Sarah McClellan was the scheduled speaker at Semi-Programmed Meeting for Worship on July 23, 2017.
Faith, hope, love……… these are what give meaning to our lives. They are foundational to a life well lived. We may survive for a little while without a strong foundation in one of these, but we will not thrive.
What we put our faith in is unique to each of us. Faith comes from our family of origin, culture, and/or our own hard won view of the world…our perceptions based on our own experiences and questioning. Faith does not necessarily mean faith in a divine being, people who are agnostic or atheist may find faith in themselves, other people, or institutions or in just what science can prove. In the 1960s and 70s James Fowler, a theologian and social scientist researched human spiritual development, eventually defining what he called the 6 Stages of Faith. In the 1980s the psychiatrist and best-selling author M. Scott Peck consolidated these stages into 4 and described them in his book The Different Drum.
According to Peck all humans start in Stage I. He calls this stage Chaotic, Antisocial. This is the stage of very young children and sadly 1 in 5 adults. It is characterized by a lack of an internal locus of control, an undeveloped conscience, lack of empathy and adherence to only the self’s will. Adults in this stage often end up in jail or with other social and interpersonal problems. Occasionally, with enough discipline and a great deal of ambition it’s possible that people in this stage can reach positions of great power, indeed Peck ominously predicted they could even become the President of the United States.
The second stage is called Formal, Institutional. It is the stage of the majority of churchgoers. It is big on dogma, ritual, literalism, and ultimate truths. It is the stage at which a person holds blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. People in this stage resist change in the status and are easily threatened when their faith or beliefs are challenged. Doubt is equivalent to sin.
Stage III is named Skeptic, Individual and is the stage where a person has created their own faith based on their own questioning and reasoning. Generally people in this stage are deeply involved and committed to social causes. They are often scientists and active seekers of truth.
Stage IV is called Mystic, Communal and is usually not reached until at least middle age, if at all, though there are exceptions. Here one believes in an underlying connectedness and unity between all things while acknowledging the enormity of the unknown. Instead of an us vs. them they believe “we are all in this together” and that includes all of creation. Not easily frightened by the mysteries of life, all that we do not – and cannot – yet know, the impetus is to penetrate deeper, knowing that any answers they find will only result in more questions.
We don’t skip stages though we may pass through some quicker than others. We are often threatened most by those in the stage ahead of us than those behind us.
Our faith grows imperceptibly over years. Occasionally it will surge in growth with an epiphany or be tested by a personal crisis. In the midst of deep grief C. S. Lewis observed, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you.”
It has been said that “the human being cannot even imagine living without hope, because it is like living without a major dimension of life. It is unthinkable, because our whole being is shaped by a succession of hopes. …Simply stated, those who have no hope at all are nowhere to be found. They are paralyzed by deep depression, at home or in an institution, or they have taken their own life. …Without a modicum of hope there is no use in living.”
In his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl relates his experiences in the death camps of Nazi Germany. He found the will to survive in his desire to someday write a book to expose what life in these camps was like as well as in his hope that he could live to do something meaningful to lessen the suffering of mankind. He wrote that for most of the camp inmates the desire to see their loved ones again kept them going against all odds.
Finally he writes, “I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to import: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
Can there be a greater force in the universe than love? To love and be loved is central to having meaning in our lives. Indeed most of our development as human beings is only possible if we feel safe, nurtured and cared for. Where there is no love there is little growth. Love is limitless, there is no such thing as too much love. We all could benefit from more love in our lives and we can give and give love and still have so much more to give.
What do we place our faith in? What gives us hope, gets us out of bed in the morning and propels us forward? How has love given meaning to our lives?
In closing I have chosen to read from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, perhaps the most beautiful definition of love ever written.
From 1st Corinthians 13:4-7,11-13
“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
… When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child, when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been known.
But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Stages of Faith; The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning
James Fowler c 1981
The Different Drum; Community Making and Peace, M. Scott Peck c 1987
A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis c 1961
The Power of Hope; The One Essential of Life and Love, Rabbi Maurice Lamm c 1995
Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl c 2014 (first published in 1946)
New Testament reading from the New American Standard Bible, 1971
1st Corinthians 13:4 -7, 11 – 13