Fowler has developed a six-stage theory of faith development, which includes granting to young children, as early as 3 years of age, the intuitive capacity to engage the power of story, play, and build imagination. Adult nurturing of these capacities in children creates the seed bed for the more conscious and reflective experiences of growth in the inner realm that we call the spiritual life. Intuition is a powerful factor in sensing the kind of inner conflict or crisis that is pressing the person toward a new stage of growth. As children gain more sophisticated reasoning abilities, they also gain access to their own life narrative and begin to experience their lives as a pilgrimage of meaning, one with purpose and destiny.
The adolescent years-often portrayed as a phase of solidifying identity, separation from parental control, searching for intimacy, and struggling with conformity- are extremely ripe years for discovering the power of one's spiritual center or transcendent self. In this phase of life, it is quite possible for an adolescent to experience conversion in several ways. Adolescents may have gradually grown to a place of greater clarity with respect to their own commitment to a way of life, and find themselves ready and able to freely claim a chosen moral path. It is also possible for adolescents to experience a sharply defined event that opens them to new depths not previously understood or valued. This defining experience, which reorganizes their priorities and life direction, can be called conversion in the adolescent experience. Lastly, as adolescents realize the meaning of personal freedom and responsibility, they may discover a newfound ability to invest their love and loyalty in a faith community. Thus, the Jewish ritual of bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah and the sacrament of Confirmation in some Christian communities are examples of rites of passage for teenagers to exteriorize the interior reality of an adolescent's new season of maturing spiritual consciousness and transition into a new role within a community.
Most often conversion is a long process of psychosocial human development and spiritual change that has been active in the unconscious long before it breaks into consciousness. The "transforming moment" of conversion is actually embedded in the ongoing processes of growth and change that mark human maturation. One's actual life is the situational context in which transformation occurs. Just as there is that one moment when a baby takes a first step or a perplexing problem finds a solution, so too, in spiritual terms, there are decisive moments in life when a person becomes strikingly and unmistakably aware that she or he is being faced with a life-defining decision. In theological terms, such a moment is called a kairos, a Greek word for sacred time or the inbreaking of the holy unexpectedly into an ordinary moment in time. Kairos is about a fertile rich moment that holds the seeds of transformation.
The "crisis" that often precedes conversion is, as already noted, most often more gradual than traumatic and sudden. The following list identifies some of the common characteristics associated with an impending spiritual crisis-conversion:
Restlessness Boredom or depression Lack of satisfaction with the current state of affairs in one's life Awareness that something is missing from life Vague and elusive agitation and struggle to name the source of a problem Desire for something new arising from questions about the meaning of life Some of the outcomes of living through a kairos include becoming More organized in one's sense of priorities More aware of the importance of the intangibles in life, such as spirituality Possessing a clearer sense of direction in life More grateful, humble, open, generous, and compassionate Able to express and receive love more freely and genuinely Renewed in energy and enthusiasm for the gift of life Oriented beyond self to service of one's neighbor and the world
In short, the sense of "new being" associated with spiritual conversion includes an inner serenity that arises from anxiety, feelings of joy breaking through from depression, the emergence of hope beyond pessimism, the gesture of forgiveness instead of retaliation, and the discovery of courage in place of paralyzing fear-all of which are manifestations of the triumph of the dynamism of the human spirit. This kind of mature growth comes with change and change brings challenge as well as the hope found in new beginnings. Spiritual conversion is a psychodynamic process, or a breakthrough, whereby human beings experience greater depths of consciousness about the meaning and direction of life.