My website disappeared again recently. However, this time, my initial response of anxiety and frustration gave way to an examination of some assumptions, like what is my intention with this website, and specifically the Blog?
I recalled that my initial intention when I started 10 years ago was to reflect on my past to help me see where I am now and how I should proceed into the future. Part of this reflection included a pilgrimage back to the important places in my life, like Ireland where I grew up, Africa where I worked as a priest, and Rome where I studied. So, my first general conclusion is that this reflection is essentially over and, in fact, I’m beginning to see – at least a little more clearly – where I am and what I want to do now in this next stage of my journey..
This general conclusion suggested that the appropriate decision should not be to restore the site – and especially the archives – as before, since they had served their purpose. Having said that, I discovered that making this decision was not that simple since it involved some measure of letting go, which, like most of us, I find hard. The reason for my somewhat heightened sensitivity, perhaps, was that letting go of the archives felt like letting go at a more fundamental level, something that recent health issues and my increased years have made very real for me. I think I realized during these moments of fragility that letting go of even the most important things will happen quickly enough and without any real – or at least obviously real – choice on my part. My close friend highlighted a related aspect of this letting go when he described how his children have told him that they are not that interested in his stories of the past unless they are obviously related to the present.
In short, it seemed to me that it was time to move on from simply musing on the past to living in the present in a way that was now more informed by it.
So, where do I think I am now and what do I think I need to do? Well, first, I’ve settled on what you might call a cosmic framework that goes something like this: Growing scientific knowledge of the universe suggests that all life is relationship; that life emerges out of the interaction of things. This occurs at every level, from the creation of solar systems to the germination of plants. So my first response to these fundamental questions about where I am is that I am participating in the emergence and unfolding of life. I would go further myself, and say I am participating in the unfolding of God, though that is a thought that bears more reflection that I will bring to it at another time.
Of course, this framework implies that everything – every form of life – is participating in the unfolding of life/God, and does so by simply being what it is. In the case of human beings, while what we are is certainly only ‘one thing among many,’ which is a helpfully humbling realization, we do have our unique contribution to the cosmic process which is our self-reflective mode of consciousness.
It is important that we understand this appropriately, within the context of the cosmic framework I have described, lest it create a sense of superiority over other things, which, unfortunately, has been the case, especially in modern culture In this context, I can say two important things: one is that life/meaning (God) has unfolded/evolved into self-reflective consciousness in us. In the human species, the universe becomes conscious of itself. More poetically put, through my eyes, the stars look back on themselves in wonder. The second important thing is that this self-reflective consciousness, come-to-form in us, is not to suggest that we are the purpose of the universe or the goal of evolution, a conclusion that is known in the world of Quantum Physics as the ‘Anthropic Principle’. Rather it suggests that this consciousness belongs to the entire universe and is simply part of its unfolding; and that, therefore, our role as the species in whom this has taken form is to serve the unfolding process by deepening and widening this consciousness. As the wonderful mystic-like poet, Mary Oliver, puts it: ‘It is what I was born for –to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world – to instruct myself over and over in joy, in acclamation.’ Another poet, Czeslaw Milosz, highlights the service aspect of this role when it is seen in the context of an unfolding world: ‘Then he wants to use himself and things so that they stand in the glow of ripeness….’
These two aspects of the human contribution to life’s unfolding are how I have come to understand spirituality: not as ideas and activities that are separate from or even different to everyday things, but rather as the deeper dimensions of things: meaning, identity and purpose – the soul of things. Spirituality, then, is also cultivating awareness of these deeper dimensions and having them inform everything I do: soul care?
So, what does this mean for my new focus and my new Blog? Well I intend to explore how I can bring this soul work, not only to every aspect of my own everyday living but also to the various fields of human activity. I realize that I am already doing this in a couple of places that have become truly important to me: one is the Leatherman’s Loop which is an annual 10K run I have written about elsewhere. I am known, in fact, as the Loop’s spiritual adviser – which, apparently, seems fairly normal to everyone – and have attempted to help participants deepen and widen their experience of the event through the metaphor of beauty. I’ll write about this again soon as the Loop takes place this year on April 23: a veritable rite of spring.
Another place where I have attempted to bring this spirituality or soul work is the world of health care where I have worked for over twenty years. This has happened progressively and more explicitly in the past few years through my efforts to offer dialogue – what I now call Dialogue for Life – to health care workers to help them deepen and widen their consciousness in order to enrich their personal lives as well as their work.
In this next chapter of blogging I will reflect on my efforts to reach into these and other fields, including finance, community development, and even religion (!!) in order to bring this soul dimension. My hope is that the reflections will inspire some good conversations that may continue even after we move onto other topics.
Perhaps, by way of concluding these remarks, I would suggest that this small effort of mine is part of a larger process – a movement even – of redefining and re-building our institutions; our entire culture, in fact. Many of you would no doubt agree that our institutions and the assumptions they are founded on and the culture they serve are no longer adequate to the increasingly complex challenges we face, from species survival in the face of climate change to survival in the more immediate sense in the face of the related human challenges of poverty, justice and violence of all kinds. This global process needs deep – in the sense of honest and open – and wide – in the sense of inclusive and skillful – conversation. I hope you’ll join me in this new blogging chapter as we move into our uncertain but exciting future together.