Looking back at my journey, I realize that one of the most important teachings for my spiritual growth was contained in the short essay titled ‘How God Invites Us to Grow: Six Stages of Faith Development.’ In that article, written in a very accessible language, Richard J. Sweeney reasons that change is desirable in all areas of life, including faith. He explains that there are two very different views of faith: one that considers that religious faith should remain constant, unchallenged, and unperturbed, and another that accepts that faith, like every other aspect of adult life, should always be evolving. He then lists the common stages of faith most of us can expect to go through in life. His article is based on the work of the late James W. Fowler III, a professor of theology at Emory University.
That article, together with the writings of John Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg, I must say, had a huge positive impact on my life. It removed the guilty I felt for not believing as I once did, and gave me permission to question the rigid dogma and look for my own answers. It was very liberating and healthy.
Once I understood that there are different phases in the faith journey, I also became better able to understand my own evolution, peacefully accept my departure from the church, and more fully respect others, wherever they were along the path of faith development.
The six stages of faith, as presented by Sweeney, are:
- Imaginative faith
- Literal faith
- Group faith
- Personal faith
- Mystical faith
- Sacrificial faith
Faith evolves from the fairy-tale faith of a child, to a faith that is limited by narrow interpretations of some ancient texts, to a faith that demands loyalty to particular religious groups. While going through these phases, some individuals may feel uncomfortable with the tenets and demands imposed by the religious institutions, and the behavior of their leaders and members. That may prompt a deeper questioning and a distancing from the tribes, a departure from institutionalized religion in the direction of an individual spirituality marked by a quest for more satisfactory answers.
This usually evolves to the cultivation of silence, stillness, solitude, and simplicity, the reduction of selfishness, the realization of oneness, and the growth of the desire to serve others, and a deeper connection, communication, and communion with the ‘Divine’ in one’s everyday life.
“Occasionally, history provides us with examples of persons who have so identified with the well-being of others and who are so committed to the values of truth and justice that they have a capacity for selfless love that outreaches most of us. Jesus, Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Archbishop Oscar Romero are examples of this sacrificial faith. Such persons display a radical and consistent commitment to the doing of God’s will that is uncompromised by concern for personal status or security. In some cases the willingness to sacrifice self for others has led to martyrdom. For many other less famous persons, it leads to a constant dedication of self to the growth of other persons and the improvement of society as a whole.” ~ Richard J. Sweeney
The Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Piero Falci…
There was a moment in my life when I found the audacity to begin the process of questioning the tenets of my religion and the courage to remove myself from the religious institution I had belonged to for so long. That was very difficult especially because I had many friends in the church and I didn’t want to bring them any pain. I knew that not all of them would understand my departure; many would be saddened, while others would consider me lost, if not a traitor. But not without lots of trepidation, I went ahead. I embraced the ‘I-don’t-know’ mind and asked myself questions such as, “What is life? Why am I here? What does it mean to be human?” I opened myself up to the answers with deep humility. I had to find new voices that spoke to me, and answers that were more reasonable.
I soon realized how entangled I was in old beliefs, and how they were holding me back and preventing me from seeing life clearly. I gave myself permission to imagine other possibilities, other ways of being, other ways of living.
I came to appreciate that although it is important to be well-grounded and have a good understanding of the teachings, the stories, and the traditions of the church one belongs to, it is twice as important to question the dogma and be open to insights. One should not depart mindlessly from the historical traditions, but one should be extra careful in order not to get stuck in trying to preserve and replicate the past at all costs. I find it important to be rooted in traditions, but not stuck in them. And it is of great consequence to be cognizant of the difference between the two.
Read Piero’s books and keep the conversation going .
Piero Falci is an author and educator who believes that the inner work that leads to personal awakening and transformation is indispensable to create a wholesome world. He is an explorer of the mysteries of life who loves to observe, reflect and write, and who not only aspires to live a life that matters, but also hopes to inspire others to do the same. He is a promoter of peace who believes in advancing the idea that Heaven is here if we want it to be. He teaches Mindfulness Meditation and Mindful Living, and the acclaimed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program as taught at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He leads mindfulness silent retreats and organizes Silent Peace Walks. He lives in Florida, USA. Join his Mindfulness Meditation and Mindfulness Living sessions at Shiwa Yoga in Deerfield Beach and Yoga Source in Coral Springs.