The more Integral one’s perspective the more access
we have to the full richness of mystical life and awakening.
– Ken Wilber, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard & Marco Morelli
The more one learns about that which one knows nothing of, the more
one gains in wisdom. One has, therefore, through science, eyes with which
it behooves us to pay attention.
– Hildegard of Bingen
In my studies at Mundelein College in the late 1980’s and early ‘90’s, I explored a number of social issues, including sexism, racism, ecology, and ethics. As I pondered the complexity of these issues, one day I began to search for a synthesis in what I was learning. I asked myself, “What do all these social problems have in common? What is at their root?”
That is when the thought emerged in my consciousness that all of the social issues I had studied have to do with how we understand things: ourselves, others and our world. I was back to something I had encountered earlier in reading Wilson Schaef and Fassel on the importance of paradigm shifts and world views. I began to surmise that all of our social and ecological challenges are rooted in how we answer the questions: “Who am I?”; “Who are You?”; and “How are we to be here together?”
As I articulated those three questions for myself, I realized that they are the great spiritual questions humanity has struggled to address from the dawn of consciousness. I realized, too, that how we answer those three questions is greatly influenced by the way we answer a fourth question, “Who is God?” From these realizations, I drew to conclusions. One, that spirituality has a great deal to do with social justice. Two, that, at least for those living in Western cultures, changing our image of God is critical to firmly establishing a new and more just paradigm.
I graduated from Mundelein College with my master’s in religious studied in 1991, the same year the college merged with Loyola University. In 1992, after a year of helping to assist with that merger, I left my job at Loyola University. As I did so, I told people, “I don’t know what my next ministry is going to be, but it is going to have to do with the relationship between spirituality and leadership.”
I also had the gift of a year-long sabbatical, during which I read much on all the above topics. I began to say to anyone who would listen:
We need to get spirituality back into the conversation about what it means to be a human being; not a saint, just an ordinary human being.
Based on the results of my inquiry, I began giving retreats, presentations, and workshops on “A Spirituality for the 21st Century.”
One of the important authors I discovered on this path is Diarmuid O’Murchu, an Irish priest who works as a counselor and social psychologist. In the book, Reclaiming Spirituality, O’Murchu takes an evolutionary approach to examining the role of spirituality in human experience. He states that while the world’s major religions have been around for only about 6,000 years, humans have “exhibited distinctly spiritual behaviour and values for at least 70,000 years, based on archeological evidence” (1998. p. 31).
A definition of spirituality that comes closest to my experience and understanding is one from Letty M. Russell (as cited in O’Murchu. 1998):
I would describe spirituality as the practice of bodily, social, political and personal connectedness so that life comes together in a way that both transcends and includes the bits and pieces that make up our search for wholeness, freedom, relationality, and full human dignity (p. 21).
It was through my personal integration of The New Cosmology, which came almost simultaneously for me, that I added a fifth question to my list: “Where are We?” I realized that the new science was forcing us to ask and answer all five questions in radically new ways. It became clear to me that spirituality was not just, as Russell suggests, the practice of our connectedness, but the very reality of it. The story of our evolving Universe coming to us from science has profound implications for how we understand self, others, God, and our place in the unfolding of Life.
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O’Murchu, D. (1998). Reclaiming spirituality:A New Spiritual Framework for Today’s World. New York, NY: Crossroad.