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Being a spiritual scholar

David Coghlan SJ, Associate Professor Emeritus at Trinity College Dublin, was a keynote speaker at the recent conference on ‘Spirituality in Society and the Professions’ in Waterford Institute of Technology. His presentation focussed on the inseparability of his academic life and his spirituality. The conference was a collaboration between WIT, the Spirituality Institute for Research and Education (SpIRE) and the European Institute for Spirituality in Economics and Society (SPES) and took place from May 16-18.

After his presentation, he spoke with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications. He defined spirituality simply as connecting with the transcendent. “I connect with a God who loves me, knows me and has sent me into the world for a purpose, and I’m tuning into that.” As an academic and a scholar he writes and teaches, and that activity has meaning as part of his spirituality because, he remarks, it is what God wants him to do. “For me, the Holy Spirit works through me trying to think out the things I try to think out… and God is to be found and served through the activities that go with my professional work,” he asserts. He adds: “And it’s the same for any other work we do, God is to be found in and through it.”

So for David, spirituality is not something that resides in an esoteric realm, cut off from ordinary life. Nor is it solely to be located in traditional religious settings. “So much of the spirituality we are aware of is clerical or monastic,” he says. “There are mystic saints for sure,” he adds; “But for most of us it’s not like that. We all live complex, layered lives, but they are all part of our one life. So I have real difficulty when somebody tries to separate spirituality, their lived experience, from the person they actually are or are trying to become.” The spirituality of everyday living, or as St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, would have it, ‘finding God in all things’, has not been well served, he says.

Coghlan cites the example of fellow Jesuit and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin who certainly did grasp the meaning of a spirituality of everyday life and who made it clear when he wrote, “God is not remote from us. He is at the point of my pen, my (pick) shovel, my paintbrush, my (sewing) needle…” So we search for God in all things, says Coghlan, and God is always there to be found. “God is very busy in our world and I believe we work with God, not just for God.”

Listen to the full interview above.