Via Transformativa: Practical Magic — Magic of Mystery

By: JUBILEE! Minister Candace Chellew-Hodge

Former Emory University professor James Fowler wrote a seminal book back in 1981 called “The Stages of Faith” where he outlined how people typically progress, or get stuck, in certain stages of faith. From birth to 2 years old, we’re in Stage 0, or a primal stage where we’re learning whether our environment is safe or unsafe — and these lessons will affect us later in life.

From ages 2 to 7, we’re in Stage 1 where religion is learned through stories, images and the people who are teaching us about faith. In Stage 2, between the ages of 7 to 12 years old, we tend to believe in God as a superhuman and we take the symbolic language of religion very literally.

Stage 3 is characterized by this blind faith that my mother displayed. This is the stage of conformity where the slogan is, “The pastor said the Bible says it, I believe it.” At this stage, asking questions is forbidden, lest one summon the devil of nonconformity.

This is the stage where morality is key to faith — where anyone seen as “immoral” by the religious authorities are condemned to hell. This is a dichotomous faith where the world is divided into “right” and “wrong,” “good” and “evil,” and “sinners” and “saints.” In this stage, I would submit, we are living solely from our ego — unable to even fathom that we have a true, divine nature and if anyone told us that they’d be seen as a tool of the devil.

This is the stage where we find our ancient Hebrew cousins in this morning’s reading (1 Samuel 8:4-7). All the elders of Israel have come to the prophet Samuel to make one request: “Give us a king.”

This is the slogan of Stage 3. “Give us a king! Give us someone who will tell us what to believe, what to do, how to dress, how to act. Don’t make us think too hard about how to live, just give us the rules and the answers, please.”

Samuel is grieved by this demand, and rightly so. Instead of seeking to grow their faith and find the true divinity and power that they personally — and corporately — possessed in the Holy, they wanted to abdicate all their power to a king.  We still do this today when we abdicate our true power to our ego.

We let it take the reins and drive our life from one crisis to another — from one problem to another — from one offense to another — from one outrage to another.  We do this because we believe being exhausted from all the drama in our lives has to be easier than stepping into our divine power. All the religious authorities out there say it’s true, so it must be.

After talking it over with God, Samuel relents, but warns the people that kings will make them over into the kind of people kings — and egos — want: obedient servants. The men, Samuel says, will be drafted into the army, the women will be reduced to baking and serving. The king, Samuel says, will take your wealth and live off of it leaving you poor and in debt.

This is still how our corporate ego operates in this world. When we give up our freedom to question and doubt what the authorities tell us — we become enslaved in a power-over system when God yearns to give us a power-with system if only we’ll boldly ask the questions and be willing to be bewildered into mystery by the answers — or lack of answers.

It’s when we’re ready to step out on faith — when the questions become too nagging that we can no longer ignore them — that we’ll start to feel lonely and uncomfortable surrounded by all these people stuck in their question-bereft Stage 3 faith.

But, if we allow ourselves to feel the discomfort that questions bring we’ll find that the pain will push us until the vision of a new stage of faith begins to pull us forward into a new, deeper and higher level of consciousness. Stage 3 faith is about living in the comfort zone. But, if you want to see some practical magic, you’ve got to have the courage move into the mystery and stop waiting for the world to change.

Breathe deeply.

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