Friday, November 13, 2009


Many things need good containers and certainly that is the case with wine making. I use good food-grade plastic containers and glass carboys that hold up to 6.5 gallons of wine. These containers have fermentation locks which allows carbon dioxide to escape during with wine's fermentation process but also keeps outside airborne yeasts from coming in and contaminating the wine. There's a familiar saying attributed to Jesus in three of the gospels about not putting new wine in old wine skins (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-39). In those days new wine would be put in new wine skins because fermentation would continue and the new skins would be flexible and pliant enough to expand. Old skins would harden and not expand with the continuing fermentation, resulting in burst skins and lost wine.

In the past 25 years there has been interesting work done on approaching faith and human maturation developmentally. Building on Jean Piaget's theory of child cognitive development and Erik Erikson's work on adult psycho-social development, James Fowler, Robert Kegan, and Elizabeth Liebert are some of the writers who apply this approach to spiritual life and faith development. I think of increasingly large "containers" that hold our understanding of God, reality, relationships, faith, and meaning. Sometimes we grow out of an old container and need a new one that is larger and more expansive. At an earlier time in our life we probably needed a concrete, literal understanding of scripture. God was seen in human terms. Rules and laws gave a safe structure to understanding the "right way" to live. Later, as abstract reasoning develops we might begin to question some of the earlier ways of understanding. We might begin to understand that there is a place for myth and metaphor, the power of symbolic truth as well as literal truth. Hopefully, church and authority structures are flexible and expandable enough to hold us in our questioning. (Which is, unfortunately, not always the case.) And we might come to understand that the way we understand God changes over time--and that eventually we may find that no container can completely hold God or our spirit.

In spiritual guidance work we try to provide a safe and respectful container that is flexible and expandable enough to hold our group or directee so they can do the inner work they desire to do. We try to honor where the person is in their own faith/spiritual development and be available to them as they form their questions, discover their sense of wonder and mystery, explore meaning, and seek wisdom.

How flexible and expandable is the wine skin of your spirit? What would happen if you burst that container?

No comments: