Monday, March 25, 2013

Spiritual Engagement

Engagement is an “in” word now in the business world.  I have read countless reports on engagement or the lack thereof in both for-profit and not-for-profit contexts.  The argument usually is making the point that engaged workers are more productive people.  And more productive people make the company reduce expenses and are more productive.  This normally goes to the bottom line and makes the company more profitable.  All that makes sense to me.

I suspect there is a similar truth in my own work place, the university.  It probably is true not only for the faculty and staff, but also for the students.  In fact, I wonder if there is not some correlation to engagement in the classroom and student learning?  I would b surprised if there is not some correlation.

Engagement is an interesting concept.  At one level, I feel like I know quite a bit about it.  I have written and spoken about it for a few years.  In fact, I feel like I was talking about engagement before it became a media hit topic.  I have followed sources like the Gallup Organization, which routinely measures the engagement of work forces and tries to correlate that to productivity and happiness.

Recently I bumped into another article in my local paper.  It was a little different look at engagement in that it focused on “trust.”  I have also written some on this issue of trust, so I was intrigued what the author, Joyce Gannon, had to say.  The opening line was interesting.  She writes, “Even when workers are passionate about the day-to-day tasks involved in their jobs, they won’t be engaged in the workplace unless they click with their immediate bosses and trust in how senior executives are leading the company.”  Gannon was referencing recent studies done by Dale Carnegie Training.
       
I was fascinated to read that this Carnegie study identified four emotions that link to engagement.  “Engagement increases dramatically with four variables: enthusiasm, confidence, empowerment and inspiration.”  It was not surprising to me that the study links emotions and engagement.  For example, it does not take a genius to know that someone who is very angry is not a very engaged person---either at work or at home.        

I don’t want to pursue the workplace or the home, but I was struck by the potential of this engagement study and spirituality.  Surely, I speculated, there has to be some correlation between engagement and spiritual practice and, probably, spiritual vitality.  And surely, I thought, there has to be a correlation between engagement and spiritual experience.  Of course, this does not box in God!  I assume God continues to be able to do whatever God wants to do and whenever God wants to do it.  So my speculation about engagement concerns only the human side of the Divine-human encounter.

Spiritually speaking, what does engagement look like?  In the first place, I am sure engagement means more than simply saying, “I believe in God.”  That may be true, but it is a doctrinal statement.  It does not require any engagement to have a belief.  Rather, I think engagement requires some contact, connection, communication and consequence from that God in whom I believe.  Let me detail this conviction.

I think engagement begins with contact.  Spiritually speaking, contact might happen through any number of the spiritual disciplines.  I might contact God through study, prayer, meditation, etc.  Contact requires at least some effort and repetition.  Spirituality is not some one-night stand!  My efforts to contact God do not bind God to respond when and as I want!

Secondly, repeated contact leads to connection.  Connection might be simply another word for relationship.  Through repeated contact, God and I form a relationship.  Christians might call that “discipleship.”  The words are not as important as the relationship itself.  As with all relationships, the relationship with God can deeper develop.  In fact, the depths are unfathomable.

Thirdly, the connection normally leads to communication.  At some point, God does reciprocate and God and I begin to communicate.  Again, prayer is a classical way this communication happens.  But there certainly are other ways God communicates and I do communicate as well.  And that communication does not always have to be uniquely for me.  The Bible and tradition are both treasures of Divine communication to humans.  I just need to read them for myself.

Finally engagement leads to consequences.  Engagement leads to spiritual meaning and purpose in life.  Typically it brings joy.  There should be a peace in the soul.  This peace can be our island in the midst of life’s chaos and unpredictability.  The consequence of my spiritual engagement is both simple and profound.  I am a child of God and I am loved now and forever.

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