Re-Thinking The Role Of Spirituality In Being Human

I’m spiritual, but not religious.
Lots of people today
“Spirituality” is a rich and suggestive word which points to
various aspects of lived experience.
– James J. Bacik
If you look at the way we are operating on the planet
you could say we’re somewhat sick at the moment.
Cleaning up the mess is only really tackling
the symptoms of the problem…we also have to go
a lot deeper and ask ourselves what is the real cause.
Because if we don’t, we’re not really actually
going to solve the problem.
-Peter Russell

The paradigm shift we presently are undergoing as a human community includes an awakening to new revelations abouj0438746t the nature of what it means to be human.  This is a fascinating exploration, filled with new learnings from science about the human brain, but also a resurgence of interest in ancient spiritual traditions that seem to tell us many of the things to which today’s science points, though in a different language.

I began seriously studying contemporary meanings of spirituality in the early 1990’s, as I tried to sort through my experiences in the workplace and in groups of people I began to encounter that professed to be dedicated to working toward social justice.  Ironically, there seemed to be a total disconnect between the professed goals of justice and non-violence and what was actually going on for people within these groups.  The workplace was not much better.

In frustration and concern for my own and others’ welfare, I began my self-help journey by reading everything I could get my hands on dealing with leadership, organizational development, dysfunction, systems thinking, “how to live and work with difficult people” — you name it, I read it.  One theme that emerged was an interest in re-thinking the role of spirituality in what it means to be healthy — as individuals and as organizations.  The problem was in getting past an old understanding of spirituality that equated it with religion. Too many people have, rightly so, it seems, lost “faith” in religion.  Others fear bringing the divisiveness, if not actual violence, that historically has accompanied the relationship among the world’s religions into the workplace.

As a former journalist, I became intrigued with how we might speak about “spirituality” in a new way.  In my research, I uncovered a number of interesting, helpful and expansive approaches.

One Christian perspective comes from the  historian Philip Sheldrake, who tells us that for St. Paul, who represents the early Christian community, spirituality meant “that life brought about by the influence of the Spirit.” (Sheldrake, 1998, p. 42). Key in this definition is that spirituality is concerned about the present, about how we live our life in the real world, right now. It is about whether or not that life is one imbued with the Spirit.  It was only centuries later that spirituality took on a meaning that was “other-worldly,” according to Sheldrake.

With St. Paul’s description in mind, we might ask: How do we know if we are living under the influence of the Spirit? St. Paul in another of his writings tells us how.  He suggests that there are fruits of this life in the Spirit. In other words, persons living under the influence of the Spirit exhibit this by their behavior and attributes.  Paul lists these “fruits of the Spirit” as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

While it is true that I had learned Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit as a youngster in my religion classes, I certainly had not given them much thought as an adult. Now though, I was looking at spirituality in the context of our intimately interconnected Universe.  I suddenly saw those fruits not as the goal of a private spiritual life and my ticket to “the afterlife,” but as the personal qualities and behaviors that result from and make for good relationships, right here, right now.  If Paul is right, none of that happens without first connecting to “Spirit.”

But there is more.  The Judeo-Christian tradition also names spiritual gifts that one receives through actively living a life in the Spirit.  The gifts are listed as: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.  (Isa. 11:2-3)

In my view, the spiritual gifts and fruits St. Paul names all relate to a capacity for healthy interrelationship, something that in today’s world we seem so infrequently to be able to achieve, both in our personal and in our communal lives.

St. Paul instructs us in I Corinthians 14:1 that we must “pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts.”  What I hear Paul saying is that to live a life in the Spirit, so we can manifest the gifts and fruits of the Spirit in our relationships, takes persistence, hard work, and skill. Today my questions is: how might theses qualities become more easily and habitually manifest in the lives of individuals, and in our institutions and communities?

One of my favorite contemporary authors, David Richo, puts it this way: “All the love in the world will not bring us happiness or make a relationship work. That requires skill, and this skill is quite attainable.”

In my own work, I am attempting to bring about a new awareness of how individuals, communities and institutions are able to manifest in growing degrees in their behaviors the gifts and fruits of an active life in the Spirit.


Bacik, J. J. (1996). Spirituality in transition. Kansas City, KA: Sheed & Ward.

St. Paul (cited in Sheldrake, 1998. p. 42).

Sheldrake, P., SJ. (1998) Spirituality and history. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

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