In preparation for the release of my latest book, Tumbled People: Deconstructing and Reconstructing Your Faith, I thought I’d lead us through the stages of faith development. When I wrote about this topic before, they were my most shared set of blogs. I think it was because these concepts give us words for our experience, which is something very important to me, leading me to write this book.
Saint Teresa of Avila, Father Richard Rohr, R. Thomas Ashbrook, and many others have written about the stages of spiritual development. These stages are universal across cultures and religions, as well as with nonreligious people. They mimic Erikson’s stages of social development in the field of psychology. Six or seven stages (Rohr includes eight) are generally listed for spiritual development. These stages are unique to each person, and one stage is not better than another, nor are they always linear, as we can bounce back and forth between them. Sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back, as Rohr would say.
Children are wonderfully open in their faith and experience of God. I myself was that way and my own children were likewise. Children move naturally through the first and second stages of spiritual development, but the stages do not always correlate with age.
James W. Fowler is a seminal figure in the psychology of religion. In Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, Fowler calls this first stage of faith development intuitive-projective faith. My mentor, Catherine Gregg, writes of this phase as beginning with an experience of trust: “You have to be in a relationship where trust and bonding are established.”
Bonding to God and others is important. If bonding with our parental figures is interrupted by abuse or neglect, it can hinder our relationship with God. If our God image is of a punitive, neglectful, or otherwise warped deity, it’s easy to get stuck in the early stages of faith development until those false images can be healed.
As we move into stage two of faith development, it’s a time of mythic and literal faith. This is why, suggests Catherine Gregg, “in Sunday schools across America, we tell children the mythic stories,” such as David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. This is when we develop the black and white, good and bad, dualistic categories necessary to know what is true and what is false in the world.
This stage is perfect for children, but as you can imagine, sometimes adults with unhealed childhood wounds can get stuck in this stage of spiritual development, and it’s not pretty. Black and white, us/them thinking is a huge problem in our world today. It separates us, rather than unites us. And unification is the ultimate goal of spiritual development – unity with God and with each other.
Most of us can look back on our childhoods and see this kind of faith development. In my book, I go through each stage and tell stories from my own life about my own development. The book also contains spiritual practices to try as we move through the stages. It also has journal pages to help us process what we are learning. It will be available for pre-order in mid-April, and then be released in mid-May. I’m so excited.
I’d love to hear what memories you have of your childlike faith, or how you might have been kept from moving forward to stage three, which is a wonderful stage full of belonging and growth, which I’ll talk about next time.
Let me know what you think about these concepts. Are they new? Do they make sense? I’d love to hear your stories. Also, if you’re interested in being an ARC reader for Tumbled People, please send me your email address and I’ll get an e-copy to you. An ARC reader reads the book before it is published and writes an honest review.
- Photo of child by willsantt on Pexels.com
- Tumbled People Cover by Bublish
- Photo of Police by Rosemary Ketchum on Pexels.com