Books: Chrysalis by Alan Jamieson

I’ve talked before of books like Godzone that I’d take to a desert island; Chrysalis is the book that I’d take to an actual desert. Or rather, to the metaphorical, spiritual desert – the faith wilderness, the dark night of the soul. Or, in Jamieson’s typology, the Chrysalis.

In my own evaluation of the life-cycle of faith I’ve likened the rigid, ‘pre-critical’ (often fundamentalist) phase to a chrysalis or cocoon, because I have felt increasingly confined, cramped and constricted in this phase, cocooned and separated from the wider life and fresh air beyond its rigid walls. I’ve longed to emerge blinking into the light and colour, to spread my wings as a new butterfly.

Jamieson, however, uses the chrysalis metaphor in a completely different way, and I’ll readily concede that his version works better, is more thought-through and consistent, than mine. For him, the ‘pre-critical’ phase of faith (Scott Peck’s ‘Stage 2′) can be better likened to the caterpillar, feeding itself enthusiastically on a diet of Christian books, sermons and services until it can eat no more. At this point, the caterpillar stops eating and withdraws to start building the chrysalis which will be its dark, still, solitary home for the next few weeks or months.

For Jamieson, there comes a point in many people’s faith journey when they’re no longer satisfied with the things which used to sustain them spiritually. Indeed, they often start to feel a profound sense of alienation from the elements and practices of the Christian life which up till now they’ve loved and eagerly fed on. At first they try harder to ‘turn back and do the things [they] used to do’ (in the words of Matt Redman’s song ‘When my heart runs dry’, based on Rev 2:5). But increasingly this just leaves them unsatisfied and frustrated, wondering whether they’ve ‘lost their first love’ (Rev 2:4) and are losing their faith. (Verses like these from Revelation probably don’t do anything to help at this point.)

At this point they’ve reached the crisis – or rather, the Chrysalis. Following an inner prompting or need, they often now start to withdraw from active church involvement and enter what can feel like a lonely, frightening, solitary and silent darkness – the cocoon or chrysalis. This is what I’ve elsewhere described as the ‘Holy Saturday’ experience, the dark night of the soul. It’s the place where old supports and certainties are stripped away to make way for – if all goes well – new, deeper understandings and ways of being.

The cocoon often feels like a tomb; and without adequate support and encouragement, it can indeed become the tomb where faith sputters out. And actually a kind of death is needed now, a death to the old ways and patterns; yet the chrysalis’s real purpose is to be a womb, the creative birthplace of new becoming. Within the chrysalis a fragile, fledgeling new faith can start to form and, when the time is right, the chrysalis-dweller can emerge and rejoin the church community as a person made new. Those who make the transition, who manage to come out and fly, are tremendous assets to the faith community and wonderful signs of the Kingdom. Emerging is a kind of resurrection; a glimpse or foretaste of the reality of Christ’s transforming life.

Chrysalis is a rare gift of a book: it is wise, kind, supportive, non-judgemental, and deeply practical. It isn’t perhaps a crafted literary work like Buechner’s Wishful Thinking or indeed like Riddell’s Godzone - but it isn’t meant to be and doesn’t need to be. Jamieson actually quotes from both these books; other sources include Henri Nouwen, Francis of Assisi, Walter Brueggemann, Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel (wife of Jürgen Moltmann) and U2. I sense a kindred spirit here – or at least a lot of shared tastes.

So I really can’t recommend Chrysalis highly enough, particularly to all those who feel the painful pangs of dissatisfaction with their faith and with old ways of doing church, or the yearning for something bigger and freer and more real; and above all to those who are stumbling blindly in the darkness of the desert, of the dark night – of the chrysalis.

If you’d like to hear more from Alan Jamieson he blogs (along with some friends) at Prodigal Kiwi(s).

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About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Dark night of the soul, Emerging, Stages of faith, The faith journey and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Books: Chrysalis by Alan Jamieson

  1. Celeste says:

    Hi ! I found your website through searching “Chysalid” on the web. I also just read that book and found it amazing ! Very helpful, and lightening… I hoped I could have find such a book a few years before. It certainly have helped me through the dark times I pass through when I leave church without planning it… I went exactly through the same steps the author described : dissatisfaction, sort of anger, etc…
    Through that post, I also discovered your blog and I can identify myself with most of the thoughts and questions you share in your articles… I really appreciate, not only the subject, but the spirit of your writing ; you don’t claim to be right, you just share about the step you are on your faith journey ! Thanks for all of that… I certainly will become one of your regular reader !
    And… as you may have guess, I’m not english but french, so excuse me if my english is far from perfect !

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment, and welcome to the blog! I’m very glad you found Chrysalis helpful – I think it’s an excellent book and hope that many more people read it. I wish you all the best for the next steps of your journey.

      Your English is very good by the way – especially compared to my French, which is not good at all!

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