the draft in "inappropriate ways"...another story...thanks for this lovely gift of a visit with an old friend and companion who has taught me to never stop trying to "fly" ya

At 1/17/2007 09:31:00 PM, Anonymous Emily said...

You got to sit around shooting the bull about spirituality with Richard Bach?!!? That is hands-down the coolest thing anybody has told me all week. What an amazing (and inspiring) discussion that must have been!

Your friend's idea to hold discussions at the Reading Room was a great one, too. I need to pass that along to our librarian, who is doing something similar for grownups, but during regular hours. It would be amazing if some of our Sunday School kids could pull together a discussion group like that.

At 1/18/2007 01:03:00 AM, Blogger Kate said...

yup...Richard Bach and about a dozen high school age kids in frayed bell-bottoms and pieces of rawhide tied around our foreheads to keep our long hair out of our eyes...I jsut remember that we sat on the floor around RB's feet and aksed a billion questions about life and death...our Sunday evening reading room gatherings were a completel "hijacking" of the space...this was considered an UNauthorized event at the time, but somhow Scott got his dad to work it out with whomever needed to approve it...I remember one night after we finished our gathering driving to a nearby resevoir tower and writing the words to "Shepherd" and "Mr. Bojangles" up the wall along the railing...go figure...early graffiti with big fat permanent magic markers that smelled terrible...but we were inspired!

At 1/18/2007 04:45:00 AM, Blogger Laura said...

you two crack me up.

At 1/18/2007 12:37:00 PM, Anonymous Emily said...

Y'know, Kate, if not for the 20-year age gap, I'd swear we were separated at birth.

This is EXACTLY why I keep telling my practitioner he needs to take out an ad in our local Green Directory. I knew we were missing a grand opportunity to appeal to the peace-love-and-Birkenstocks crowd.

I am SO gonna spend this weekend putting together that "All You Need Is Love" blog I've been threatening for weeks....

At 1/18/2007 05:04:00 PM, Blogger Kate said...

cute you two...sorry Emily Laura and I were actually separated at birth...can't wait to read that post....I usually do have an ad in whatever the local hippy/green magazines are "happening and groovy"...I took out a teensy tiny ad in Utne and Mother Jones some years ago...pretty expensive though and I felt my advertising my spending dollars...needed to be kept local...I try to buy my veggies that way too!

love to you both...and smoochies to you miss laura b.

At 1/18/2007 07:58:00 PM, Anonymous Emily said...

What kind of response are you getting from those ads? I get the impression that I'm the only crazy tattooed hippie who's ever walked into my practitioner's office and started peppering him with questions, but that could be attributed to several factors which have nothing to do with CS. I'd be interested in knowing how many other Scientists pull into the church parking lot with "Sugar Magnolia" pouring from their car stereos on a regular basis....


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