Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church


Editor’s note: Rev. Pat Bailey, pastor of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church, takes a developmental and evolutionary view of faith, spirituality, and religious community. Join him for his weekly blog as he explores the ever-changing landscapes of perspectives and consciousness and discusses both the challenges and promise of trying to make meaning in our evolving social context.

Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church

Pastor Pat Bailey

Last week I told the story of my transition as a young child from a magical to a mythical stage of consciousness. We all, perhaps, can look back over our lives and see such transition points, shifts that have changed our way of seeing our world and ourselves in the world.

I find it fascinating that the human embryo recapitulates the biological evolution of our species within the mother’s womb: from single to multiple cells, from swimming tail to multiple limbs, from archaic to functioning organs, from androgyny to gender specificity. Just as fascinating is the recapitulation of the cultural evolution of consciousness in the life of the developing child outside its mother’s womb: from archaic, to magical, to mythical, to rational, to pluralistic, to integral and beyond (developmental stages first proposed by Jean Gebser and refined in conversation with other developmental theories by Ken Wilber).

If our own developmental shifts in consciousness are clear to us, then it is likely that we can correlate them to shifts that have marked the history of human culture. About 300 years ago, enough people began to shift to a rational stage of consciousness that large portions of human society also began to shift from a mythical to a rational worldview. People who were way ahead of their times had begun to create space for that shift long before societies were ready, some by even thousands of years. Rational consciousness has yet to capture the imagination of the majority of our fellows, but that is changing fast. Meanwhile new experiences of consciousness are ever emerging on our evolutionary journey, and arising faster than ever.

Several young families with children are drawn to the spiritual community that is Christ Church. Being aware of developmental models shapes the way we accompany those children on their life’s journey. Small children (usually ages 2-6) need to dwell in their magical world. That world provides a foundation of wonder and promise that we hope they will never lose. Older children (around ages 7-12) need to dwell in their mythological world of stories, and dualities, of rules, rewards, and punishments. We also need to help them mediate that world in ways that prevent an overly literal, moralistic, conformist, and repressive worldview.

When our children reach their teenage years they are beginning to experience the gravitational pull toward rational consciousness. At Christ Church we believe that that too marks a significant transition toward a fuller spiritual life. Without an accompanying community, however, the shift to rational consciousness often sets up a false choice. One either rejects and abandons all that preceded rational consciousness or one becomes entrenched in the certitudes of a mythological worldview. Either choice is spiritually stunting. Successful passage from one stage to another involves retranslating the content of past stages into new thought forms, new insights, new consciousness. If the tradition is deep enough, then all the stages are represented therein.

At the transition from mythical to rational consciousness, we should encourage teenagers to question everything. A healthy agnosticism at this stage can sometimes be the best way forward in the spiritual journey. The deeper questions of life will continue to present themselves. The maturing of the spiritual life must pass through rational consciousness in order to realize the deeper layers of the human experience. This is the shift that persons now need help marking in their transition to adulthood. The old rituals that sought to cement teenagers into a mythological worldview need to give way to rituals that empower them to think for themselves and to dare to continue the journey toward expanded consciousness.

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