Living More Wisely in the World: A Faith Perspective

By Phil Ruge-Jones, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church

Recently I was invited to speak to a Social Work class at UW-EC about spiritualities of aging.

I want to tease out the meaning of spiritualities. Speaking about it  in a public institution required me to think more broadly than in my churchly context. I hope this framework also serves those who identify with JONAH from various faith traditions, or even no explicit faith tradition.

I offer these two definitions of spirituality:

Spirituality is what happens as people draw on stories, rituals (which are really stories in action), and practices of justice in a way that helps those people put challenges, possibilities, and problems in a perspective larger than their own immediate world.


Spirituality is whatever helps people engage the events of their lives in a bigger, more spacious context.

So while for me as a Christian the stories I think of often come from the Scriptures of my tradition and the rituals that come to mind are things that happen in our Sunday gatherings, on some level these have parallels in the daily practices of many people.

Listening to another family’s immigration story lifts our individual story into a larger, more global context. A story of another person’s experience of racism helps me see the privileges I assume, and to confess the ways that this is problematic. Gathering with other community members and hearing how local changes in our health-care systems impact their lives deepens my own lament.

And we all have rituals that also lift us beyond ourselves. We open a newsfeed to understand what is going on around the globe. We make eye contact with the person bagging our groceries and say thank you to this fellow human being. We mail a letter advocating for a more just world. We walk into the woods or to the shoreline to quiet ourselves and to learn from nature better ways to exist. We open a book to see the world of another more accurately.

The university conversation opened my heart and eyes a bit to see common themes for conversing with others beyond my congregation about the things that connect us, enlarge our spirits as human beings, and lead to a more just world. Listening to others’ stories becomes one more ritual to broaden our sense of what is at stake in our day.

I hoped that thinking through all this would help me to listen to others more carefully. But it also allowed me to listen to the ways that God has created practices in my own life that enhance and reinforce the things I trust in because of the traditions that have shaped me.

By putting my Christian practices in a broader human context, I see sacredness drawing near in our daily life together in myriad manners.

This reimagining of the meaning and scope of spirituality itself became a spiritual practice, helping me see the stories and practices that lead my life into a bigger, more spacious, and more just context.

What are the stories you hold dear that put your life in a larger perspective?

What sanctioned rites and everyday rituals do you practice that remind you of the larger community we inhabit?

What does doing justice look like to you on a daily basis?