Faith Ages and Stages of Life- An Overview

January 2, 2010 - 2:54 pm 22 Comments

A Further Discussion of Adult Stages and Rituals…

Now, what I presented could be considered the historical and theological rationale for redesigning worship to include periodic rituals for adult stages of spiritual and religious development.
The larger question for consideration is this: Should we acknowledge certain birthdays or age passages or should we not select times per se and choose to acknowledge whenever a person has an “epiphany” or a special, personal break through or when they decide to make a special spiritual commitment?
As a quick review, psychologists and developmental scholars have expanded the concept of steps and stages far beyond the original Freudian ones. For Freud, all development of the self ended in early adolescence or the latency stage. Adler simply deferred to Freud, while Jung did not acknowledge Freud’s stages, preferring only to work with people after the age of 35- before that, Jung said, people have very little inner depth and therefore very little interest for him!

Probably the best known and most widely quoted author on life-span development was Erik Erikson. His theory of the Eight Stages of man, has become a classic format for the discussion of a person’s social and psychological issues and challenges throughout one’s life span. Erikson’s framework states that everyone has to resolve these eight stages, or the problems they represent will persist throughout one’s life and will over time retard their social and psychological skills and maturity.

For our purposes, since the focus is on adulthood, we will recall the last three stages in his theory:
6) Intimacy vs. Isolation– To be accomplished between ages 20-40

7) Generatively vs. Self Absorption– the task for ages 40-60

8) Integrity vs. Despair- -the concluding task for ages 60+

Again, this stages are not hard and fast, nor are the unheard of out of sequence or interchangeable by age … as a general rule, these tasks are assigned to these age groups a majority of the time and act a focal or fulcrum points in human development.
How do these issues affect one’s spiritual development? And if they do, how can we, as a spiritual community acknowledge their accomplishment or the transitions from stage to stage in a person’s life?

Another schema that has received a great deal of validation has been James Fowler’s stages of faith development. These six stages of religious understanding more directly relate to one’s religious upbringing, cultural teachings about ethics, justice, and tolerance, and one’s ability or accept or understand conundrums, koans, and holy paradoxes that defy simple reasoning or categorical and linear approaches to solutions and problem resolutions.

The Stages of Faith or Spiritual Development
One popular theorist, James Fowler, has enjoyed recognition as someone who has put forth an evolutionary set of stages for personal religious maturity and development. These are the stages he suggests and that many in the West agree as possible for each of us:
1) Stage One- Intuitive/Projective
This is the childhood and infancy stage where whatever is told to them about God, nature, humanity and themselves they accept and are taken into their imagination where it develops uncritically into images, beliefs, loves and fears that can last a lifetime. In this stage of one’s development, the is a basic goodness that can be inspired or discouraged by what parents, teachers, and the church teaches to them.
Stage Two- Mythic/Literal
When the imagination lessens, what replaces it is a need or a desire to know all the stories, myths, legends and especially all the rules for being good vs. being bad. Here is the start of morality, and it centers on fairness, rewards, punishments and retributions. Here the Biblical and legendary stories are taken more literally, and there is much emphasis on how one behaves according to a literal interpretation.
Stage Three- Synthetic/Conventional
With puberty and adolescence comes the capacity to look beyond what your family and neighborhood church teaches. You begin to develop the ability to think for oneself. However, thinking for and about one’s self is inadequate. There has to be an ability to think systematically- that is, how the over-all thought and outcome of thoughts and actions resolves itself and how larger issues and concerns result from individual actions that can affect others dramatically.
Stage Four- Individuative/Reflective
In older adolescence and young adulthood, one learns to be responsible for one’s beliefs and actions. Symbols and Myths reemerge, and are questioned and looked at from another perspective. The questions about meaning, emptiness, and dilemma’s

surface and true experimentation with other beliefs and values begins. I feel that the true spiritual search begins here, yet it can often be difficult, frustrating, and lonely.
Stage Five- Conjunctive Faith
The questions and concerns of adulthood and mid-life become one’s focus here. We call all previous learning into question, and true or real disillusionment can occur. Questions about one’s true identity, purpose, meaning come to the surface, and the integration of myths, symbols and other metaphors act as a guide to deeper personal and spiritual understanding. Here addictions often occur- as does any other search for a quick resolution to answers that are only found in spiritual teachings and their applications to our lives.
Stage Six- Universal Faith
This is the mature faith of living what one believes, and making those principles a consistent guide for all your behaviors, relationships, and actions.. It does not mean perfection, but it does mean an unswerving commitment to oneself, to one’s world, as a spiritual and ethical human being.

Now why did I offer these steps and stages to you… simply because most churches and groups you encounter serve to help you to go beyond step or stage three; Few churches operate out of stage four, yet I believe that this kind of spiritual community has the potential for supporting growth and development into stage six… maybe beyond! These last two stages where we find our spiritual heroes and heroines, but they are also the place where a deep faith, and abiding sense of the grace of God, holy wisdom, and spiritual principles can be found, understood and applied to your lives.

How does this outline serve to open or broaden your understanding of adult development? Can rituals be designed to reflect passage from one of these levels to another? What about a church or a community’s limits or the LCD of consciousness that any community will award or support?

If you were to design a ritual for yourself that would be a public event declaring your new identity, stage of growth, new commitments to the spiritual life, etc. what would it include? Music/ prayers? a round of applause? A devotional statement? Some kind of certificate of achievement? Who would be there in attendance, or who would you want to share in this ritual with you? How would you signify to the world who and what you have become?

A Few Astrological and Esoteric Corollations:
There are stages of the soul’s growth known in esoteric circles and often seen symbolically and measured to connect to certain recurring planetary cycles. These corolations are synchronistic, not causative…
The most common ones or the early ones people speak of are the return of the Moon at age 26-28 and the first return of Saturn at age 28-30. The next in the cycle are the seven year sign changes of Uranus with the ‘mid-life crisis happening between 40-44 for most people… the Chironic squares would be next, and the Chiron return at age 50-52 followed by the second Saturn return at age 56. These times in a person’s life are often turning points and periods of great upheaval, transition, or transformation. There are more markers or times to consider… Up to and including the Uranus return at approximately age 84… Each of these transitions could have a ritual assigned to it….

The Kabbalah and the Kabbalistic years:

At age 11: there is the separation from Mother or necessary nurturing
22: Separation from Father… And from parenting or one’s home…
33: Separation from childhood- personal maturity and sense of self
44: Separation from youth- acceptance of middle age and its outlooks
55: Separation from parenting and possibly from house holding
66: Separation from middle age- welcoming elder responsibilities

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