Q & R: Children and Stages of Faith …

I’ve really enjoyed getting in to your theories around spiritual development and the four stages of spirituality. As a children’s worker there are still some areas of interest that I am wrestling with, and as I have been asked to give a short presentation on your ideas in March, I thought it best to come to you direct and ask you about them.
The first is, do you think children move around the stages, maybe in a smaller way, perhaps whilst remaining a stage one, but tussle with the elements of stages two and three, even four; as adults might go around the stages in a cycle or spiral, so children might in a smaller spiral experience all four stages within say, one year???
And secondly, how much do you think the educator, (ie key adult) influences the thoughts and feelings the child is experiencing, thus either a) affecting the stage the child is in or b) giving an observer a false impression of the stage the child is in because the child is imitating the adult’s behaviours as opposed to expressing their own spirituality.
I’m not sure if I’ve explained that well, but if you understand the question, it would be great to hear your views on it!

Here’s the R:
First, before responding, I hope you’ll check out this important gathering coming up soon … Here’s a press release:
I really think …

you’ve anticipated everything I would say in response to your questions.
1. As I try to explain in Naked Spirituality, I’m not proposing four stages as rigid zones, but more like seasons. There are warm winter days and chilly summer days sometimes.
2. I think imitation is absolutely key. If a child is exposed to stage two, three, or four adults who are open with them about their thinking and experiences, the child will learn to the habits and ways of those stages. (This is why closed-in stage one and stage two groups are so problematic for kids … they create a kind of ceiling beyond which it is dangerous and difficult to grow.)
3. One more idea – I wish I had written more about this in the book. Let me distinguish between states and stages.
I think the “spiritual high” phenomenon that youth workers know about – the euphoria of a youth retreat, mission trip, or summer camp week – exemplifies young people experiencing stage four as a state, via the support of a short-term monastic experience and short-term monastic community. But this state can’t be maintained because the participants haven’t yet developed the habits of the heart where this way of seeing/being is normative.
The state is tremendously important, though, because it lets people know that another way of life/seeing/being is possible. What would be ideal would be for kids and youth to be exposed to the state … and then given long-term support to learn the habits of the heart that make that state more normative as a stage.
4. So I wouldn’t call that state “false” – I would simply help kids understand that you can visit a place on vacation, so to speak, but that’s not the same as learning to live there. Imitation is at the heart of learning … but not just imitating the outward signs or behaviors: more deeply, imitating the habits, practices, ways of seeing/being/living/giving that make those behaviors possible and normal.
What I would call false is when people have grown beyond stages one and two, but are pressured to pretend to be there when they go to church … another reason we need adult and kids workers thinking together about “naked spirituality,” and another reason for the upcoming event in DC in May. Thanks so much for this important and insightful question.