Here in Colorado Springs each June a busload of young men and women arrive on the beautiful campus of the Air Force Academy. The Front Range mountains behind the campus are awe inspiring but almost all bus passengers are looking at their shoes instead of at the majestic peaks. Just moments before they said tearful goodbyes to family. (Tears flowed from parents’ eyes; in most cases these “kids” hid their own brimming eyes.) They are the cream of the crop. They have won entrance to one of the finest educational institutions in the country. Official recommendations from their government representatives were necessary for admittance. They’re on the brink of one of the greatest adventures of their lives.
So why do they look as though they’re about to face a firing squad?? They have carefully read all the information about Academy training. Maybe they’ve heard personal stories from those who have formerly walked (and survived!) the path. Before even leaving the bus to step onto Academy grounds, they will be barked at by upperclassmen and women. They will be told when to speak, how to speak, where to look, where not to look. In-processing on campus includes orientation, new uniforms, assignments of all kinds.
About one month after this rigorous on-campus orientation, they will be outfitted with heavy gear, march about five miles to Jacks Valley for eighteen days of what the academy website describes as “training requiring the utmost in stamina, determination and resourcefulness.” The march to Jacks Valley ends somewhere around step number 11,600 states one website. Some will not make it through the heat, rain, mud, humiliation and exhaustion, choosing to return home or to another college or university.
The path to spiritual transformation is not all that different from that of these future cadets. Richard Rohr writes that this path is similar to what boys in some cultures and religions experience as steps to manhood. “These initiation rites are always about leading the boy out of the world of business as usual…a voluntary displacement for the sake of transformation of consciousness, perspective and heart.” Rohr writes about “liminal space,” a threshold over which we cross to enter into a new place, always “an experience of displacement in the hope of a new point of view…” A space providing “a type of inner crisis to help us make a needed transition.”
Some of you reading thus far are ready to click off the page! Maybe you’re completely satisfied with your spiritual life. Maybe there isn’t a gnawing hunger within your soul. Maybe unanswered (or unanswerable) questions cause you to squirm. Maybe you find some of Jesus’ parables frustrating beyond degree so you just assign them an “we’ll-understand-them-by-and-by” solution. Maybe “don’t ask questions, just believe it ” completely satisfies you.
But if you want to walk with me into a spiritual “Jacks Valley,” stick around for next Monday when we’ll begin the march!