“Ruysbroeck’s universe, like that of Kabir and certain other great mystics, has three orders: Becoming, Being, God. Parallel with this, he distinguishes three great stages in the soul’s achievement of complete reality: the Active, the Interior, and the Superessential Life, sometimes symbolized by the conditions of servant, friend, and Son of God. These, however, must be regarded rather as divisions made for convenience of description, … The spiritual life has the true character of duration; it is one indivisible tendency and movement towards our source and home, in which the past is never left behind, but incorporated in the larger present.” ~Evelyn Underhill
Ms. Underhill is correct in saying that Ruysbroeck’s method of dividing spiritual growth into three stages is only an approximation. Spiritual growth happens in many small steps much like any other type of growth. But just as it is convenient in our public schools to divide students into various grades depending on how much they have learned or at least how much they have been taught, it is also convenient to divide the path of spiritual growth into stages.
The first stage of spiritual growth is of course, awakening the soul. This stage is preceded by certain preliminaries that are not really part of spiritual growth, but are necessary for it. These preliminary stages result in the recognition that the material life is not enough and we need something more. This may happen because the person suffers certain hardships such as an illness or death or a friend or financial ruin, but in other cases, is simply a realization that the pursuit of material goods is not satisfying something inside and no matter how much you accumulate material goods it never will be satisfied. Once a person reaches that stage, then his true spiritual journey begins.
Once the spirit and soul have been truly awakened, the next stage is for it to grow and learn. But when we talk about learning on the spiritual level is not really learning in the conventional sense is remembering what the soul and spirit new all align but forgot when they fell into the material realm. Because the spirit and soul are infinite and ageless they know everything, they have been everywhere, they know how to do everything, and they cannot be easily fooled. But when the spirit is first awakened in the soul is first awakened they do not immediately become completely enlightened and completely knowledgeable of the spiritual world. That is why years of study is needed now to achieve true enlightenment.
Underhill says that the three stages of spiritual growth can be thought of as servant, friend, and Son of God. This is a reasonable way to look at. We all need to start out by accepting ourselves as servants of God doing his will and following his plan. This means that we listen to God, his Angels, and the holy Beings of Light who serve him and do as they say. But as we continue to progress we eventually will reach a stage where we will be more like a friend to God than a servant. We might say that when we reach this stage we no longer have to take orders from higher beings because simply no what is the correct thing to do in all circumstances. In the final stage of spiritual development when we achieve Christ consciousness and become sons and daughters of God, we will not only no what is right and what is wrong all by ourselves but we will be full participants in the creation as God intended us to be. But as Underhill noted the three stages are just a matter of convenience there are really hundreds if not thousands of tiny steps along the path or steps up the mountain side if you prefer. Once we start along that path each of us is obligated to continue climbing and also to assist those coming up behind us. That is the system that has worked for thousands of years and will continue to do so until the final goal of returning this planet to it spiritual origin is achieved.