Spiritual Roots and Stages of Faith -- by Rev. Tom Thorpe

Lately I’ve been thinking about “spiritual roots.”   The exploration is important to me because most of us in Unity are “spiritual immigrants.”  We’ve come to Unity from other spiritual paths.  I’ve followed several spiritual paths over the course of my life.

My work at Valley Hope (an addiction treatment center) re-emphasized for me the importance that just about every spiritual practice has in the lives of some people.  One goal of religion is to help people experience transcendence in a way that the rational mind can explain.  Different rituals trigger that transcendent awareness for different individuals.  It’s also true that, as individuals evolve and their awareness changes, their perspective on rituals evolves as well.

Clergyman and Psychologist James W. Fowler’ developed a concept he named Stages of Faith.  The concept is as much psychological as theological.  It describes how humans relate to their environment at different points in their lives. Here’s a chart explaining the stages:  http://www.usefulcharts.com/psychology/james-fowler-stages-of-faith.html    And here’s a much longer article with an in-depth explanation of all seven of the stages Fowler described:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fowler’s_stages_of_faith_development
I suspect that many if no most adults could be categorized in Fowler’s Stage 3:  
Stage 3 – “Synthetic-Conventional” faith (arising in adolescence; aged 12 to adulthood) characterized by conformity to religious authority and the development of a personal identity. Any conflicts with one’s beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies. (Wikipedia)
BELONGING is more important to people at Stage 3 than deep introspection.   Some “Stage 3” faith groups, including many, but not all Baptist communities, feel a need to condemn beliefs and practices with which they don’t agree.   When the pain of conflicts between a person’s beliefs and the requirements of his or her spiritual path begins to exceed the pain of separating from a group which has been important to his or her identity, she or he enters Stage 4.
Most of us in Unity are either still in Stage 4 or vividly remember being there:
Stage 4 – “Individuative-Reflective” faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties) a stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings. As one is able to reflect on one’s own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one’s belief.(Wikipedia)
Stage 4 involves a lot of letting go.  It’s a kind of “journey through the wilderness,” perhaps characterized as “the hero’s journey.”  People in Stage 4 experience a lot of disillusionment, “demythologizing” of beliefs they once accepted unquestioningly.  I was in Stage 4 for much of my early adult life.    A big part of a Unity minister or teacher’s work is helping people through their Stage 4 experience.  I am grateful to the Unity minister who helped me.
The good news is that Stage 4 usually leads to Stage 5:
Stage 5 – “Conjunctive” faith (mid-life crisis) acknowledges paradox and transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems. The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent “truth” that cannot be explained by any particular statement.(Wikipedia)
I believe I’ve arrived at Stage 5.  I can now accept spiritual beliefs and practices that once irritated — even infuriated — me as valid for those they serve.   I’ve been able to appreciate and even participate in some of those rituals as a guest of the communities that practice them.
A Course In Miracles includes this statement in its introduction:
Nothing real can be threatened. 
Nothing unreal exists. 
Herein lies the peace of God.
I recognize that Truth remains Truth, regardless of my or anyone’s perspective.  I am convinced that Truth invites discovery.  I am convinced that God, or whatever name we give to Ultimate Reality, desires to be known because It is the Source from which we all came.   I am convinced that every one of the world’s religions, whether or not I have learned to appreciate it, is in some way a response to Truth’s invitation, to God’s desire
January 18th, 2014