Christian Spirituality: What is Christ? Part 3 - The Cycle of Spiritual Evolution

This is Part 3 of 3! Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2!

stone path through Snowdonia valley, toward the horizon - Wales, UK

As we look at the meaning of the Christ in Christianity, we find other dimensions to this term besides what we covered in Part 1 (the Circle of Life, Love, and Incarnation) and Part 2 (the Cross of Suffering and Redemption). The Christ principle is not simply about vacillation between the goodness and pain of life. What else is there? There's much more we could say, but let's round off this series of posts by exploring a third symbol: the Cycle.

stone steps up toward a summit - Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

How do we visualize the symbol of a Cycle? We can overlap the shapes of Circle and Cross together, and find they form a wheel and compass. This shape illustrates the Divine pattern and path that God turns and guides us through.


If we examine the example of Jesus, and the lives and work of many other prophets and Mystics, we find there are at least seven stages in this Cycle – or in other words, seven steps on the journey of spiritual transformation, chapters in our sacred stories, spokes on the wheel, points on the compass:

  1. life

  2. purgation

  3. death

  4. illumination

  5. resurrection

  6. union

  7. birth

Each one of these stages merits a blog post of its own to go into deeper detail, but for now I invite you to sit with this simple list. Does this resonate with the seasons or changes you've experienced in your time on Earth, the different chapters in your life story? What do you feel/think?


According to Christian Spirituality, we are all constantly moving through these stages in our experience, and as soon as we complete a Cycle, it begins again. But this endlessness doesn't mean the Cycle is a static state, where our reality is mere reruns. Wheels and compasses go somewhere, in this case progressing ever-closer to God. By giving ourselves over to this process of transformation, we and all Creation are continuously recycled and upcycled, journeying deeper into intimacy with Spirit's power, consciousness, and love.


This is the truth Jesus conveyed when he enacted the Paschal Mystery – progression through all seven of the steps above, as told in the Gospels: From individuals to societies to Nature, from change over a year to change over an eon – no one and nothing can escape this pattern; everything and everyone undergoes this Cycle. And in it, as we've alluded to in Part 1 and Part 2, the sufferings of purgation and death are never the end of our story, merely chapters in it. AND, everything and everyone undergoes this pattern countless times, in small ways and large. So most of the time, we're talking not about purgation and death of the physical body, but of the ego – the part of us that often obstructs our intimacy with God.


As Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry, if we can surrender the ego, we can find ultimate freedom. If we can accept and lean into this Cycle, we can remember gratitude and wonder for the gift of existence in this miraculous Universe. If we can embrace the natural flow of transformation, we can truly evolve and grow toward God.

mysterious path deeper into the heart of the forest - cougar / Tiger Mountain State Forest, Washington, USA

Becoming familiar with this Christ Cycle is an ongoing task for all of us. It is not a linear formula for change, nor is it predictable in process or outcome. Nobody ever “masters” it, even after a lifetime of practice, so there’s no need to even attempt that – hallelujah! As with all matters of spirituality, all we can do is try to live in rhythm with it. This could be as simple as whispering the seven stages as a mantra or prayer, in time with breaths or footsteps.

I’m trying to stay attuned to this rhythm myself, learning to recognize this pattern in Nature, and in my own nature, and in stories, grief, and creativity. Meanwhile, the unbelievable Mystery of it all is always keeping me guessing, remembering the Cycle is a wild, glorious dance and adventure. Everywhere I’ve turned, God has been there, reminding me Spirit turns us in the dance, Spirit guides us on the adventure.


If we can heed these reminders and internalize recognition of the Cycle, we can learn to welcome the generative rhythm of evolution. We can boldly and playfully face our fears of life, purgation, death, illumination, resurrection, union, and birth. And we can help others do the same, so we can all live in deeper intimacy with the Divine. This is no easy task, and I and all of us have much to learn. I believe aspiring to and practicing these things is part of what it means to be a committed Christian and a true follower. And we desperately need more folks doing these things in our world.


While there's much more we could say about Christ, let's turn next to another unique innovation of Christian Spirituality – the Trinity! What does it mean to understand God as three-in-one?


Stay tuned as we dive into the Trinity next!

In the meantime, I offer some reflection questions:

  • How have you been experiencing the Divine turning and guiding you and all Creation in spiritual evolution?

  • How would you like to?


To learn more

Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics (Sounds True: 2019)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: H