My first exposure to the idea that spirituality, faith, or religion actually can evolve was when Pope John XXIII called the Vatican II Council in the early 1960s. During that time, most of my teachers – nuns, priests, and lay people – did their best to ‘open the doors and windows’ of the church and let in some fresh air. Many modeled an integration of commitment and flexibility.
As a teen, watching my parents, the Pope, and my teachers in Catholic schools muster the courage to look differently at what formerly had been understood as ‘changeless’ helped me shift my own consciousness. Being a ‘pilgrim people’ on the adventure of figuring out what it meant to ‘be the church in the modern world’ was exciting, and I was particularly drawn to the call for justice, peace, and equality.
People like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Fr. Jack McCaslin – the pastor at Holy Family Parish in Omaha – served as additional models for how to align walk with talk, or behavior with values and beliefs. Others involved in environmental education initiatives in the USA and liberation theology in Latin America stimulated my further understanding of what an embodied spirituality could mean.
Reading some of Teilhard de Chardin’s writing was the first time I actually began to imagine the evolution of consciousness, universal mind, or global spirituality. Though I had only a vague idea about what that might mean, it still resonated with me.
In the late 1980s I started reading Matthew Fox’s books about Creation Spirituality – a tradition in Christian history that had been ignored for centuries. In the 1990s I reconnected with Joyce Rupp and also met Joan Chittister and Joan Borysenko – all insightful women whose worldviews have continued to expand, and who as authors, share their evolving journeys through their books and retreats.
After moving to Scotland, I met more people from diverse faith and ethnic backgrounds. This was further enhanced when I started working as a spirituality and multifaith chaplain at the University of Edinburgh. Within the University and in the larger communities of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the United Kingdom, I gained many new insights, experiences, and friends.
One highlight was working with students, chaplains, and staff from different faith traditions to co-create a documentary film about what it was like being a multifaith chaplaincy. Our team of eight was chosen to present that film, along with a workshop, at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions (PWR) in Melbourne, Australia. That was quite an adventure!
In 2012-2013, I worked as a research fellow on a Spirituality and Counselling Knowledge Exchange research project at the University of Edinburgh. During that time, I co-facilitated workshops throughout Scotland, where counsellors, ministers, and members of the public could explore their own attitudes and beliefs about spirituality, counselling, and religion. Exploring those interfaces continues in my work at the University.
Understanding and growing through the evolution of spirituality and faith usually does not come without the hard work of inner discernment and outer connection with those who are different. However, this emergence is happening anyway. We might as well equip ourselves with the inner and outer resources we need to help us thrive, and in that process, contribute to a more loving and compassionate world.