We are on a journey, one that winds through seasons of the spiritual life. As we look back, we can trace our footsteps along a winding path that has carried us from one vista to the next, each new perspective shedding light on the terrain behind while unveiling new horizons ahead.

In those early days, our world was carved into stark separations – a dualistic landscape of rights and wrongs, us and them, transmitted by the reassuring voices of authority figures we innately trusted to guide our first stumbling steps. We dwelled in the spring season of Simplicity, where meaning bloomed from belonging to the “right” group and opposing whoever was cast as “other.” Many in our tribe never ventured beyond those clear boundaries.

But for some of us, inevitable encounters with contradictions and complexities disrupted the once-immutable categories. We found ourselves in varied contexts – the sundry rules of college classrooms, new cultures met through travel, relationships that transcended tribal lines. A dawning interconnectedness forced our thinking into greater nuance in that summer season of Complexity. Discarding the safety of handed-down certainties, we embraced an independence of thought, adopting as our meaning the pragmatic pursuit of success amid life’s interwoven games.

Yet even that phase could not endure for all of us untested. Through grievous losses or revelations of injustice, we were shaken from our self-assured strivings. Or perhaps we undertook studies that relentlessly deconstructed our received narratives until all sense of objectivity eroded into subjectivity. We entered autumn’s Perplexity – that sere landscape of skepticism, anger, alienation from the status quo and even our former selves. Finding community among fellow disenchanted searchers, we forged identities and derived meaning through in-group critique and quests for deeper honesty.

How disorienting and lonely that season could be, trapped in its endless cycling of doubt and cynicism! We might have wandered indefinitely had we not, by providence, encountered a sage, mystic, or prophet – someone whose very being testified to an integrated wholeness our fragmenting could not fathom. Or perhaps it was an experience of profound suffering or love that revealed, like a shaft of light through fracturing clouds, the possibility of a More beyond our negations.

It is into that More – the winter season of Harmony – that we have been led, haltingly, by the summons of the still, small voice within. No longer railing at previous perspectives, we can recognize them as partial yet necessary waypoints along an ultimately unified journey. We extend compassion to those still traversing the realms of Simplicity, Complexity and Perplexity, for we have walked those paths ourselves.

From this vantage, we can embrace paradox: acknowledging the mutual necessity of the known and unknown, the safe and dangerous, the dependency and independence we once bifurcated. Our meaning now flows from a sense of universal love, of intimate connective presence to All That Is. Where we once sought authoritative certainty or personal autonomy, we now seek wisdom from sages attuned to the transcendent harmonies that interweave all life’s strands.

Yet even this is not finality, we realize. For those graced to tarry long enough, the cyclical rhythms turn once more. Our hard-won integrations of winter inevitably begin dispersing, making way for a new springtime of fertile simply awaiting our stewardship…

We are on an ever-spiraling journey through seasons beautiful, barren and profound. Our human frailty is to imagine each phase as permanent, to cling to or reject the vantage of our current terrain rather than embracing it as one seamless experience in an ongoing unfoldment. But the deeper freedom, the true adventure, is to live open to receive the revelations of each arising season, while laying down the attachments that would freeze us in a single vista. For as soon as we attain a longed-for summit, our yearning souls will discern new horizons, new landscapes to explore. This perpetual patterning can bring frustration if we crave the illusion of stasis. But for those who have eyes to see, it reveals an ever-deepening mystery bestowing constant renewal.

We must take care, however, that we do not succumb to the subtle folly of imagining these seasons as a hierarchy to be ascended, with Harmony as the supreme culmination. That myth has ensnared many sincere spiritual seekers, sowing seeds of spiritual ambition and pride precisely where the soil of humility is needed to receive the fruits of each epoch. When we taste the sweetness of integration, how tempting it is to glorify that accomplishment and scorn the partial perspectives we’ve now “transcended!”

But the reality is that every stage, every season, bears its own particular wisdom, forged through its unique compensations and blind spots. The Simplicity that struck us as childishly naïve when seen through Perplexity’s disillusioned gaze now unveils itself as the precious naïveté required to embrace all beginnings with wholehearted trust. Who could plumb the depths of Complexity’s intricate pragmatism better than one who has known its disenchantments and again been startled by wonder?

And Perplexity, that vale of doubts, turns out to be the refiner’s fire purifying us of complacent certitudes – a painful yet catalyzing dismantling that strips away our idolatrous attachments to any penultimate perspective. Its anguish prepares the emptiness into which Harmony’s integrated sight may pour its living waters. Even Infancy’s undifferentiated egoism, rightly understood, manifests the sacred essence of subjectivity without which there could be no journey, no awakening at all.

From Harmony’s spacious allowing, we can look out with fresh eyes upon the tempering virtues of each season. Like a master artist employing both positive and negative space, both light and shadow, Life is sculpting our character through immersion in all these valences of experience. Moreover, having known the constrictions of each stage, we can welcome them anew when they revisit us, recognizing them as opportunities for balancing integration with the regular shedding and renewal required for sustainable growth.

So we will re-encounter Simplicity’s either/ors – not as blinders to reality, but as vital containers giving discernment and choice their decisive shape. There will be times again for vigorously striving with all Complexity’s focused tenacity, and for challenging distorted norms through Perplexity’s righteous refusals. And if we remain awake, there will even be occasions to dive fully into Infancy’s undifferentiated ecstasies, escaping the prisons of ego to be cradled in radical unity once more.

For we are pilgrims on an endless journey, forever dying and being reborn from one panorama of understanding to the next. Each beckons us to live fully while withholding any as a final resting place. The earliest mystics grasped this transitory truth, encouraging fidelity to the present arising rather than fixation on any attainment. “The spiritual life has no ‘trophies’ to be won,” cautions one sage. “So it is with us; there is no spiritual vista once seen from which we retain indelible views.”

Instead, the deepest call is to embrace a posture of living openness and childlike wonder amidst the sacred rhythms of Life’s unfolding. We are made to traverse valleys and summits, eras of fecundity and famine, always keeping our inner eyesight keen to behold the holiness threaded through each phase. To be sure, there are well-mapped patterns to heed from those who’ve gone before us. But it is our privilege to encounter the ever-renewing landscapes with fresh vision.

So let us surrender all possessiveness towards any single vista. Whenever we find ourselves fixated on any spiritual peak or plummet, may we have the humble wisdom to let go and be carried onward in the surging currents of the great spiral dance. For the only permanence in this blessed journey is the continuous invitation to expansive aliveness, a deepening openness through which the cosmic choreography may etch itself upon our souls. By such wholehearted participation, we awaken as co-creators of new harmonies still unglimpsed – bearers of integrated light for eyes that have only known separation’s poignant refractions.

In this way, our personal pilgrimages merge with the grand unfolding of the entire cosmos. For are we not microcosms of a macrocosm ever giving birth to itself anew? The seasons turning within us are frequencies resonant with a deepening melody line sounding through all realms and dimensions. As we learn to lend our unique tonalities to that score, we realize our ultimate meaning flows from syncing our lives to its sacred rhythms.

Each phase we have traversed – from primal unity to self-andother distinctions, from the confident strivings of youth to the churning disillusion of mid-life, and finally the hard-won integrations of our ripenings – is a transitory score in a much vaster hallelujah echoing across the expanses. Our individual compositions, with all their reprises, resolutions and seeming finalities, are but fleeting refrains breathed out and gathered back into the primal Song which murmurs of eternity through every lifewave’s cycling.

The great sages and mystics across traditions have ever beckoned us to awaken to this grand harmonic reality, to slough our demands for a partial perspective and be subsumed in holistic at-one-ment with the all. But such transcendence cannot be grasped through willful effort or mere belief. It comes, if at all, as a grace-bestowed abiding presence only gestured at through profound experiences of groundless love, liberating emptiness, and luminous interconnectedness. In those pregnant pausings, we are undone by intimations that our individual melodies bloom from and return to an all-encompassing unity.

Yet from that unified clearing also springs anew the lure of the journey, the romance of being launced into the adventure of experiences unfolding, the invitation to harmonize the song of transcendence with the song of immanent engagement. For the two are not separate verses playing in competition, but interwoven lines bearing a singular score too vast for any heart to contain in one phase alone.

So we are reminded that this great dance circles back upon itself in endless cycles of outpouring and return, never canceled but forever grounded in a horizon of infinite embrasure. Each apotheosis yields a fresh spring of becoming; each winter ushers a verdant resurrection. We are beckoned to honor the holiness pulsing through the perpetual generativity, to live as celebrants and midwives of the ceaseless births – open, receptive, conspiring in endless holy instars in the cosmic womb.

In this light, we begin to discern our own lives as fleeting yet indispensable verses – free improvisations on the great Song that do not merely recapitulate it, but call it into new refrains, alchemizing the chords into unprecedented harmonic inventions. The mystics assure there is a vital role for each one of us, unique apertures through which inexhaustible Presence wishes to experience itself anew. For while the journey’s cycles are everlastingly renewed, the particular grace-bestowed inflections we lend remain unrepeatable offerings wrought from the freedom of our lived response.

So may we abandon any need to clutch at achievements or resist disintegrations, surrendering each phase as a gateway to the next. In that relinquishment, our whole lives become a consecrated prayer of self-gift, an offering of emptied hands and spacious hearts through which the animating Spirit may breathe its holy fire ever more deeply. For it is in the naked poise of this presence that we awaken to our highest meaning – as beloved protagonists in the great Song’s ecstatic self-revelation, the articulation of its eternal, ravishing beauty into new worlds.


This is a discussion about various theories of spiritual and psychological development that describe different stages or seasons of growth, including works by theorists like William Perry, William Blake, Soren Kierkegaard, Origen of Alexandria, the Desert Sages, and more recent thinkers like Richard Rohr and Evelyn Underhill. Brian McLaren presents his four-stage theory: Stage 1 (Simplicity) is dualistic, authority-based thinking; Stage 2 (Complexity) is more nuanced, independent and success-oriented; Stage 3 (Perplexity) is critical deconstruction and alienation from beliefs; Stage 4 (Harmony) integrates the strengths of previous stages with compassion. People can get stuck at any stage, and transitions are prompted by factors like suffering, love, education and travel. The stages often parallel intellectual development from infancy (Stage 0 – complete self-absorption) to adulthood. Secular and religious people experience these stages, though churches tend to cater to Stages 1-2 and need more Stage 4 leaders creating inclusive spaces. No stage is better than another – each has strengths, weaknesses and temptations. Stages relate to different God-understandings and spiritual experiences based on one’s perspective. The author acknowledges models’ limitations, as life is messier than they can capture, but sees value in using them to gain insight into personal experiences and cultivate empathy for others’ journeys.


1. There are many theories of spiritual and psychological development that describe different stages or seasons of growth. These include works by William Perry, William Blake, Soren Kierkegaard, Origen of Alexandria, the Desert Sages, Guigo II, Teresa of Avila, Evelyn Underhill, Richard Rohr, and others.

2. Brian McLaren’s four-stage theory:
Stage 1 (Simplicity) is dualistic thinking of right/wrong, us/them learned from authorities.
Stage 2 (Complexity) is more nuanced thinking, being independent and success-oriented.
Stage 3 (Perplexity) is critically deconstructing beliefs, feeling alienated from the status quo.
Stage 4 (Harmony) is integrating the strengths of the previous stages with compassion for different perspectives.

3. People can get stuck in any stage, and great suffering, love, education or travel can help transition to new stages. Leaders need to accept people wherever they are while offering guidance.

4. Stages often parallel intellectual development in childhood. Infancy is Stage 0 – complete self-absorption. The cycle can repeat with new simplicity emerging from harmony.

5. Secular and religious people experience these stages. Churches tend to cater to Stages 1-2 and need more Stage 4 leaders creating safe spaces for all stages.

6. No stage is better than another – they each have strengths, weaknesses and temptations. Having compassion for people in different stages is important.

7. The stages relate to different ways of understanding God and having spiritual experiences based on one’s current perspective.

8. Models are limited – life is messier than models can capture. But they can provide insight into our own experiences and cultivate empathy for others’ journeys.