The Chaplain's Notebook


The term “spirituality” gets thrown around quite a bit, although it lacks a universally accepted definition. I am going to discuss some of what I’ve learned about that term in the hope that it might be embraced as a practical way of improving our lives. It also benefits us in our resiliency to the challenges we face.

Brushing in a broader stroke, the one definition that resonates with me is that spirituality is the living out of our most important beliefs and values. In recent years, I’ve often heard the phrase “spiritual but not religious,” and there’s a lot of room for that using this definition. If we participate in a faith tradition, then part of our spirituality is looking at how we live in alignment with our scriptures, beliefs and doctrines. Whether or not you consider yourself religious, it will serve you well to review your most important values and beliefs.

Spirituality is also significant as far as our relationships in life. Spirituality is part of how we relate to our community in our day-to-day interactions. It is also a part of how we relate to humanity as we grow and learn about ourselves, hopefully recognizing what we have in common with others rather than what differentiates us. This can be challenging in contemporary society where media and politicians work hard at dividing us according to dualistic standards — especially those in law enforcement who have been dehumanized. Spirituality also involves how we relate to our higher power, whatever we find sacred and/or our connection to something bigger than our egos.

The last important part of spirituality concerns how we continue to find meaning and purpose in our lives. This includes learning lessons through adversity, suffering and darkness. Even in the best of times, those working in law enforcement face immersion in trauma, as well as the misery of others. Add in the culture war on cops in recent years, lack of prosecuting criminals, overly critical armchair quarterbacking of use-of-force incidents and vaccine mandates — it’s the most difficult job in America.

However, there are always lessons to be learned, even if it takes some work on our inner lives. If we can’t find meaning and purpose, we risk burnout, becoming bitter and sarcastic or possible depression. Adversity can be our emotional and spiritual weightlifting, which makes us stronger through struggle or what psychology calls post-traumatic growth.

Whether it’s on the ride home from a shift or any other quiet time we can create each day, let’s reflect on our interactions over the last 24 hours. Are we living out the values and beliefs that we profess are important? Do we recognize when God — or what is sacred — shows up in the small details of our day? What lessons can be learned, even if experiences were unpleasant?

Author Jim Finley is an expert in Christian and Buddhist forms of meditation, a trauma psychologist, spiritual director and a former monk trained by the notable Thomas Merton. He suggests we “find our spiritual practice and practice it, find our spiritual community and enter it and find our spiritual teaching and follow it.” If you want help exploring your spirituality, please do not hesitate to contact me or your station chaplain.