As we continue our discussion of the third principle of Unitarian Universalism, “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations” using James Fowler’s stages of faith development as a model or a map we start in this essay with Stage 5 which is "Conjunctive" faith (mid-life crisis) acknowledges paradox and transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems. The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent "truth" that cannot be explained by any particular statement.
The conjunctive faith of step five is the stage in which most Unitarian Universalists live. It is the stage of appreciation for the interreligious perennial wisdom drawn from the six sources. It requires a mature person to function at this stage because it requires the holding of two contradictory thoughts in your mind at the same time without distressful anxiety. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in 1936 in an article in the Esquire magazine “"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." I am not sure I would put it this way. I think it is the test of wisdom and spiritual development at stage five to find people who are people of awareness and Unconditional love in spite of holding two opposing views in their minds at the same time with a degree of grace and contentment. This is one of the things that Unitarian Universalists are supposedly good at and maybe is even one of UUs defining characteristics. If this is true, it seems at least in our contemporary society, Unitarian Universalism will continue to be a small religious denomination because there are few people in our American society who have achieved stage five.
At this stage of faith, the appreciation of the seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism,” the respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” is especially congruent with the third principle “the acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.” People at this stage are usually comfortable and curious about comparative religion study.
The sixth stage of Fowler’s model of faith development is "Universalizing" faith, or what some might call "enlightenment." The individual would treat any person with compassion as he or she views people as from a universal community, and should be treated with universal principles of love and justice.
Stage six is the stage which Jesus and Buddha achieved as well as other religious masters and saints. I have momentary experiences at this stage but I do not stay there for any prolonged period of time. In A Course Of Miracles, there is a description of the “Holy Instant” when the individual becomes one with all. The person’s perception and awareness shift from the ego plane to the spiritual plane and that shift is what ACIM calls a “miracle.” We all are capable of experiencing these miracles and Holy Instants and if we can stay there for any period of time or frequently we might be considered miracle minded. Perhaps Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. achieved this level of functioning. Undoubtedly there are other mystics and saints who have achieved this but we don’t know them.
In the book, The Dude and The Zen Master by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman Zen Master Glassman writes in referring to the Dude (The Big Lebowski) “You might call him a Lamed-Vavnik. In Jewish mysticism, there are thirty –six righteous people, the Lamed – Vav Tzaddikim. They’re simple and unassuming, and they are so good that on account of them God lets the world continue instead of destroying it. But no one knows who they are because their lives are so humble. They can be the pizza delivery boy, the cashier in a Chinese takeout, the window-washer, or the woman who sells you stamps in the post office.” P60
It’s a comforting thought to believe that there are people around who are at stage six, but it takes a focused, disciplined effort to achieve universal level of faith development.
Aldous Huxley writes in the Perennial Philosophy:
“…the saint undertakes appropriate training of mind and body, just as a soldier does. But whereas the objectives of military training are limited and very simple, namely, to make men courageous, cool-headed and cooperatively efficient in the business of killing other men, with whom personally, they have no quarrel, the objectives of spiritual training are much less narrowly specialized. Here the aim is primarily to bring human beings to a state in which, because there are no longer any God-eclipsing obstacles between themselves and Reality, they are able to be aware continuously of the divine Ground of their own and all other beings; secondarily, as a means to this end, to meet all, even the most trivial circumstances of daily living without malice, greed, self-assertion or voluntary ignorance, but consistently with love and understanding. Because its objectives are not limited, because, for the love of God, every moment is a moment of crisis, spiritual training is incomparably more difficult and searching than military training. There are many good soldiers, few saints.” P. 43
While Unitarian Universalism draws from six sources, it does not seem to have any recommended practices of its own other than those which might be based on the seven principles. I don’t know if Unitarian Universalism helps seekers get to level six. Some of us study and practice with A Course In Miracles while other engage in Buddhist, Christian or other specific practices, but other than insisting on Universal salvation, it seems that Unitarian Universalism has little to recommend itself other than its seven principles, but perhaps this is enough which certainly encompass the major themes of Fowler’s stage five and six.
Is there such a thing as a Unitarian Universalist mystic, master, or saint? Should Unitarian Universalists have some mystics, masters, saints? Are there UUs who point the way for spiritual growth for the rest of us? Maybe the closest we come to this ideal are some of the transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau. What do you think?