Spiritual Growth: Path To Justice And Peace

We need to understand, to really grasp at an elemental level,
that the definitive revolution is the spiritual awakening of humankind.
– Brother Wayne Teasdale

To speak of justice and peace is not enough.  How will we meet the challenge of growing into the kind of persons who can hold in respect and reverence all of the variety and diversity existing in our world? This, for me, has become the heart of the matter.

In attempting to answer the question of how to grow toward justice and peace, I am coming to believe that the story of the evolution of our Universe provides a necessary and helpful conceptual framework on which to base the change of mind that points us in a new direction.  Critical to this change of mind is a renewed understanding of both religion and spirituality in human affairs.

In the mid-1990’s, I became acquainted with people involved in the Parliament of the World’s Religions.  I attended the Parliament held in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1999 (Teasdale and Cairns, 1999).

In his book, The Mystic Heart, which was prompted by his work with the Parliament, the late Brother Wayne Teasdale suggested that years of interreligious dialogue has led many people to the realization that there is at the heart of each of the world’s major religious traditions a common experience that leads to justice and peace.  This common experience is sometimes called mystical experience. The teachings around that experience, although slightly different in emphasis or form and practice, confirm the same reality: the possibility for direct experience of the Divine and its consequences.  In other words, interfaith dialogue along these lines has awakened a recognition among diverse religious individuals that a  common spiritual experience runs beneath the various rituals, beliefs, dogmas and practices of the world’s major religious traditions.

Teasdale noted that in our present “secularized” societies we have  little awareness of the process by which we learn “how to live” in a peaceful and sustainable way.  For this, argues Teasdale, we must re-examine the role of spirituality in human affairs. (1999a, p. 210).

Religion, wrote Teasdale, “is one way many people are spiritual.”  It connotes “belonging to and practicing a religious tradition.” Furthermore, noted Teasdale, “not every religious person is spiritual and not every spiritual person is religious” (1999b, p. 17).

Spirituality, on the other hand, originates “from an inner movement of the heart,” in Teasdale’s words.  He calls it a “deep stirring of desire that is essentially seeking relationship with Ultimate Reality or with the Divine.” In this sense, spirituality is the “fundamental essence” of all “genuine religion,” said Teasdale (1999a, pp. 211-212).

Furthermore, Teasdale suggested that it was through spiritual growth that humans would learn how to change the direction of our Western society toward peace and justice. “Clearly, it is the inner life that is to spark the change in consciousness that will permit us to advance,” he wrote (1999a, p. 210).

Teasdale called spirituality “a way of life.”  As a way of life, spirituality “affects and includes” every moment of one’s existence (1999b, 17).

Teasdale further argued that all authentic spirituality is not only concerned with the individual but also has a social dimension.   This social dimension “shows itself in a concern for others.”  In our time, this concern is reflected in “the demands of justice, the needs of the poor, the issue of human rights, the preservation of endangered cultures, the care and protection of the [E]arth and other species” (1999a, p. 212).

What does someone who lives an authentic spirituality look like? Based on his involvement in interreligious dialogue, Teasdale suggested that there are seven common indicators to growth in spirituality as a way of life.  These indicators include a spiritual practice and a mature self-knowledge. Flowing from this practice and self-knowledge are additional indicators:

  • a capacity to live morally,
  • deep nonviolence,
  • solidarity with all life and the Earth itself,
  • simplicity of life,
  • selfless service, and
  • prophetic action (1999a, p. 212).

What I want to emphasize here is that this list of characteristics describes persons who have worked at developing themselves spiritually.  While it is one thing to identify and articulate statements containing core values and ethical principles to live by, which was done at the Parliaments and is often done these days in corporations, it is quite another thing to understand and embark upon the process by which one becomes the person who can live these principles out.

So, for me, the story of evolution is not just about the development of universes, planets and species.  It is about each one of us evolving and becoming the full human and spiritual persons we are meant to be.  It is through taking responsibility for our own spiritual growth and development, that we will become the  person we need to be to help insure the future of Earth for the next generation of Life.

As an example, I would like to share another brief personal story that on the surface may seem like a small thing, but for me has very large implications, and illustrates the point I am seeking to make.

For some thirty years now, I have been recalling a television commercial from the 1960’s in the U.S. that featured a teary-eyed Native American sitting by a roadside cluttered with discarded candy wrappers and rusty beer cans.  This television commercial and other similar messages spawned the “Do Not Litter” signs we in America have grown accustomed to seeing on trash bins in public streets and parks.  These same images were with me recently when I spent a day with a local environmental group involved in prairie restoration. A well-traveled road bordered the area we were working to restore. I was appalled to see the number of discarded cans and bottles that we collected from the undergrowth along the roadside. It became depressingly clear to me that thirty years of signs and images has not changed many people’s behavior toward our environment.

Recognition that care for the environment does not happen from the outside in, but the inside out is what first motivated me to look at spirituality in a new way.  It has been my intuitive sense for some time now that simple littering, like all destructive behaviors, is about how it feels – or does not feel – on the inside, not about how it looks on the outside.

I am encouraged to see how far we may get in heeding the call toward our own individual and collective spiritual growth as we seek justice and peace for all.

Teasdale, W. (1999a). The interspiritual age: Global spirituality in the third millennium. In Teasdale, W. and Cairns, G. (Eds). The community of religions: Voices and images of the parliament of the world’s religions. (pp. 209-219). New York, NY: Continuum.

Teasdale, W. (1999b) The mystic heart: Discovering a universal spirituality in the world’s religions. Novato, CA: New World Library. [Opening Quote, p.12]

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