Frightening Faith

Currently, we are doing a sermon series through James Fowler’s Stages of Faith on Sunday mornings.  I have the task of preaching-teaching on Stage 5 – Conjunctive Faith.  Only a tiny percentage of the population reaches this Conjunctive Faith, mostly because it requires such an intense and sustained look at the “self” and soul.

The deep examination of the inner self is a frightening act.  Its difficult to be both honest and gracious with ourselves.  We tend to either minimize or maximize our frailty.  We also tend to either minimize or maximize our greatness.  What we find in ourselves scares us — for inside the soul we find God has truly shared divinity with us, that we are capable of so much more than we ever imagined, that we can change the world.  But we also find our shadow selves – the nasty, horrific thoughts, attitudes, prejudices and desires that we want to believe are not part of our “true” identities.

Stage 5 is the place where we come to accept all of it without scandal and without cynicism.  We continue to recognize the importance of intellect and ego, but we do not allow intellect and ego to trump intuition, mystery, and the unknown.  The ego is put in check – an extremely difficult act, a terrifying adventure to embark upon.  But embark one must to finally arrive at stability and serenity with the world.


8 thoughts on “Frightening Faith

  1. A really fine sermon on this topic, yesterday, and a righteous condensation here! You’ve paid attention to your reading, and impress with knowledge and understanding that I didn’t have at your age.

  2. This is what I love about the later stages of faith consciousness that Fowler describes. We begin to awaken to whole new paradigms and definitions of terms. Interestingly, our society continues to picture and define “God” in a similar way that ancient cultures understood the gods. If we continue to define divinity the way ancient cultures defined it, then we will always feel a major tension and anxiety about seeing ourselves as divine beings for they saw all that they did not understand, especially great power, as divine. In our day, I think we can see how power might be more of an earthly quality or characteristic rather than a divine one. Divinity seems to favor grace, love, and mercy rather than power.

    Divinity and humanity/earthly are always shared qualities. When we look at my own faith tradition– Christianity– and the other major faith traditions of the world, we find story after story of the divine coming to Earth and humanity ascending into the transcendent/heavens/eternal. I’m sure all of this is as clear as mud but that’s what I’ve got right off the top of the brain.

    • “When we look at my own faith tradition– Christianity– and the other major faith traditions of the world, we find story after story of the divine coming to Earth and humanity ascending into the transcendent/heavens/eternal.”

      Do you mean when they die or is this something that happens while we are alive? What would we need to do to make this happen?

      • Although I am certain that it happens at death, I also believe that it happens here in this life as well. Jesus talks about seeing God in a little child or in a cold glass of water. We find ourselves seeing God in small, unexpected moments. Ever so often, we find ourselves full of “Spirit” where we seem to ride on the wind and for a moment in time be divine.

        Although it can be difficult to “achieve” through force and effort, we do find that we can sort of set up the space and environment for these moments to occur: sometimes we see it in service to others, especially the marginalized, sometimes in prayer or contemplation, sometimes in nature. I think people experience these moments when they act heroically, or when they are in love.

  3. What is your source for the truths you hang onto? Who or what is your anchor? How can Jesus claim to be the only way to the Father who claims to be the only true God and there is no other? There doesn’t seem to be room for other religious faiths.

    I can’t seem to reconcile that.

  4. Janet, you ask some really important questions here. I hope the following statement does not seem trite but here goes… I never attempt to hang onto truth/God, rather I believe truth/God is always hanging on to us. 2 Peter 1:4, and the verses surrounding it, is a key verse in understanding that we share in the divine nature. I think the concept of being made in the image of God and becoming children of God all allude to his idea. Jesus and Paul are both clear that our existence is one that is meant to be in unity with the divine. John 17 is a great prayer of Jesus about this very concept. Also, I think it speaks to your last two questions as well. The claim of Jesus as the way to the Father comes from John 14. This chapter must be kept in context with what happens in John 13 where Jesus predicts his betrayal by Judas and that Peter will deny him. Then Jesus turns around in John 14 and says, “Don’t be afraid… In my Father’s house there are many rooms… I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…. it is the Father, living in me, doing the work…. and you will do greater works than me because I go to the Father.” Rather than a text of exclusion, I believe this is a text of inclusion. There are all kinds of room with the Father, even for those who doubt, deny and betray. Jesus is the way to the Father because the Father lives in him and is working through him. He is in the Father and the Father is in him. Read this with John 17 and we discover that God is also within us and among us and that to discover the Father we just need to live like Jesus… who lived fully into his humanity and divinity. God created each of us as a child of God. Jesus knew this, understood it, and lived it. We too have that same opportunity. In this framework, rather than exclusion, we find that there are “many rooms” for other faiths.

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