“Most people instinctively want to have purpose, meaning, and a sense of spiritual well-being,” says veteran educator and author Connie Fourré. And when that sense of well-being gets compromised or dealt a blow, “spiritual resilience” is required.
Fourré is currently developing a curriculum to address society’s lack of resources to create, maintain or restore spiritual well-being in the face of such challenges. Fourré describes spiritual well-being as “a trusting, compassionate approach to life rooted in a deep sense of meaning and purpose” that contribute to the common good.
Statistics show an increasingly secularized society characterized by a lack of affiliation with religious traditions that once nourished a communal sense of spiritual well-being and resilience, she said in an interview with Saint Mary’s Press.
“As people leave traditional religions or grow up outside their influence, they don’t just lose rules and doctrines,” according to Fourré. “They often leave behind the hard-won wisdom of great spiritual teachers. G.K. Chesterton described tradition as ‘extending democracy back to the ancestors.’ Each of us on our own or in our self-chosen small group has limited experience and information. At their best, faith communities carry on the cumulative wisdom of thousands of years and multiple cultures.”
She added: “Faith communities have what’s called ‘social capital,’ people who have invested time and energy in relationship and network-building. In searching for ways to help educate people on the suffering of our Muslim neighbors or on spiritual resilience, I’ve had trouble finding other kinds of groups with equivalent social capital. I know social media can be powerful, but in-person interactions are also important.”
“In addition, most people have limited time and opportunity to think or talk about the Big Questions, which makes it hard to really go deep,” she adds. “I think most people instinctively want to have purpose, meaning and a sense of spiritual well-being, but very few of us can figure it all out on our own, particularly when we’re hard-pressed for time.”
“I believe institutional religions have a role but the window of opportunity is narrowing,” Fourré says. “Unless some kind of spontaneous renewal breaks out, traditional faith communities are going to need to wake up, go back to our roots, and think outside the box. For Christians, our roots are the person of Jesus, his life and teaching. When I started hanging out with Buddhists and Muslims, I realized how often and easily they refer to Muhammad or the Buddha.”
Yet “most non-Latino Catholics and mainline Protestants have lost that habit” of easy conversation about Jesus, she says. “We need to figure out how to think and talk about Jesus and not feel we’ve got things covered if we [simply] talk about church.”
“Practices supporting spiritual resilience may look different for each group but they have similar goals. For example, as a Christian my meditation includes consciously putting my life into God’s hands and asking for guidance and strength. Secular mindfulness meditation aims to be present to the moment without judgment. Both types of meditation call us to let go of fear and control, but understand their ultimate source of strength differently. The inspiring stories I save and retell are often, but not always, of people who act because of their faith; someone who is disaffiliated would probably choose different stories but still celebrate people acting generously and courageously.”
Fourré lists several examples of practices that support spiritual resilience: “Choosing to pay attention to stories of people past or present who act hopefully and compassionately. Consciously taking time each day to be grateful, even in the midst of challenges. Finding time regularly to step outside our comfort zone and be of service. There are many more.”
“Many times throughout history religions have needed to find new language for spiritual truths. There’s always a tension between holding on to the essential and becoming understandable to a contemporary audience,” says Fourré.
“The idea of spiritual resilience has roots in both religion and positive psychology. It’s based on cultivating spiritual emotions like gratitude, compassion and hope while learning to manage our painful emotions more effectively.”
“I think the trend toward disaffiliation makes perfect sense given the ongoing scandals in leadership and the culture of our times. I found while teaching high school that the three big impediments for young people were the perceived tension between science and religion, the problem of suffering, and a lack of direct experience of God’s presence. Often older adults have the same stumbling blocks, and so young people are hard-pressed to find someone who can help them navigate. We need to offer more meaningful education for adults and open more space to listen and engage with young people.”
Fourré’s current focus is to develop program materials around the theme “Heart Matters: Spiritual Resilience and the Path to Peace.” “My 25 years in the classroom with high school students were an incredible window into today’s shifting religious landscape,” she says.
“My current focus is on sharing language and practices that support a mature spirituality and ethic worthy of passing on to the next generation. Cultivating emotions such as compassion, awe and joy to develop resilience in an increasingly diverse and polarized environment.”
For Fourré that involves bringing “the essential wisdom of traditional Christian practices to today’s busy lifestyle.”
“Learning to maintain spiritual resilience is equally important for those inside or disaffiliated from traditional religions. We all need a sense of purpose and a way to hold on to compassion, hope and trust,” she says.
Jerry Ruff, Senior Writer and Editor
Saint Mary’s Press Research