By Clergy & Congregation Care Coordinator David Miron
Change. Transition. Transformation.
Although these words sound like the same thing, each one expresses different aspects of our human experience.
Of course, change and transition are closely connected, as change refers to something different, and transition refers to the process you undergo in adjusting to a change.
And true, transformation is a type of change — a dramatic change in form, nature, or function, according to the dictionary.
But aside from physical transformation that some people undergo, I believe transformation is a dramatic change in perspective that informs our behavior. It is something that happens to us, if we allow it.
The Basis for Transformation
Through the anonymous stories of some individuals who have come to Samaritan for counseling, spiritual direction and coaching, a common theme heard is peoples’ lives being transformed.
The basis of their transformation often is a change in the perception of how they look at themselves and at their circumstances. Frequently this change has to do with making peace with what is, who they are, how they feel and what they experienced.
People are also transformed when they are taught to live with the apparent contradictions in their lives, the most basic of which is the recognition of, as Carl Jung put it, our shadow side, or the side of us that we do not like but that is as big a part of us as the side of ourselves we share with others in the light.
Esther de Waal, in the preface of her book “Living with Contradiction,” writes of this truth:
“Unless we learn to live with ourselves, we cannot live with others, and unless and until we have learned to live fully and creatively with others, we cannot hope to live with our own selves. [We must] face the tension of that constant inward, outward movement which is one of the inescapable contradictions of all our lives.”
The Intersection of Transformation & Faith
Outside of my work with Clergy & Congregation Care, I teach a course at Elizabethtown College called the “Religion and the Human Condition.” One of the big questions my students consider after studying various traditions is: Why is it that persons who claim to adhere to a particular religious tradition so often act in ways contrary to what their tradition teaches?
The one response that seems to make the most sense is that many of us do not allow the tradition we follow to transform our lives and our way of being. Also, transformation is not just an individual thing. The way we organize ourselves in our faith traditions also has a large part to play in promoting or discouraging real transformation.
The Power of a Transformational Community
In working with faith communities and churches at Samaritan, we often talk of “transformational congregations.” These are congregations that encourage and depend upon the transformed lives of those in the congregation.
After all, congregations face many of the same type of challenges that we as individuals face. Congregations have “shadow” sides which, if the congregation is to be a place of transformation, it must integrate into its self-understanding and be at peace with.
But unfortunately, many congregations today are caught in survival mode. They look at the numbers, the people and finances, the aging of the group, and their energy level, and fear they will not survive as a congregation.
And in some cases, that’s true. Still, operating out of fear blocks the ability to come to terms with what is and makes it nearly impossible to see a path to transformation.
A metaphor that may be helpful to consider is to think of ourselves and our congregations as keystones.
Just like the keystone in the arch accepts and holds the pressure from both sides — transforming that pressure into a stable structure — so we, too, are called to accept and hold the pressure or tension from both sides of a paradox and transform that energy into life-giving stability.
It’s a call that isn’t always easy to answer. But if we are able to do so, we may find the transformation that we’ve been looking for all along.
Have questions about your congregation’s health? Learn more about our congregational assessment tool here or contact Clergy & Congregation Care Coordinator David Miron at email@example.com for more information.