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Center for Action and Contemplation
Tending the Fire Within
Tending the Fire Within

Spirituality as Radical Resilience

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Episcopal priest and educator Alice Updike Scannell (1938–2019) considered spirituality to be an essential element of radical resilience.  

Attending to our spirituality is an essential skill for radical resilience. The kinds of challenges and adversities in life that demand radical resilience usually cause pain and suffering. We cannot handle pain and suffering without spiritual support. Much of that spiritual support will come from people—some from those we know and some from strangers who offer a kind word or come forward to help when we need it. We might also find spiritual support through our religious tradition, twelve-step program, or a meditative practice such as tai chi, mindfulness meditation, or yoga.  

However, not all religions or spiritual belief systems are helpful for radical resilience. Any religion or spiritual belief system that is judgmental, punitive, rigid, or exclusive is a potential obstacle to resilience. The kind of spirituality that serves as a radical resilience skill respects the dignity of every human being; understands that all beings, the environment, and the universe are interconnected; views the Higher Power as loving; and holds honesty, self-awareness, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, openness, acceptance, and healing as core values.  

Whenever we seek to understand how we can best live our lives with meaning and purpose, through prayer, meditation, or another practice of spiritual discernment, and we pay attention with an open mind to what comes to us in response to that practice, we’re engaging with our spirituality as a radical resilience skill. Over time, engagement with spirituality in this way is transformative. It changes the way we understand ourselves. It opens our hearts to an awareness of gratitude and leads us into greater compassion and a sense of connection with others.  

Scannell names that our spirituality and faith have to mature in order to be supportive in difficult times

If we haven’t paid much attention to deepening our spiritual life as we’ve become adults, we’re likely to lack the spiritual resources we’ll need to be radically resilient. Our childhood understanding of spirituality is usually not adequate when we experience the kind of adversity that changes our life forever. When we search for the meaning in what has happened to us, and we search for an understanding of who we are when we can’t do what we used to do, or be who we used to be, then we need spiritual resources that go deeper….  

Yet even when we have a strong sense of spirituality and relationship with the sacred, we can experience anguish, doubt, despair, misery, and darkness. James Hollis calls these experiences “swampland visitations” and describes how they enrich our lives and help us to grow into a mature spirituality. [1] Encounters with these [painful] experiences in the spiritual framework of resilience ultimately lead to enlargement, not diminishment. “If truth be told, we wish we didn’t have to grow,” writes Hollis, “but life is asking more of us than that.” [2]  

[1] James Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life (New York: Gotham Books, 2005), 209, 211. 

[2] Hollis, Finding Meaning, 234. 

Alice Updike Scannell, Building Resilience: When There’s No Going Back to the Way Things Were (New York: Church Publishing, 2017, 2020), 112–113, 120–121.  

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), Washington, 2020, photo, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. Within our deep and tender inside spaces there is a bright light to tend and care for.

Story from Our Community:  

I am new to this community and when I received my second Daily Meditations email, I felt prompted to tell some of my story. I realized that a community is a place of communion—not only about receiving but also giving. I have been experiencing a period of “stripping” which has meant great loss in every aspect of my life. This stripping is moving me to a place where I can stand still—in power. It’s nice to feel that I am not the only “mad” soul in this world. Be blessed for you are a blessing. —Laverne P. 

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