Child Development

From Childhood Innocence to Spiritual Maturity

Rekindling our childhood sparkle

Posted Jan 17, 2011

Take doors. What would be the point of a door that's always open or always closed? Both alternatives are necessary. Similarly, we can ask if water is solid, liquid or gas. We know, however, that it can be all three, depending on conditions of temperature and pressure. Nothing new so far!

What is original and creative would be to see a closed door and instantly imagine it opening; to hold a piece of ice and think of vapour. This is the essence of intuition, of wisdom, right here.

Holism, whole, holy: these words are linked. William Blake's poem, ‘Auguries of Innocence' captures the idea: "To see a World in a grain of sand and a Heaven in a wild flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand and Eternity in an hour..."

As young children, researchers David Hay and Rebecca Nye say, we will have responded to the world in this way, with a kind of spiritual awareness, only to lose our innocence as more prosaic interpretations were imposed upon us later, in good faith, by parents and teachers. (Hay & Nye, 2006)

Hay & Nye on childhood spirituality

To put it simply then, childhood involves two phases, corresponding with the first and second of James Fowler's six ‘stages of faith' (Fowler, 1981). I call these the ‘egocentric' stage, when as children - standing at the centre of our own universe - our experience has a magical and omnipotent quality; then the ‘conditioning' stage, when more rational, external influences take control.

By the time we are adults, the inexorable compulsion to thrive (or simply survive) may leave us little time to stand and stare, to contemplate life's rich mysteries; and so we are left incomplete.

Through adolescence, when we tend to experiment and make choices about what kind of person we want to be and with whom we want to associate, continuing into young adulthood, we find ourselves at the mercy of two vital, but opposing, drives: either to belong and conform to an established group, or to be independent, thinking, speaking and acting for ourselves.

Fowler's great contribution

People hold to a variety of groupings that depend on a range of criteria, including: gender, nationality, place, race, language (including accent and dialect), sexual orientation, social class, religious (or non-religious) affiliation and political persuasion.

Surveys suggest that most adults are either at the ‘conformist' or the ‘individual' stage of personal spiritual development; yet problems arise in both cases, and further progress is possible. There are two more stages to go.

The new spiritual paradigm for psychology maps this out, revealing how some people eventually emerge into a fifth ‘integration' stage. The key here involves recognising a kind of universal kinship with all the people of humanity that awakens our natural compassion. At this point, no-one is excluded from our group. Tolerance and kindness are watchwords. We continue to think, speak and act independently, but responsibly and no longer solely from self-interest. We look on everyone, without distinction, as kin.

The world needs more people like this, and like those who go further into the full spiritual maturity of the ‘wisdom' stage, the stage of becoming a natural healer and teacher. Some do this and achieve world renown - like Mother Teresa, Etty Hillesum, Dag Hammarskjöld and Thomas Merton - but many more, from natural humility, avoid the limelight.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

They have retained, remembered or rediscovered and rekindled that precious sparkle of spiritual awareness from childhood. Each of us - with luck, by amazing grace, or through deliberately seeking out some kind of spiritually enriching activities - may do the same.

Make even a little progress on the path and you will benefit. In addition, according to the holistic vision of reality and the spiritual principle of reciprocity, so will everyone else.

Copyright Larry Culliford