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 Thomas Merton, 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.
During my Religious Education graduate work, I first learned about Lawrence Kohlberg and his theory of moral development, along with James Fowler and his theory of faith development (see Theories of Development section for both). Fowler’s definition of faith and commitment to compassion, when working with people at different stages of development, was of great support to me then AND later as a chaplain. For Fowler, faith is ‘an integral, centering process underlying the formation of beliefs, values and meanings’. It is what we consider dear to our hearts and what provides us with a way of leaning into and making sense of life – regardless of our religious, spiritual, or philosophical perspectives.
In the mid-late 1980s, I began learning about Shamanism (see section on that, also under SPIRIT). Around that time, I also started reading Matthew Fox’s books about Creation Spirituality – a tradition in Christian history that had been ignored for centuries. During the pandemic began in 2020, Matt Fox began offering more online courses on medieval mystics, such as Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, and Thomas Aquinas, who were grounded in a Creation Spirituality tradition. These courses have been offered through The Shift Network https://theshiftnetwork.com. Matt also offers daily meditations through his website, which is https://dailymeditationswithmatthewfox.org. I have taken several of these courses, and I subscribe to his daily meditations.
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. Each one of these women has daily reflections, which I find valuable. Their lives and writing inspire and encourage me.
Move to Scotland
After moving to Scotland in 2001, 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 of those years was working with students, chaplains, and staff from different faith traditions (all and none) 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. Afterwards, I wrote an article describing the development of our multifaith chaplaincy, including our PWR experience. Click on this link for the article: Growing a Multifaith Chaplaincy in Edinburgh – PDF
Another highlight of those years was meeting Professor Ursula King, whose research, writing, and speaking as an academic have encompassed global spirituality, including women’s spirituality, and the mystical and evolutionary work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whom I mentioned earlier. Like several others, Professor King has been an inspiration to me. For more information, see Spirituality and (Multi)Faith – Selected Resources.
Evolving into an Elder
Since 2009, I have been an Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh (UofE) – primarily working as second supervisor for PhD/Doctoral students in Counselling who choose to explore the interface and relationship between counselling and spirituality.
In 2012-2013, I also worked as a Research Fellow in a Spirituality and Counselling Knowledge Exchange research project at the University of Edinburgh. Using Readers’ Theatre, I co-facilitated workshops throughout Scotland, during which counsellors, ministers, counselling students, and members of the public explored and shared their experiences, thoughts, and feelings about the relationship between religion and spirituality and between counselling and spirituality. See Spirituality and Counselling bibliography (Article: British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 2014, Vol 42, No. 5, 525-543. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03069885.2014.928667).
More recently, in 2021, I was invited to join the Spirituality in Education Alliance UK (SIEUK), whose purpose is ‘supporting the development of whole children and flourishing school cultures’. This seems particularly important now.
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.