The Call to the Soul: Six Stages of Spiritual Development

by Marjory Zoet Bankson
Philadelphia: Innisfree Press, 1999.
192 pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Sharon Billings

The Call To The Soul book coverTo all in EEWC, Marjory Zoet Bankson is one of us.  We have experienced her over time: her artfulness with sculpted clay, shaped concepts in the form of plenary addresses, the healing of reconciliation through our organizational separation in 1986, her wisdom and inspiration on the printed page.

And now, in our present age of instant technology, with concerns as weighty and enormous as our global community (where is Atlas when we need him!), she has discerned our compensatory need to turn inward and offered us her thoughts on the Call to the Soul.

Marjory brings her Biblical and classical education to describe the six stages of development experienced while discerning God’s call upon our lives.  She proceeds using three lenses: (a) the life cycle of call, (b) adult developmental stages that correlate with the four questions: Who Am I? What Is My Work? What Is My Gift? What Is My Legacy? and (c) the specific personalities and behaviors of both Esther and Gideon during their respective calls, as recorded in Scripture. It is a web, woven in such a pattern as to capture some part of each of us.

Soulwork is an engaging concept at the present time, attracting numerous authors and popularizing the field of spiritual direction across denominations. This book is an invaluable contribution to the discussion.

Many of us find life astounding—unbelievable sometimes—even as we are staring at the facts. But, can you imagine being Esther, plucked from anonymity and raised to the highest female position in the land?  Marjory has. And she takes us with her, integrating faith and lifework. Some of our inherited theologies have suggested this process would be easy, knowable, expected; but Marjory deals more humanely with us.

Acknowledging first our Resistance, she highlights our tendencies to deny our own strengths.  She follows with the second stage: “to reclaim from the unconscious collective of past associations who we truly are. . . .We will have to recall past connections, reweave the story of past history, and recover gifts that connect us to family, to work, to nature, to God. . . .We seek the form behind our skills—the original seed of the call, the DNA of our souls” (pp. 64-65).

In stage three, Revelation, we begin moving forward,  as “we glimpse another dimension where possibility abounds and fear is, for the moment, overtaken. . . .we can see the whole from a divine perspective. . . . There is a struggle between caution and custom, between what we ‘know’ and a brief glimpse of something larger than ourselves” (p. 84).

Hallelujah!  It can’t come too quickly, can it?  Silence becomes our companion, healing and expansion the results.  We have likely been asked to trade in our practiced defenses for the larger benefit of responding to Mystery.

In this newly idyllic state, we need to brush up on our mythology, for here comes The Poison River.  Testing, stripping down, confrontation conspire.  “We arrive at the river bank, naked of what has sustained us in the past,” Marjory writes, “and we must find a way to trust the unknown future, even when our logic says no!” (p.100).

If I may editorialize: our logic does not just say no.  It shouts no!  But the call of consciousness is stronger, and we plunge in, accompanied by a community of those who are also underway.

Stage four is one of those four letter words: Risk.  Action. Outward declaration. A time to take a stand.  This is where separation might occur from old friends, from  people invested in maintaining the status quo.  Here’s a charming thought: “If the Innocent’s question of God in Stage One is ‘Who are you?’ then God’s question of us in Stage Four is,  ‘And who are you?’” In this birthing state, a midwife is welcome, new rituals are desirable, and Spirit becomes a “living, breathing form of being. Soulwork drops down to the belly, where breathing centers the body in a deeper kind of knowing and creativity can be sustained—even though the final form is not yet assured”(p. 123).

To Relate, ah joy!  “That is the essence of Stage Five—discovering and building those surrounding relationships.” As a newborn baby impacts the whole, everyone around us is affected by our transition in some way.

One of the outcomes is that new community emerges, offering communion, accountability, service. (Marjory’s long relationship with Church of the Saviour in Washington DC provides one model for this expression.)  Enough complexities accompany to invite new skill building in leadership, kinship, “wrestling with the ambiguities of power and opposition. We are called to stretch beyond what we have done in the past.”

The resulting experiences of celebration, grief, lived life may cause us to find satisfaction, a home among our now chosen family, answering—possibly exceeding—the unmet longings from our biological families.

And finally, “completing the cycle of soulwork means integration, endings, release.” Release!  Do we even need to know Marjory’s version, or can we at this moment just reflect upon our own experiences of this glory?

In Release, much is left behind. But what arrives is the concept and experience of servant leadership.  Unattached to our own previous agendas, we are now freed unto the present, opening ourselves to what is, and learning to release what has been dear, while embracing faith that something else is possible.

We learn that we do not own anything, that nothing is permanent, concludes Marjory.  Amen says the reviewer!

The last chapter “Headwaters,”  means exactly what its title conjures. Let’s conclude with Marjory’s exact words: “At the point where the last stage of the soulwork cycle touches the first stage of the next round, trickling headwaters mark the passage between the three public stages at the end of one soulwork cycle and the more private stages at the beginning of a new cycle, where a new call must incubate inside once again”(p. 165).

And finally, the Marjory we have known since 1985 as President of Faith At Work, uses her last 13 pages to offer a fully detailed weekend Soulwork Cycle Retreat.

Bless you, Marjory!


© 1999 Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus volume 23 number 3 fall 1999


Sharon Billings
Sharon Billings, Council member and former EEWC Coordinator, writes that her review came from her heart and her humanity as well as from her studies and work in psychotherapy, feminist spirituality, and spiritual direction.


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