How I think Research is like the Spiritual Life.

By Dr Stuart Devenish, Postgraduate Coordinator (MTC)- Tabor Adelaide

In this article I want to explore some of the ways in which I think research and spirituality intersect with and overlap each other. As I do so, I invite the reader to look for ways in which your own spiritual lives can connect with and grow your understanding of research. I appeal to the work of Richard Rohr – the well-known Franciscan priest and specialist in the spiritual life – to identify congruencies between the inner task of spiritual growth, and the outer task of research in whatever capacity this is undertaken.

In his book entitled Falling Upward: a spirituality for the two halves of life,[1] Richard Rohr makes three points about the spiritual life which have equal relevance to research. The first point Rohr makes about the spiritual life which is pertinent to research, relates to growth. Rohr says we do not “make” or “create” our souls; they are given to us at birth and our task is not to re-make them but to “grow” them into a functional, fully-orbed and mature entity which is lived consciously in the service of Christ.[2] The same can also be said of our minds. Our minds are given to us not as a completed service-ready intelligence-machine. Rather, they must be trained to function as the operating centre of our lives in our dependent-interdependent-independent existence. When it comes to research, it is not so much that we have to begin at the beginning all over again; rather, our task is to submit to the process of growth as we acquire the skill-set needed to carry out independent thinking, through reading for discovery, and the testing of our ideas by others, both formally and informally.

The second point Rohr makes about the spiritual life which is pertinent to research, relates to failure. He says “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”[3] So often we are concerned about what others think of us, and one of the ways we most frequently validate ourselves socially is via “success.” But there are so many times in our lives when we can only learn by failing. Examples from the realm of everyday life are learning to ride a pushbike or to play the piano. Examples from the realm of the spiritual life are in our prayer lives and our loving of other people. Examples in research may include our faltering attempts to convey to others what we are trying to achieve and learning the skill of constructing research papers and arguments by trial and error. The great saints who went before us only grew to the heights of proximity to God out of their awareness of sin and exclusion; e.g., reference the apostle Peter’s denial of Christ, and the apostle Paul’s persecution of the church. And the great scholars whose published works we devour did not arrive from their mothers’ wombs with their ideas fully-formed. No, they had to struggle and fight for the knowledge which is now taken for granted by the new generations – ourselves included.

The third point Rohr makes about the spiritual life which is pertinent to research, relates to the need to take a journey. One of the recurring meta-themes Rohr uses throughout Falling Upward is the call to set out on the hero or heroine’s journey to discover the existence of new worlds. In the biblical record, Abraham is called to “Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the new land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). This demand for a journey also forms the centrepiece of

[1] Richard Rohr. Falling Upward: a spirituality for the two halves of life, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011 [2] ibid, ix-x [3] ibid, xxii

By Dr Stuart Devenish, Postgraduate Coordinator (MTC)- Tabor Adelaide

Image course Flickr: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

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