There are three main stages in human development. They include—infancy, adolescence and adulthood. Von Hugel shows that religion must take account of and nurture the predominant needs and activities of each stage, and so concludes that religion must include three essential elements:
“An institutional element corresponding to the needs and activities of infancy, a critical element corresponding to adolescence, and a mystical element corresponding to adulthood.”
This does not mean that the needs of infancy disappear in adolescence, nor do the needs and activities of adolescence disappear in adulthood, but they should cease to be predominant if we are to grow.
Infants enjoy boundaries that provide them with comforting protection, while teenagers question boundaries at every turn and adults realize that boundaries are necessary but more complex than first thought—even incommunicable—and if the boundaries are to be honoured in adulthood it will be out of love and no longer fear, a delight and not a duty contributing to ones freedom and not captivity.
There is a danger that we find the comforting protection of infancy so satisfactory or the questioning teenager so conveniently non-committal that we get stuck and never venture towards the terrifying freedom of adulthood.
This metaphor invites all of us to reflect on our own journey of faith. I am convinced that setting dedicated time aside for prayerful silence and reflection is the propelling power that will prevent us from prematurely getting stuck and keep growing. Alan.