Gerard Hughes was onto something


I recently read ‘God of Surprises’ by this delightfully peaceful and thoughtful Jesuit priest, Gerard Hughes. By all account Christians right across denominations have been helped by this book.

What struck me though, and has provoked further thought, was a particular formulation he devised (or he may have got it from someone else, I forget) regarding learning styles in the different phases of life.

His formulation is threefold: Institutional in our infancy; Critical in our adolescence; Mystical in our adulthood. In our infancy we are brought into the ‘institution’ of the family where everything is provided for; in our adolescence we are becoming more independent and learning to think for ourselves, and hence more critical; in our adulthood we grow beyond this and develop an appreciation for the mystical, discovering the deeper meaning to the things of life.

You might say: we all need to reach the mystical through saying: “this is what is” (institutional); “is it what is?” (critical); “it is, but there must be something beyond what is” (mystical).

What recently occurred to me is that this potentially presents us with a model to avoid the pitfalls of extremes in today’s society: Fundamentalism errs because it stops at the first stage (this is what is). Liberalism only goes as far as the second (is it what is?) without allowing itself to be led to the conclusions of the third (it is, but there must be something beyond what is), which is the best possible conclusion following to the previous two statements, not ignoring them but marrying them.

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