Yesterday, I was putting the final touches upon a sermon I will deliver on the eve of Passover at the UU congregation on Whidbey Island. I am trying to look at the Passover story involving the exodus of the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt from the different perspectives of faith development theory developed by Dr. James Fowler. Fowler used development psychology pioneered by people like Eric Erickson and Carol Gilligan as a model for considering how people’s ideas and beliefs about religion and spirituality tend to develop and change—to the extent they do—during the human life cycle. In so doing he came up with seven stages of faith development or spiritual development.
Skipping over stages 1-6, one will come to what Fowler describes as the highest stage of spiritual maturity, stage 7, or the “Universalizing” stage. It is about a radical moving out of the centrality of the self and really feeling a participation in the oneness of all things. Such a person has widened his/her circle of awareness and regard beyond family, friends, political/religious allies, to humankind or “Being”. Most religions aspire to it, few persons achieve it wholly. According to Fowler, “this stage includes the Mother Teresa’s, Martin Luther Kings, and those whose faith is integrated into an unswerving commitment and devotion that cannot be hindered or quenched.” It also includes, I think, those people we’ve all met who radiate an inner light; they radiate patience, and goodness and calmness and love; they look for the good news in all people and treat each day and each problem with a sense of graciousness and joy.
It suddenly occurred to me that I was describing someone I had just eulogized in a “celebration of life” service, at least through my eyes and those of his family. His name was Dr. Joe King: A self-described atheist and a holy man among us. What do you think?