Where My Heart Will Take Me

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series The Stages of Spiritual Growth

I thought I would present things slightly differently in this instalment of the series on the Stages of Spiritual Growth. Today, I’m going to present the ideas partly as personal testimony, and partly as a song: the beautiful ‘Where My Heart Will Take Me’, also known as ‘Faith of the Heart‘, from the TV series Star Trek – Enterprise. You’ll hopefully understand the reasoning behind this by the time we get there. And rather than disrupt the narrative flow of this article, I will place the more technical stuff at the end of the article, as an Appendix*.

First, let’s recap.

In the last episode of this series, I talked about ‘The Wall’, the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, the ‘Individuative – Reflective’ Stage (Stage 4) of Fowler’s Stages of Faith. In this Stage, a person realises that they have been in a spiritual ‘box’ and they find that the box is too small. And so the distinguishing mark of Stage 4 is that the believer is breaking free of all (or most) of the previous strictures under which they lived their spiritual life. They are realising that the paths of Grace and the open plains of the believer’s walk are so much huger, broader, wider and free, than they had previously believed while in their ‘box’.

Because I have recently (well, four years ago) come out of a ‘Dark Night’, much of what I write below is stuff that I can personally testify to; things I have personally experienced. But please remember that your own personal spiritual walk will not look like mine; we all have our own walk to experience for ourselves. Think of it as an example of what things can look like.

People who pass through Stage 4 and into Stage 5 – what Fowler calls ‘Conjunctive Faith’ – I believe, are the people who discover the true freedom in Christ that is spoken about so much but so rarely practised. Or, alternatively, if they are in the right kind of environment, they can go straight into Stage 5, and this does happen. Let’s say, for example, that there was no problematic doctrine, no religious straitjacket in a person’s life, then that person has very little to be set free from in terms of toxic spirituality. This might occur if someone has been brought up in an atmosphere of Grace instead of Legalism, or someone who comes to know the Lord later in life and has a clean slate which the Lord can write on.¬† Having said that, just about everyone has some sort of ‘toxic’ baggage about faith which needs to be dropped at some stage – but only when the Lord feels you are ready to do so. (You can’t rush this stuff). And that’s what is known as ‘repentance – changing your mind about things. In this way, the way of faith is a continual walk of repentance, because we are constantly being taught new things by the Spirit of God in our hearts, and changing our minds, our thought patterns, to conform to what She teaches us.

Anyway, in Stage 5, we are free to pick and choose; accept and disregard, ideas, doctrine, advice, comment or admonishment from others, or indeed from any source. That’s not to say that we don’t discuss things with others, or that we don’t let ourselves be influenced by others’ ideas or opinions; far from it! We accept¬† and take in the good stuff from others, while gently leaving behind those things we find unhelpful. In short, we can make up our own minds, think for ourselves, stand on our own two feet…and we are free to follow Jesus where He leads and to listen to His teaching without the constraints of others’ opinions. This sounds very much as if the believer is approaching something that looks like like spiritual maturity, doesn’t it? ūüėÄ And this is really what I am talking about today.

And there is also the freedom that comes with this responsibility of thinking for ourselves. We as adults are now free to make our own choices: what we will eat tonight; what we will wear; whom we will hang out with; what we spend our time doing. In a similar way, a person in Stage 5 has developed the ability to accept the responsibility for his or her own beliefs, and is not bound by others’ opinions – or, at least, they are learning not to be so bound – and they can increasingly make their own choices. Do you go to the cinema? Yes, if you want to, you go. Do I listen to rock music? Yes, if you like it anyway. (I do). The person is free not only to make their own choices, but also to choose to live life in the Spirit. There is no need to worry about ‘straying into sin’ if a person is led by the Spirit. Freedom is only freedom when a person has a choice; if there is no choice, then there is no freedom. In fact, I would say that it is a logical progression from this that unless a person is free from living under Law, it’s actually not possible to live in the Spirit. Only once a person is free from the shackles, restrictions and indeed decisions¬†¬†of following the Law, are they fully free to live life in the Spirit. So if in the past a believer was constrained by a set of ‘Rules of Expected Behaviour’, they have come through the (sometimes chaotic) Dark Night of Stage 4, and now they are in the process of learning how to live in that freedom that they have now they realise they have a choice.

And this is Stage 5. You can see that the person really has not ‘arrived’ at any kind of final stage of spiritual maturity despite me calling it the Stage of Spiritual Maturity – it’s more a stage of learning how to use that maturity and growing in it. Indeed, if someone thinks they have ‘arrived’, it’s a sure sign they have not!

Anyhow, have a listen to this song – ‘Where My Heart Will Take Me’, written by Diane Warren and performed here by Russell Watson:

Where My Heart Will Take Me

It’s been a long road
Getting from there to here
It’s been a long time
But my time is finally near
And I can feel the change in the wind right now
Nothing’s in my way
And they’re not gonna hold me down no more
No, they’re not gonna hold me down

‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart
I’m going where my heart will take me
I’ve got faith to believe
I can do anything
I’ve got strength of the soul
And no one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I’ve got faith
I’ve got faith, faith of the heart

It’s been a long night
Trying to find my way
Been through the darkness
Now I finally have my day
And I will see my dream come alive at last
I will touch the sky
And they’re not gonna hold me down no more
No, they’re not gonna change my mind

‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart
I’m going where my heart will take me
I’ve got faith to believe
I can do anything
I’ve got strength of the soul
And no one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I’ve got faith, faith of the heart

I’ve known a wind so cold, and seen the darkest days
But now the winds I feel, are only winds of change
I’ve been through the fire and I’ve been through the rains
But I’ve been fine

‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart
I’m going where my heart will take me
I’ve got faith to believe
I can do anything
I’ve got strength of the soul
And no one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star

‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart
I’m going where my heart will take me
I’ve got strength of the soul
No one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I’ve got faith
I’ve got faith, faith of the heart
It’s been a long road

This is the Stage of Faith where your heart is allowed to find its true expression, unshackled by Law, dogma and doctrinal strictures and limitations. You are free to be what you want to be, but, and here’s the beautiful irony, only because of what you have been through ‘before’, what you have built on that, and you’ve then put in its proper place. This is a position of faith where your wisdom has been learned through experience, both bitter and sweet, at the feet of the Master; sometimes consciously, sometimes not. And it is a living, dynamic faith, not a staid and static faith.

Because this faith enables us to respect others’ faith viewpoints as being valid for their holders at their stage in their spiritual walk; without seeing their ‘different’ beliefs as a threat to our own, because we are secure in our own faith, we actually appear more tolerant – because we are – and because our faith is stronger than ever; and not at the expense of pulling down someone else’s belief system. Because we have found that the freedom to question our own beliefs, without feeling lost or ‘unsaved’, also enables us to recognise that others’ faith can be different from ours because we have already questioned our own beliefs and are secure in why we believe what we do, because we have worked them out for ourselves. Our faith is therefore not under threat by people with a different faith. If you like, ‚ÄúThe power of your own salvation does not depend on someone else‚Äôs faith being ‚Äėwrong’‚ÄĚ. And this isn’t to say that our beliefs can’t change; they can and they will. But the core Relationship with Jesus is the solidity that keeps us standing in the faith – whatever stage of our walk we are at.

In this Stage, it’s almost as if you are looking in at the Church from the outside, while all the time still being a part of it. You can see where all the tenets and beliefs come from; you can see the sources of the fears and problems. And all this is because your thoughts have been set free to hear the voice of the Spirit. Some might consider this a state of ‘enlightenment’; maybe it is, but the thing is that having had the blinkers removed by the detoxifying effect of Stage 4 (the ‘Dark Night’), you feel as if you can see it all so clearly. Paradoxically, you develop a childlike innocence and lightness of spirit, not weighed down by the constraints of Religion and those of its adherents, but the freedom to go, live, and be who you were always meant to be.

What to do with that knowledge, though, does require wisdom. One needs especially to avoid all kinds of being ‘puffed up’ by one’s own ‘spirituality’. As hinted at above, the spiritual maturity of a believer in this Stage is, usually by necessity, built on the Stages that preceded it. You need to know where you came from in order to have a firm foundation to know where you are going. And, for this reason, it is not good to disrespect those Stages you have come through, nor those who are still in those Stages, but to recognise their value in teaching you both the good and the bad in the Christian walk. But also don’t ever feel that you have to go back to that state of being. Because once you have tasted of the freedom of the Children of God, there is no going back, because the former things will likely look like a cage. You will never want to have your freedom taken away again, even though people may well try to steal your peace, kill your joy, and destroy your freedom (Jn 10:10). This is your freedom; no-one else’s, and it will not look like someone else’s freedom either, because we are all different and we were made that way.

Because of this, don’t follow someone else’s plan for your life; follow God’s plan. He speaks to your heart, so follow your heart. The answer to the question ‘What does God want me to do with my life’ is not found in the pages of the Bible, nor, in my experience, is it found in well-meaning ‘prophecies’ from people supposedly giving ‘direction’. It’s found in your own desires, your own personal longings for the things that God also wants.

Let God take the lid off your spirituality. Decide to go where your heart will take you. If it means a ‘dark night’, so be it. Don’t let them hold you down any more. Maybe its been a long road for you; maybe you’ve known a spiritual wind so cold and seen the darkest of days. But the winds of change are not here to bend or break you, they are here to give you a heart-based faith that you can indeed do anything, through Christ, Who strengthens you (Phil 4:13).

How can I put this any more effectively than this? Listen to the song again; be inspired by it, take it in and make it yours. Remember how I once said that some of the finest worship songs are actually secular ones? This one is no different. This is a song of the Spirit, it’s for you, and it’s for today.

This is freedom!


*Appendix: Fowler and Peck

Here are the more formal descriptions of this Stage from our old friends Fowler and Peck, as promised. It’s quite ‘heavy’, but it may increase your understanding a little.

In this table, we can see that Peck combines Fowler’s Stages 5 and 6 into one Stage IV. We will come on to this in a later instalment. For now, let’s take both Fowler’s and Peck’s table entries here together, because they do complement each other nicely.

Fowler:

“It is rare for people to reach this stage before mid-life. This is the point when people begin to realize the limits of logic and start to accept the paradoxes in life. They begin to see life as a mystery and often return to sacred stories and symbols but this time without being stuck in a theological box.”

Here is Fowler’s ‘formal’ definition:

Restless with the self-images and outlook maintained by Stage 4, the  person  ready for  transition finds  him-  or  herself  attending  to what may feel like anarchic and disturbing inner voices. Elements from  a  childish  past,  images  and  energies  from  a  deeper  self,  a gnawing  sense  of  the  sterility  and  flatness  of  the  meanings  one serves any or all of these may signal readiness for something new.

Stories,¬† symbols,¬† myths¬† and¬† paradoxes from¬† one’s¬† own¬† or¬† other¬† traditions¬† may¬† insist¬† on¬† breaking¬† in¬† upon¬† the¬† neatness¬† of¬† the¬† previous¬† faith.¬†¬† Disillusionment¬†¬† with¬†¬† one’s¬†¬† compromises¬†¬† and¬† recognition that life is more complex than Stage 4’s logic of clear¬† distinctions¬† and¬† abstract¬† concepts¬† can¬† comprehend,¬† press¬† one¬† toward a more dialectical and multileveled approach to life truth.

[…]

Stage¬† 5¬† Conjunctive faith involves the integration into self and¬† outlook¬† of¬† much¬† that¬† was¬† suppressed¬† or¬† unrecognized¬† in¬† the¬† interest¬† of¬† Stage¬† 4’s¬† self-certainty¬† and¬† conscious¬† cognitive¬† and¬† affective¬† adaptation¬† to¬† reality.¬† This¬† stage¬† develops¬† a¬† “second¬† naivete” in¬† which¬† symbolic¬† power¬† is¬† reunited¬† with¬† conceptual¬† meanings.¬† Here¬† there¬† must¬† also¬† be¬† a¬† new¬† reclaiming¬† and¬† reworking¬† of¬† one’s¬† past.¬† There¬† must¬† be¬† an¬† opening¬† to¬† the¬† voices¬† of¬† one’s¬† “deeper¬† self.”¬† Importantly,¬† this¬† involves¬† a¬† critical¬† recognition¬† of¬† one’s¬† social¬† unconscious-the¬† myths,¬† ideal¬† images¬† and prejudices built deeply into the self-system by virtue of one’s¬† nurture¬† within¬† a¬† particular¬† social¬† class,¬† religious¬† tradition,¬† ethnic¬† group or the like.

Unusual  before  mid-life,  Stage  5  knows  the  sacrament  of  defeat  and  the  reality  of  irrevocable  commitments  and  acts.  What  the  previous  stage  struggled  to  clarify, in  terms  of the  boundaries  of self  and  outlook,  this  stage  now  makes  porous  and  permeable.

Alive¬† to¬† paradox¬† and¬† the¬† truth¬† in¬† apparent¬† contradictions,¬† this¬† stage¬† strives¬† to¬† unify¬† opposites¬† in¬† mind¬† and¬† experience.¬† It¬† generates and maintains vulnerability to the strange truths of those¬† who are “other.” Ready for closeness to that which is different and¬† threatening¬†¬† to¬†¬† self¬†¬† and¬†¬† outlook¬†¬† (including¬†¬† new¬†¬† depths ¬†¬†of¬† experience¬† in¬† spirituality¬† and¬† religious¬† revelation),¬† this¬† stage’s¬† commitment¬† to¬† justice¬† is¬† freed¬† from¬† the¬† confines¬† of¬† tribe,¬† class,¬† religious community or nation. And with the seriousness that can¬† arise when life is more than half over, this stage is ready to spend¬† and¬† be¬† spent¬† for¬† the¬† cause¬† of¬† conserving¬† and¬† cultivating¬† the¬† possibility of others’ generating identity and meaning.

The¬† new¬† strength¬† of¬† this¬† stage¬† comes¬† in¬† the¬† rise¬† of¬† the¬† ironic¬† imagination-a¬† capacity¬† to¬† see¬† and¬† be¬† in¬† one’s¬† or¬† one’s¬† group’s¬† most¬† powerful¬† meanings,¬† while¬† simultaneously¬† recognizing¬† that¬† they are relative, partial and inevitably distorting apprehensions of¬† transcendent reality. Its danger lies in the direction of a paralyzing¬† passivity¬† or¬† inaction,¬† giving¬† rise¬† to¬† complacency¬† or¬† cynical¬† withdrawal, due to its paradoxical understanding of truth.

Stage¬† 5¬† can¬† appreciate¬† symbols,¬† myths¬† and¬† rituals¬† (its¬† own¬† and¬† others’)¬† because¬† it¬† has¬† been¬† grasped,¬† in¬† some¬† measure,¬† by¬† the¬† depth of reality to which they refer. It also sees the divisions of the¬† human¬† family¬† vividly¬† because¬† it ¬†has¬† been¬† apprehended¬† by¬† the¬† possibility¬† (and¬† imperative)¬† of¬† an¬† inclusive¬† community¬† of¬† being.

But  this  stage  remains  divided.  It  lives  and  acts  between  an  untransformed  world  and  a  transforming  vision  and  loyalties.  In  some  few  cases  this  division  yields  to  the  call  of  the  radical  actualization that we call Stage 6. [1]

Peck:

“People who reach this stage start to realize that there is truth to be found in both the previous two stages and that life can be paradoxical and full of mystery. Emphasis is placed more on community than on individual concerns.”

Peck’s ‘Stage IV: Mystic, communal’ is also fleshed out by Margaret Placentra Johnston thus:

“According to Peck, Stage IV of spiritual growth arises when the seeker in Stage III keeps seeking. They keep finding more pieces to the puzzle and the “larger and more magnificent the puzzle becomes.”

“Thus the person in Stage IV grows to value the beauty of the mystery of our existence over the definitive answers provided by the traditional church. They speak of unity and connectedness and are not into magnifying the differences that divide us. Peck’s StageIV of spiritual growth is roughly equivalent to the “Mystic” stage [as described on her website].” [2]

Peck is also paraphrased by Schwartz:

“Stage IV: Mystic, communal. Out of love and commitment to the whole, using their ability to transcend their backgrounds, culture and limitations with all others, reaching toward the notion of world community and the possibility of either transcending culture or — depending on which way you want to use the words — belonging to a planetary culture. They are religious, not looking for clear cut, proto type answers, but desiring to enter into the mystery of uncertainty, living in the unknown. The Christian mystic, as with all other mystics, Sufi and Zen alike, through contemplation, meditation, reflection and prayer, see the Christ, Gods indwelling Spirit or the Buddha nature, in all people, including all the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and so forth, recognizing the connectedness of all humanity with God, never separating oneself from others with doctrine and scripture, recognizing that all scripture acts as fallible pointers of inspiration, unable to capture the essence of truth outside of both human perception and the linguistic straight jacket of language and articulation, that is, the words of fallible men who experienced the nature of God, that of their inner true self, and attempted to record their experience in human words, words constrained by the era of time they were written in that became compromised the moment they were penned and are further removed from objectivity when interpreted by us, fallible men and women who read them.

“It is as if the words of each had two different translations. In the Christian example: “Jesus is my savior,” Stage II often translates this into a Jesus who is a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue us whenever we get in trouble as long as we remember to call upon his name. At Stage IV, “Jesus is my savior” is translated as “Jesus, through his life and death, taught the way, not through virgin births, cosmic ascensions, walking on water and blood sacrifice of reconciliation – man with an external daddy Warbucks that lives in the sky – mythological stories interpreted as literal accounts, but rather as one loving the whole, the outcasts, overcoming prejudices, incorporating inclusiveness and unconditional love, this, with the courage to be as oneself – that is what I must follow for my salvation.” Two totally different meanings.

“The Stage IV – the mystic – views the conception of “back sliding” as the movement away from the collective consciousness and true inner nature, returning to the separate self – the ego, as opposed to the Stage II – the fundamentalist, whose conception of “back sliding,” is the movement away from mapped out security to that of chaos. Two totally different views.” [3]


References quoted in this article:

  1. James W. Fowler, “Stages of Faith – the Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” – Harper San Francisco, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1995, p. 183, 197-8
  2. Margaret Placentra Johnston, James Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development, from her website “Spiritual Development Concept“.
  3. Richard Schwartz, “The Stages of Spiritual Growth“, an abridged online version of the relevant sections of M. Scott Peck’s book ‘A Different Drum‘.
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3 thoughts on “Where My Heart Will Take Me

  1. Thank you. Love the words of the song but not into the music there. I wonder if I can find someone who sings it more to my liking?

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