As we’ve looked at the stages of faith development, we’ve moved from the early stages of black and white thinking (stages 1-2), to the stage of belonging (stage 3). Then we generally “hit a wall” of some kind, which leads to stage four, a great time of spiritual disorientation.
Stage five is a time of reorientation and tremendous spiritual growth, like stage three, but with very different parameters.
As I mentioned in the last post, in stage four it’s as if the “God Map” we’ve built from our earlier experience has been blown apart. Suddenly God gets much bigger, less definable, and yet more all-encompassing. The image of using a larger basket to collect spiritual understanding is helpful. We find we relate to truths found in other religions and become less about “us-them” and more about “we.”
In stage five faithing we learn to talk less and listen more, especially in prayer. Words become less critical, and being present to the Divine and to others becomes profound. Contemplative practices begin to feed the soul more than those in stage three faithing, where Bible Study, Worship, and Church attendance were the primary means of spiritual growth. Now growth comes from silence, solitude, and contemplative faith practices.
Just a bit of history here: Contemplative faith practices (as those written about in this blog) are not new, or New Age, as some say. In fact, the early church was known for them. If you look at the Bible, you will see these kinds of practices in both the old and new testaments. Elijah hid in a cave, where he found God was in the still, small voice. And Jesus often went to a lonely place where he prayed. God did excellent work in deserts, wombs, and tombs.
What changed? Christianity became the state religion after Rome’s ruler, Constantine, ended the persecution of Christians. And whenever you mix faith and politics, things go sour. (This has never been more evident than now). So, after Rome got involved, the state church became corrupt, and many believers fled into the desert to be alone with God and try to reclaim their faith. They became known as the desert mothers and fathers, and they taught the way of contemplation. These desert communities grew into monasteries, and the practices of contemplation got trapped there, available to only those who lived inside.
During the reformation, the protestant churches threw out the contemplative practices baby with the Roman bathwater and only trusted spoken prayer, Bible reading, and preaching. In Catholicism, the contemplative practices stayed mostly inside the monasteries, unavailable to the congregations.
But, every five hundred years, as Phyllis Tickle says in her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, God throws a garage sale to get rid of all the barnacles that have calcified our faith and bring something new. We are in the middle of that kind of cosmic shaking right now. This shaking has allowed these ancient spiritual practices to reemerge.
And, people seem to be coming to these practices sooner. Perhaps because young people are experiencing much pain early in life, or maybe it is time for something new to come to the church. I hope it is the latter.
Whatever it is, stage five is a lengthy exploration of a new relationship with God. People in Stage Three might look on someone in Stage Five and assume they have slid down the slippery slope into “liberal Christianity.” I know I used to think that way. Now I understand it is actually a place of deeper faith and increasing love of God, not less. This is where we will probably spend the rest of our days, exploring the ever-increasing depth and breadth of God—finding the Divine in all people and all sentient beings, often feeling closer to God in nature than in church. However, I still believe that being part of a congregation is important. Most of us will not move beyond stage five faithing.
So, what of Stage Six? I imagine few people get there. It has been described as a Oneing with God. Some people are so united with the Divine they care only for others. Think of Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., or Gandhi. These were not perfect people but people whose whole lives were to serve others and eventually died in that singleness of purpose.
What happens to what we learned in the previous stages? It is not lost; it is integrated into us as we continue to grow. We are not to disdain the things we believed in the past, but to honor them and hold them as foundational to what we have now. This is not a linear progression either. We can revisit previous stages at any time.
The goal of understanding faithing over the life cycle is not to box people into stages but to make us more compassionate to others on their own journeys and give us words for our own experience as we go through these passages.
I’d love to hear what you think of the idea of stages of spiritual development. Does it make sense? Does it help? What have you found to be true in your experience?
Cornucopia Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com
Rock Carin Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Monastery Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com
Gandhi Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com