12. The Divine Ratchet

Essay #12 from the book, "Reflections on Providence" by the Rev. Frank S. Rose, Tucson, AZ

“People are allowed to go deeply into the true things of faith and the good things of charity only to the extent that they can be kept in them until the end of their lives.” Divine Providence #221

Looking back on my spiritual journey I notice times when my life went through a profound change for the better. I can remember being worried that I would somehow lose the progress I had made. Some of the initial euphoria associated with change has worn off, but it seems as if there was a significant shift. I have not gone back to the person I was before.

One of our great fears about spiritual growth is the possibility of backsliding. If we could enter deeply into a spiritual path, and then later turn around and deny everything that we had learned, our last state would be worse than our first. Some people are hesitant about spiritual growth for this very reason. When “ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” Or, as Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would have no sin.” (John 9:41)

Once the spiritual process starts, there is not supposed to be any turning back. This is the principle of the ratchet. A ratchet is designed to keep things going in one direction. The escapement mechanism in a watch ensures that time will not go backward. The ratchets on the trams in San Francisco are there to keep to cars from drifting back down those long and steep hills. Winches have ratchets on them to keep them from slipping back.

Since ratchets are so important in these mechanical devices, it would make sense that there is a kind of divine ratchet to prevent us from slipping back in the vital upward path of spiritual growth.

The Lord provides a spiritual safety net – a kind of basic protection that prevents people from going backwards spiritually. It works very simply. People are allowed to progress spiritually only according to special laws. They may have times in which their thoughts soar to great heights, but they are not able to live up to these new thoughts. In such times, they seem to fall back in their beliefs. On the emotional side, they may have moments of great inspiration and peace which they do not understand, and cannot yet incorporate into their lives. These moments of inspiration can be lost. If a person is to have a permanent step forward, all aspects of the mind need to work together in supporting each other, so that the change is gradual, and once made, is permanent. This is possible when thoughts and feelings move forward together.

We need to take our spiritual journey seriously, and at a gradual pace. We do not want to progress beyond our ability to sustain whatever growth we may achieve. We do not want to slide back. God watches over us to make sure that this does not happen. We might, at times, appear to slide back, when in fact our forward movement is still being protected. This is one of the great principles of the workings of providence.

—Rev. Frank Rose, Former Pastor of Sunrise Chapel, Tucson, AZ