Many of you have watched me struggle with questions of faith and issues relating to not being able to go to church because of pain issues and my discomfort with going to mass when I didn't know completely what was going on. So you might imagine that I was excited to start taking a class in theology. This class was called "Stages of Christian Life" and the goal was to look at faith as it relates to theology and psychology. Since I'm taking a few psychology classes and plan to be a social worker, I was excited to have another framework in which to view some of the topics that were being discussed. I was also hoping to have a chance to understand why my faith was changing in some of the ways it was.
This class didn't disappoint me. We talked about the stages of faith. Since not everyone is familiar with these stages, I'll give you a really brief background. James Fowler hypothesizes that there are six stages of faith. These commonly go with developmental stages. If you're familiar with Erik Erikson's life crices, these are somewhat related. So what we did was look at all of these faith stages as well as the developmental, moral and empathetic stages of life. We also discussed the ways in which these can be different for women (this is why I love going to a women's college).
One of the first things we learned that really helped me was about the stage of faith many college students experience. It's called the individuative reflective faith stage and it's sort of what it sounds like. Basically, someone in this stage finds meditative prayer and reflection helpful. They might find that they can experience the Sacred in their lives when they are near nature. This explains why I found walking so helpful (except for the pain, of course). I'd spend the time in prayer, and often it was a walk to Brewberry's. I'd end up drinking coffee and eating a muffin. Sometimes I'd journal privately or in this blog about important issues. I'd spend some time praying and return to the dorm calmer and with a stronger, God-centered faith. I kind of felt guilty about this; I felt like it was wrong that I felt this way and that I couldn't make it to church. Theology helped me realize that this wasn't wrong. I was finding fellowship with others at Brewberry's. People challenged me to learn more and grow more. Needing space was a perfectly normal thing for where I am in my faith.
In this class, we were encouraged to ask questions in our lives. We learned about the "Dark Night of the Soul", where you go through a time of questioning or are between a rock and a hard place. You can't continue with your faiththe way it is. I spent a lot of time this year struggling with questions. I still don't have all of the answers, but I sort of felt like struggling and asking these questions was okay. I was at peace with the fact that I wasn't at peace if that makes any sense. Learning about the concept of the "Dark night", has helped me know that asking questions is okay. For so long, I was afraid to have questions. I basically just parrotted back what I was taught. I had a real faith, but it wasn't as tested as it has been. During the three and almost a half years I've dealt with the foot stuff, RSD and tendonitis (although the RSD was in remission for a while), I felt like I had to be okay with it. I had, and still have, a hard time telling people that I struggle. I want them to think everything is okay. Theology has helped me be okay with not being perfect or having all of the answers. It's very freeing to be able to tell someone, in person, that I struggle.
I understand so much more about myself and about God. I've learned that there is no way I can understand everything about God. Even if I knew everything in the Bible (which is impossible), I still wouldn't know everything about God. Understanding this, I still hold onto my faith, but I am able to accept others where they are at much more easily. My relationship with God has become more like a friendship and I'm excited to see where God will lead me next.
At some point, I'll try to reflect on the intimacy vs. isolation crisis from Erik Erikson. But that's for another day This is all of the heavy writing I can do on this subject right now.