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Answers from within: Spiritual guidelines for managing setbacks in work

18 January, 2011

188 pp. Veritas Publications. to purchase this book online, go to www.veritas.ie

Answers from within is written for men and women of faith who may need a compass to keep themselves on track when things go wrong in the workplace. It works best if absorbed in quiet moments alone when there is a distance from the pressures that are part of the workplace.

WILLIAM J. BYRON SJ, former president of the Catholic University of America and the University of Scranton, is university professor of business and society at St Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, PA, USA



Part One: On the Relevance of Faith to Work and Life 

1. Spirituality and the Human Predicament 
2. Mixing Faith and Work 
3. Preparing for Adversity in Life and Work

Part Two: Dealing with Workplace Wounds

4. Criticism
5. Fear
6. Betrayal
7. False Accusations
8. Ingratitude
9. Being Passed Over
10. Layoff
11. Prejudice
12. Sexual Harassment
13. Mistakes

Part Three: Spiritual Pillars for the World of Work 

14. Second Starts 
15. Faith at Work 
16. Forgiveness 
17. Veracity 
18. Creativity 
19. Helping Others 
20. Hope 
21. Looking Up


 Our very life depends on everything’s
Recurring till we answer from within.
The thousandth time may prove the charm.

– Robert Frost, ‘Snow’



According to theologian Doris Donnelly, spirituality is prayer elevated to a lifestyle. That’s one compelling definition of the reality that is prompting countless persons in these stressful times to stretch their souls towards God. Our undertakings are now ‘soul size’, as playwright Christopher Fry phrased it in A Sleep of Prisoners, and ‘the enterprise is exploration into God’.

The question ‘What is spirituality?’ gives rise to another question: what are the roots of our current growing interest in spiritual issues?

More than sixty years ago in the US, Time magazine ran a cover story about an event that shook the world, an event that wounded many so profoundly that it has remained to trouble many of us, mind and soul, ever since. The incident, which was reported in the 20 August 1945 issue of the magazine, marked both an end and a beginning.

This report was published, as were all Time stories in those days, without attribution of authorship. I learned years later that a young (and then relatively unknown) Time staffer by the name of James Agee wrote the piece under a very tight deadline. The overarching headline was ‘Victory’. The first subhead was ‘The Peace’. The second subhead was ‘The Bomb’.

Time was covering a big story that week, perhaps the biggest of the century. Agee saw the ‘controlled splitting of the atom, that produced the bomb that was used to attack Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and thus bring to an end the greatest conflict in human history, as an event so enormous that, in comparison, ‘the war itself shrank to minor significance’. To Agee’s eye, [H]umanity, already profoundly perplexed and disunified, was brought inescapably into a new age in which all thoughts and things were split – and far from controlled’.

Time’s readers, still dizzy with the thrill of victory, could hardly have seen, as Agee did, the potential for both good and evil that the atomic bomb represented. That potential bordered ‘on the infinite – with this further, terrible split in the fact: that upon a people already so nearly drowned in materialism even in peacetime, the good uses of this power might easily bring disaster as prodigious as the evil. … When the bomb split open the universe … it also revealed the oldest, simplest, commonest, most neglected and most important of facts: that each man is eternally and above all else responsible for his own soul, and in the terrible words of the Psalmist, that no man may deliver his brother, nor make agreement unto God for him.’

Then Agee made a shattering observation that rings every bit as true today as it did that memorable August many years ago. Here are the words he wrote – words that were available to any reader of America’s most popular news magazine in 1945, and that have gone largely unheeded for more than six decades:

Man’s fate has forever been shaped between the hands of reason and spirit, now in collaboration, again in conflict. Now reason and spirit meet on final ground. If either or anything is to survive, they must find a way to create an indissoluble partnership.

These powerful words were perceptive and prophetic. They appeared just before the so-called ‘baby boomers’ were born. They explain the cause of the ‘split’ that has been troubling humanity for more than half a century. We have not yet forged the ‘indissoluble partnership’ between reason and spirit; we are even more adrift now than we were then on a sea of materialism. We may, however, be beginning to notice what Agee saw when the bomb split open the universe; namely, that each of us is responsible for his or her own soul.

Men and women in the world of work who are restless and wondering about the relevance of their Sunday faith to their Monday responsibilities are, I believe, being nudged now by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to begin an exploration into God.

‘Spirituality’ is not to be confused with the everyday sense of the word ‘spirit’– as in ‘school spirit’, ‘pioneer spirit’, the ‘spirit of capitalism’, or the ‘spirited’ response someone might make to some external stimulus. To be spirited in such contexts is to react to something completely human, something finite. That which is truly spiritual is immaterial and cannot be fully grasped by our limited human minds; it cannot be measured, counted, weighed, or touched. It is seen only in its effects.

Spirit in a faith-based spirituality rooted in the Christian tradition is identified with the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the triune God, present and active in the human soul. As scripture puts it: ‘This is how we know that we remain in [God] and he in us, that he has given us his Spirit’ (1 John 4:13).

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul addresses people who are converts from paganism. He instructs them in the exercise of their new-found freedom in the Holy Spirit and urges them to ‘live by the Spirit’ in their normal secular surroundings. This is precisely what serious Christians at work in the world today are concerned about doing. How can one know that he or she is ‘guided by the Spirit?’

Paul offers in Galatians 5:22-23 what I call the ‘Pauline Criteria’ for judging the consistency of one’s own (or anyone else’s) behaviour with the presence of the Spirit in a human life. They constitute what Paul calls the ‘fruit of the Spirit’. There are nine and I listed them for you in the Introduction: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Examine what you do at home or in the workplace against these criteria. Judge another’s oppositional or supportive behaviour in the light of these norms. These are non-market values that can humanise every marketplace and workplace.

Notice that Paul has not outlined unattainable goals. All nine of these Pauline characteristics are within your reach; they are attainable by normal people leading ordinary lives.

In contrast to these ingredients of a faith-based spirituality rooted in Christian revelation, Paul mentions the ‘works of the flesh’, i.e. human activity only, activity not informed by God’s indwelling Spirit. The works of the flesh are what we are left with when we reject the Spirit and set out blindly on our own. These rebel elements are ‘obvious” Paul notes, and he identifies them as follows: ‘immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like’ (5:19-21). At the end of this catalogue, Paul puts it bluntly: ‘I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.’

After examining Paul’s second list, you might be forgiven for thinking to yourself, ‘Well, except for the orgies, that’s actually a pretty fair description of the workplace as I know it’. That is all the more reason to focus closely on the first list of positive Pauline values.

If spirituality is to mean anything at all for you in the workplace, the Pauline Criteria signaling the presence of the Spirit must become the very infrastructure you carry with you into the world of work. They should be guiding principles, pillars that support your working life. Once internalised, they can serve as answers from within.

The Pauline Criteria can transform you, and with them you can transform the workplace. If you hope to change the world around you, change yourself!

Sober reflection on the absence in your surroundings (and perhaps even in yourself) of these positive criteria can be unsettling. So can the realisation of the occasional presence of what Paul listed as negatives. These experiences should be unsettling. Welcome the discomfort. It can serve an eviction notice on the complacency that can stifle the Spirit and the spirituality waiting to energise you from within your soul. Let’s look now in detail at each of the nine Pauline values.

The word means many things to many people. Popular culture debases love in song and story, forever confusing it with physical passion. Great literature and great lives through the centuries display the profound beauty of truly selfless love.
At bottom, love is service and sacrifice. It is the willingness to lay down one’s life – literally or figuratively – for another. When you think about love, you should be thinking about your willingness to offer up your own true self for the benefit of another.

Joy is another profound reality that is not to be misunderstood. It is not to be confused with pleasure or hilarity. Those who replace the ‘pursuit of happiness’ with the pursuit of pleasure will find lasting joy always eluding them. Joy is an inner assurance that your will is aligned with God’s will, that you are favoured, graced, and gifted beyond anything that you could merit on your own. Joy is balance, an abiding contentment.

Often mistaken for whatever follows a truce, peace is actually tranquility.

St Thomas Aquinas described it as the `tranquility of right order’. Those who ‘bury the hatchet’ and retain their grudges are not at peace. Those who retain their emotional balance and agree to disagree can live in harmony.

This word literally means ‘suffering’. The agent acts; the ‘patient’ receives the action.
How the person receives the action – especially the unwelcome action – is the test of patience. Tests of patience arise from countless sources: a dentist’s drill; a honking horn; a fist pounding on the table; a spoken contradiction; an unmerited rebuke. The question is: how do you respond?

Many have remarked that apparent kindnesses can, in fact, be acts of cruelty. This means that weakness or timidity can slip into virtue’s clothing and provide cover for an escape from responsibility or right action. Many a selfish or hypocritical act has been justified by a bad motive that is wrapped in counterfeit kindness.

Kindness does not depend on the perceptions of others. True kindness is respect for human dignity in every circumstance of life; it is both courtesy and personally courageous attentiveness displayed towards another person.

The opposite of all that is small, closed, petty, ungiving, and unforgiving, generosity points to largeness of soul. Generosity does not come naturally to human nature. But generosity can be learned by observation and acquired by practice. Whenever practised, true generosity demonstrates the truth of the dictum that virtue is its own reward.

Dependability and reliability are the prerequisites of friendship. Keeping commitments – commonly thought of as ‘promises’ and theologically understood as ‘covenants’– is the ‘stuff’ of faith.

For the believer, faith is the habit of entrusting oneself to God. In the workplace, faithfulness is friendship, trust, and the security derived from commitments kept. These two varieties of ‘promises kept’ may seem separate, but they actually reflect a single ongoing reality in the life of the believer.

Does being a ‘gentle’ man (or woman) imply refinement? withdrawal? a retiring personality? What does it mean to be gentle? Gentleness is so often confused with timidity that we are caught in a cultural confusion over the very meaning of the word and of the place of gentleness in the workplace. In actuality, gentleness is strength. The gentle person is neither insecure nor arrogant; he or she is self-possessed, in quiet control of self and the surrounding situation. Although meekness is sometimes praised in scripture (‘Blessed are the meek… ) it is too often dismissed as weakness. Because it is misunderstood, the quiet strength of true meekness is not given the fair chance it deserves to become a positive force in the workplace.

This test of personal integrity involves the practice of saying no to the self.

A young mother once held up her infant son in the presence of the legendary American Civil War general Robert E. Lee and asked for his blessing on the child. Lee offered an apt but rare and unusual blessing: ‘Teach him he must deny himself’, he said.

A person ‘out of control’ in matters large or small is a diminished person. To have ‘lost it’ in any circumstance of life is to have abdicated that which makes one human; it is to have invited a curse and rejected a blessing.

Anyone seriously concerned with the challenge of changing workplace negatives into faith-based positives, or with welcoming the Spirit to dwell within his or her own soul, might well begin with Paul’s nine-point checklist, making it an instrument of daily self-examination. Before your working day begins and at the end of the day before going to bed, compose yourself for a few stock-taking moments of prayer. You may want to use the following as a starting point for developing Your own routine, but avoid the rote repetition of empty words and phrases. Be sure to allow for your own formulation of questions and selection of points for emphasis.

  • Recall that you are in God’s presence and thank God for the gift of life and any other gifts that come to mind.
  • Ask for light to see yourself as God sees you, to see your day in the light of eternity.
  • Review your role in the day just unfolding, or just ending, against these norms:

Morning: Am I prepared to share, serve, sacrifice for others today?
Evening: Did I open up towards others? Where did I hurt anyone or hold back?

Morning: Is my will aligned with God’s? Do I cherish the graces, the gifts of God to me? Do I recognise the difference between pleasure and happiness? Am I in balance?
Evening: Where did I turn in on myself today? When and why did sadness touch me today? Did I lose balance?

Morning: What image of tranquility can I carry with me into this new day?
Evening: Why was I upset? What grudges am I carrying? Did I disturb the peace of others? Did I make anyone angry?

Morning: Am I prepared to suffer today, if God wills it or is willing to permit it?
Evening: When and why did I ‘lose it’ today? Did I overreact? Did I lose my temper because I was about to lose face? Do I really believe that everything depends on me?

Morning: Am I prepared to be considerate today? Will courtesy and civility accompany me through the day, and will attentiveness mark my relationship to others?
Evening: Did I contribute any rudeness, abrupt demands, or insults to the rubble of this day?

Morning: What will I be today, a giver or a taker?
Evening: Was I petty, ungiving, or unforgiving in any way today? Did meanness enter the world today through me? Did I make anyone smile? Did I listen generously?

Morning: If God is God, he cannot be anything but faithful to me today and always. I resolve to remain faithful to God today and, with God’s help, to keep all my commitments in faith and friendship, in dependability and reliability.
Evening: Was anyone let down by me today? Did I lose any faith in God or in myself? Did I violate any trusts?

Morning: I am capable of being rude, rough, and domineering. I want to be gentle. I hope the source of all gentleness will work through me today.
Evening: Was I harsh towards anyone today? Did I hurt anyone in any way?

Morning: I may have to say no to myself today; am I ready? Evening: Did I leave any space for others today? Was I selfish or indulgent in ways that diminished the world’s supply of human dignity?

Again, give thanks and, as needed, express not just regret but resolve to make amends.

Consider developing a daily sheet for monitoring your activity in each of the nine areas. Blank spaces on that sheet will allow you to monitor your own personal progress with regard to each of the Pauline values.

One item or another on the list of nine may call for special attention at a given stage in your life; you can highlight any category you like. You can also add other criteria that suit Your purposes. Remember: the point of any exercise involving the Pauline Criteria is to heighten your awareness of God’s presence in your life, and your responses to or rejections of God’s promptings to you in the course of any day.

As you will discover later in this book, you are a vocation. You have been called by God. God never stops calling; that means you must never stop responding. Although the call is not vocalised in the familiar tones and patterns of speech that are part of your life, God’s initiatives towards you are a no less essential part of your life. You simply have to learn to ‘hear’ these calls or ‘read’ them in the circumstances that surround you. After all, wherever you are, you are there by God’s providence.

As a person with a calling, you must learn to listen for the specifics of that calling in the earthbound conversations of the secular settings where you are called to live the life God has given you.

If these Pauline Criteria for the presence of the Spirit in a human life are internalised — if they become part of who you are, regardless of where you are and what you do for a living —you will always carry them with you. Wherever you happen to be in work or life will become a better place for your presence there.

Imagine that your spirituality provides you with a personal bank account to be drawn upon in troubled times. This is really not so wild a proposition. Have you noticed how often theological terms like ‘providence’ and ‘trust’ are used to name financial institutions?

The spiritual guidelines that the Pauline Criteria provide can function as deposit slips for the spiritual capital that is yours, by God’s providence. You can always trust the God who knows you and calls you by name (no personal identification number needed) to maintain a positive balance in your account. You don’t make the deposits; all you can do is have the good sense to make withdrawals as needed.

So, here you are with a book in your hands and a desire, or at least a curiosity, to connect your religious faith to work and life.

The point of this chapter, and those that follow, is to help you act on that desire or that curiosity. The pages that follow will aim to enable you to deal productively not only with the wounds and reversals that are part of any life anywhere, but specifically with the challenges that are yours in the workplace. My aim is to help you do so in such a way as to make God present in this world, to make life better for others, to use your time in a manner that aligns your life with God’s will for you.

The integration of religious faith and workplace responsibilities will bring balance to your life. And if you are called to a position of managerial or executive responsibility, you can create a workplace culture within which those you lead can themselves lead a balanced life.

I believe that you, as an individual, can overcome your personal share of the lethal ‘split’ between faith and reason, matter and spirit, that James Agee identified as a developing characteristic of the broader society. Once you do, your healing will move society one notch closer to the balance in these areas that it so conspicuously lacks. You will have done your part to create the ‘indissoluble partnership’ required to hold these fateful realities together as the human community struggles to maintain its sanity and live in hope on ‘final ground’.

You will also, I believe, have unlocked for yourself the secret of a happy life in an imperfect world, a world that can deal with you at times harshly and unfairly.

Much will depend on your willingness to let these spiritual truths sink into your soul as moisture seeps into the earth. It will not happen right away or all at once. Let these lines from Robert Frost’s poem ‘Snow’ set the pace for the process of your personal assimilation of the wisdom principles that will keep you and your career on track in stressful times:

Our very life depends on everything’s
Recurring till we answer from within.
The thousandth time may prove the charm.

Those answers ‘from within’, from the depths of a personal faith-based spirituality, are wisdom principles. They do not surface immediately when things go wrong. They have to push their way up through emotion, and ambition, and anger, and pride – through the negatives that will appear on your checkpoint screen during the recommended nightly review that I sketched out for you earlier. Developing a strong and functioning spirituality will take a while; the thousandth time may indeed prove the charm.

You may now be thinking that the principles of spirituality outlined in this chapter will, if assimilated, arm you with little more than a simple slingshot when it comes to dealing with the unpredictable assaults you will face in your daily working life. Well, think about that for a moment. Recall that David did quite well against Goliath with that kind of equipment! Don’t be too quick to discount or disregard the practical value of spirituality, a weapon that is both ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’.

And here is a point of capital importance for the hard-charging competitor who wants to succeed both in business and in the spiritual life: whenever you go on the offensive and activate your properly aggressive, competitive energies in the workplace, make sure that your style of assertiveness reflects the presence of the Pauline Criteria. Keep your competitiveness cool!

Spirituality is your invisible means of support, your ever-reliable resource in keeping yourself and your career on track when the going gets rough.

Perhaps your relationships with others in the workplace are going quite well at the moment. Perhaps you have no enemies; it’s simply not a ‘jungle out there’ for you. All is both serene and successful, so you may be wondering about the relevance for you right now of wisdom principles designed to sustain you when things go wrong.

And that, of course, is the point: things will go wrong eventually. It wasn’t raining when Noah began to build his ark. The harmony and purpose in your workplace now should certainly be celebrated, but they probably shouldn’t be relied on to endure forever.

In love and war, in spiritual and material combat, in religious and business ventures, fortune favours the well prepared. Even a minimal time investment in your personal spirituality will go a long way towards keeping you centred when events threaten, as they inevitably will, to pull you apart.

Your commitment to personal spirituality will also help you overcome complacency and reawaken courage from within. If you see yourself now as both serene and successful, consider this note of caution: you may not be feeling the tension; you may not yet experience any war in the workplace because you have not yet started to reject what is wrong in that ‘jungle out there’. You may be too accommodating to your environment. ‘No war’ for you may mean that no spiritual growth is taking place.

I mentioned in the Introduction that management consultant and psychiatrist David E. Morrison sees a ‘fit’ for the Pauline Criteria in the workaday world. He sees people from a wide variety of workplaces. They come to him because they want to manage stress better; often their bosses want them to fit in better with functioning workplace teams. Morrison begins by focusing on a client’s affect – an emotional state, the fundamental feeling that an individual expresses through eyes, voice, body language.

Since managing people means managing feelings, the people at Morrison Associates in Palatine, Illinois, USA (a suburb of Chicago), find themselves assisting clients who

manage others by helping those clients identify and deal with feelings – the very feelings that are typically denied or ignored in the workplace. This is an area that is to be managed – not manipulated, but managed by us all.

There can be appropriate or inappropriate reactions to feelings in the workplace. Often, if you are willing to listen to them, your feelings can help you identify what is really going on.

A clarifying image employed by Morrison Associates to explain how feelings can impair thought is that of horse and jockey. The area of a human person where affect operates is like a horse; the area where thought works is like a jockey. Sometimes the horse gets out of control and throws the jockey. The affect can become too powerful not only for the one who possesses it at home or work, wherever the affected person happens to be, but also for those who arejust observing or trying to understand the ‘horse’ in others.

In an interview, Dr Morrison explained to me that affect is the foundation upon which feelings, thought, and, eventually, behaviour rest. A stimulus will not gain your attention until it triggers an affect. If an individual has a persistent unmanageable affect, that person should see a health professional, says Dr Morrison. If an organisation has a persistent unmanageable affect, its leaders would probably be well advised to contact an organisation like Morrison Associates.

Following the lead of the late psychologist Silvan S. Tomkins, Morrison identifies nine affects. One is neutral, in that it affects all persons immediately and in much the same way; it is called ‘Surprise-Startle’. Two are positive: ‘Interest-Excitement’ and ‘Enjoyment-Joy’. Six are negative: ‘Fear-Terror’, ‘Anger-Rage’, ‘Distress-Anguish’, ‘Shame-Humiliation’, ‘Disgust’ and ‘Contempt’. I see each of the hyphenated pairs as something of a ‘one-two punch’ or a ‘two-stage rocket’. There is an amplifying force at work. Interest builds to excitement; enjoyment leads to joy; fear develops into terror, and so on. The stimulus triggers an affect that expands. Perhaps the most important point that David Morrison made when I mentioned the Pauline Criteria was that each and every one of them fits comfortably into the Enjoyment-Joy category; they lead to (i.e. amplify towards, extend into) a balanced self-possession, a kind of serene contentment at the centre of an active life. (Indeed, the Pauline value of joy is half of the descriptive label placed on this affect.)

The two positive affects – Interest-Excitement and Enjoyment-Joy – can be used to define a culture, says Morrison. Cultures, of course, are defined by dominant values. Interest-Excitement, he explains, describes a pervasive phenomenon in contemporary culture, as well as in the workplace. We live in settings of excessive hype and accelerated pace. We are overamplified. The cultural thrust is towards excitement; but this excitement cannot be sustained.

Just consider, by way of example, the music, tone patterns, inflection, facial expressions, and staccato communication style characteristic of, say, five consecutive minutes of commercial television news delivery. Television provides a window on our stress-inducing world. We sit in front of that window on a daily basis and unconsciously adopt it as the backdrop for the daily drama (or, more accurately, daily melodrama) of the harried lives we create for ourselves.

Here is how Dr Morrison explained the two positive affects to me: ‘If there is an optimal rise in the level of stimulation, you get Interest-Excitement. It starts off as interest and becomes excitement if the stimulation continues. This is a pleasant affect, so when someone finds the right level, he or she will move to it and seek to maintain it. This ranges from the interest of reading a book to the building excitement of sex.’ He added that this affect can be a great motivator; it is one of the important reasons why we return to work each day. (A daily workplace routine that features no interest or excitement, of course, will rely solely on monetary or other inducements – not all of them pleasurable – to keep people coming back to work.)

Morrison explains Enjoyment-Joy this way: ‘Imagine someone listening to a joke. That person is stimulated by the story. Often it is an odd or awkward situation being described; there is an element of discomfort. Tension builds and then suddenly, with the punch line, it stops. That’s when there’s laughter, i.e. enjoyment. When the uncomfortable stimulation, the suspension, stops, joy settles in. You see the same thing in people getting off a roller coaster. Enjoyment-Joy is there after the stress or distress is relieved and the need for comfort, for balance, has been met.’

The notion of contentment – a positive, abiding kind of balance – suggests itself to me as I think about this Enjoyment-Joy affect. I see it as serenity; you can be intensely active but your activity can be rooted in serenity. You have an anchor. You know where you stand. You know yourself.

This is the affect that is needed when people are hurting. However, Enjoyment-Joy is not, according to Morrison, fashionable in the contemporary workplace, where the dominant culture is Interest-Excitement. ‘This Interest-Excitement pattern just doesn’t do it for the human person’, says Morrison. ‘Think of the guy who drives up in a BMW and comes in here wearing designer clothes. He wants me to tell him how to manage his stress and put balance in his life. The Interest-Excitement culture tires you out.’ In other words, the affect in place in many working people leaves them exhausted, rather than energised. So, it is up to the individual to consciously cultivate the Enjoyment-Joy affect. To ignore or minimise the importance of this task is, in my view, tantamount to ignoring or minimising your own proper role in preparing your soul for a better relationship with God.

If you move about in the workaday world without giving any thought at all to your origins (from God) and your destiny (to be with God for all eternity), you are foolish indeed.

I hesitate to use the word ‘fool’, but anyone who ignores or denies a day-to-day dependency on God demonstrates impressive qualifications for full possession of that title. Psalm 14 offers the gentle reminder: ‘Fools say in their hearts, There is no God’.
Human dependency upon a living, caring God is not passivity – just as serenity is not passivity. Nor does it point to the absence
of freedom, for freedom and the ability to reason set us so-called rational animals apart from all other living beings. Moreover, to acknowledge this relationship of dependency is not, by that very fact, to declare yourself to be religious; it is simply to concede that you are not the sum and substance, let alone king or queen, of the universe. You may choose to accommodate yourself to this dependency without the help of church, synagogue, mosque, or shrine of any kind. You are free to make that choice. Such an accommodation would, however, still be an exercise of spirituality, the spirituality that is, as I mentioned, emerging now everywhere you look, outside the churches.

Religion and spirituality are distinct realities. Some good people view formal religion as an unappealing stained-glass abstraction far removed from the demands of daily living. As worthy of attention as such criticisms may be, it is difficult to comprehend how any good person can be truly good without some consciously forged spiritual links to the source of all goodness. These links may, as I say, be forged apart from any involvement with formal religion. In fact, commentators on religion, some to their dismay, some to their delight, are noticing that spirituality – the focus on ultimate origins, ultimate destinations, and the ultimate source of power and virtue – is not dead in contemporary life. It is simply happening as much or even more outside the churches, mosques, shrines, and synagogues as within them.

Think of the nine elements in the Pauline Criteria as stretching across the ‘Enjoyment-Joy’ spectrum that Dr Morrison employs. The goal, the term, the end, is a deep and lasting joy. That joy should reside deep within your soul – from enjoyment to joy.

The other positive affect, Interest-Excitement, would stretch you out towards ever higher levels of excitement, into a perpetual state of agitation. And that agitation would also be resident in your soul. There lies much of the discontent that troubles us today. It is already there in our mass-media culture; You don’t have to make any effort to find it.

Beyond agitation, behind the ever-rising ‘thresholds’ of excitement and adrenaline, there is no such thing as a state of fulfillment. There is, however, enjoyment in what I commend to you as elements for the infrastructure of your spirituality. There is a positive, satisfying quality associated with each of Paul’s nine points: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Coming from within yourself, or seen in the effects of the actions of others, each of the Pauline elements has an expansive capacity. The expansion or enlargement moves you towards balance; it leads the soul towards security. How well you know the way events can whirl around you; that will surely continue. You also know how activity can catch you up; that will not change. But what you may not yet know is the capacity of this spirituality to keep you rooted in joy (because it roots you in God) while setting you free for the full human pursuit of all good things.

One good image that catches the tension between human freedom and dependency under God, while providing a window of sorts on what I like to call the human predicament, is that of a puppet on a string.

Of course, the human person under God is more than a puppet. And God, while certainly not a puppeteer, has to be understood as more than a mere observer of human activity. Events are not all random and out of divine control; human beings are not completely autonomous and fully in charge of their own destinies.

Thoughtful believers acknowledge God to be all-powerful and they celebrate the fact that God endows every human person with freedom to act and choose as he or she pleases – wisely or foolishly. The reflective person of faith is left, however, with the theological problem of figuring out the relationship between divine fore-knowledge and human freedom.

Human freedom is part and parcel of the human predicament. You are a contingent being who is free to choose. Your choices can result in gain or loss, life or death. And no matter how wisely and well you choose, limits surround you at every turn. The ending of life as you know it is always a possibility, usually regarded as remote, but undeniably inevitable.

History offers perspective on the human predicament, on the contingent state of being that is yours by virtue of your being human. Two hundred years ago this world was filled with human beings. Not one of them is alive today. Two hundred years from now, no one now on earth will still be alive. Two hundred years is a very, very short time in the long view of history. Cut that span of years by one hundred and you face the same conclusion: your journey through life is short.

Yet, caught as you are in the human predicament, you kick against limits, struggle to achieve, and act as if you hold permanent title or a perpetual lease on life, health, and possessions. Simply put, the human predicament is the inseparability of growth and decline in the unrepeatable onceness of a human life.

It has been remarked that people may or may not believe in God, but they all believe in death and do all they can to defer it.
There is just no escaping it. You start to die when you begin to live. You move towards the end the moment you set out on the journey. Everything in you reaches up, even as the gravitational pull of human limitations holds you down. At various stages of your life, that down-pulling weight is so light you hardly notice it; you can easily forget it is there. But it always is.

At many milestones on your journey, the absolute endpoint is remote and far from view, and you fail to notice it. Your attention is fixed on nearer-term goals that take on dimensions of importance and permanence, labels that are laughable when you experience the shock of recognising them in their relationship to your ultimate goal and purpose in life.

This recognition is the by-product of a functioning spirituality, which, as I noted at the outset, is a by-product of prayer. Busy people have to be encouraged to ‘waste’ more time with God in prayer. Trapped in the human predicament, believers typically turn to God with prayers of petition, in search of a ‘fix’ when things go wrong. They rarely associate their musings, ponderings, and puzzlings over their relationship to a higher power with the act or practice of prayer. Those mental meanderings happen, however, in moments that most people cherish: time spent walking along the shore, staring into a fireplace, looking at the stars, gazing at the mountains, listening to a symphony, watching a baby crawl. Those reflective moments can, of course, happen in a cathedral or a subway station, in sacred space intended to be conducive to prayer, or in ordinary, walk-around, lunch-hour surroundings. Those reflective moments will, if you let them, occur.

Whether it is human architecture or natural beauty that provides the setting, the believer needs to find the space and time for permitting God to become more fully present to his or her own consciousness, more fully resident within his or her own heart. Once you do this, and take the next step of letting the effects of this consciousness rise to manifest themselves in your attitudes and external behaviour, you have a functioning spirituality.

Prayer of petition, not at all to be denigrated or disregarded, can be a proving ground for the higher level of meditative communication with God. Caught in any one of a million predicaments that go along with the human condition, believers will typically and spontaneously beg for assistance. ‘God help me’ is more than an idle phrase useful for providing punch to a narrative. ‘Please, God, let …’ ‘Dear Lord, help …’ ‘0, God, don’t …’ The point to notice when you make a prayer of petition is that your prayer is like the rope thrown from a boat to the dock when you are ready to come ashore. You catch the rope on a cleat, not to pull the dock to you, but to pull yourself towards the dock.

The point of your prayer of petition should be to line up your will with God’s, so that you can be ‘pulled’ by grace towards God to accept whatever it is that God regards as best for you. Not my will but ‘thy will be done’ is the qualifier that should accompany any request for divine help. If you understand this, you will have opened up your soul for a fuller stretch towards the God who cannot be anything but faithful to you, and who will be there for you in any wound, reversal, or recovery that you experience as you work your way through the human predicament

For the intellectual, the human predicament is the troublesome split between science and religion, or more broadly, between faith and reason. For the artist, it is the split between mind and heart. For the ordinary person trying to figure things out, it is the tension between the conscious experience of being personally affected by growth and decline, and the often unconscious anxiety associated with a personal, sometimes lonely journey that stretches from birth to death, in an environment of risk, on an unfamiliar road called life.

With the nine Pauline Criteria as guideposts for the journey, you can move ahead with confidence and courage to meet the challenges that lie ahead.


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