Messy Ethics and the art of the sacred

My apologies for the long absence from this blog. There is but one more post – certainly for this introduction to messy ethics – that needs discussion before we can go deeper into messy ethics: messy ethics requires that we all develop and/or deepen a spirituality of love, joy, humility, patience, forgiveness and inclusivity.

Really? You might say.

Hear me out.

Remember my earlier reference to a busy commuter station? I wrote:

People have different locations to go to, each with varying abilities and different schedules and urgencies… Some are trying to go left to go buy some coffee, while others have to defy the current flow to buy tickets or upload money onto their transit cards. This assumes all people are travelling at the same speed. What about the poor woman with a cane? Inevitably, there is always one … that needs to cut a path perpendicular to the main flow just to go to the washroom.

Photo by Skitterphoto on

Quite simply, the rules of right and wrong in our world (not just a commuter station) are not always obvious or evident Trying to makes rules for all contingencies is impossible. Globally, our money is tied to unjust economic and social structures that exploit subjects all over; to know and to follow through with the right (just) course of action, is not always clear or easy to us, or even possible for us at all times.

Certainly, patience and humility will be needed. But so will some sort of constant discernment, discussion and negotiation. Consistently discerning the right course of action, or what might further the liberation of all creation, cannot come about with just with the rational analytic thought processes; a spirituality of love, joy and inclusivity, I suggest, is needed to help us (as Richard Rohr likes to put it) not remain addicted to our own way of thinking.

Now, by spirituality, I am not (necessarily) referring to following a religion. Atheists can practice a spirituality of love, joy, humility, patience, forgiveness and inclusivity. In fact, in some aspects, religion can get in the way of helping us develop such a spirituality. Too often, they function on a do-this-or-that-to-be-saved mentality. I love how Richard Rohr refers to this: low-level religion. Low-level religious followers are told to observe strict and narrow moral rules (from which they then judge others), choose sides (implying only their group has all the answers), with the end prize of fueling their ego (look at me I go to church/temple).

No, what I am referring to is the development of a way of being that makes friends with the unknown, the unfamiliar other, being comfortable with not knowing all the answers, a way of being humble that is communally oriented to all of creation.

Pope Francis washing feet; a fitting example I think. Photo: STRINGER/ARGENTINA/Corbis

Such a spirituality should be able to help us see our own darker side before we look – often too easily – at the shadows of others. It is a spirituality that does not let us play the victim, operate from fear, defensiveness or impulsive anger. It has to be a spirituality – and this isn’t easy – that helps us hold on to tensions and paradoxes of our existence that we spoke about in December.

Is there a path to such a spirituality?

There is not one, but many! There are diverse paths within traditional religions themselves: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. I find the Franciscan spirituality, as professed by Richard Rohr ( very helpful. I also find much of Buddhist thinking, as professed by Thich Nhat Hanh, invaluable, as I do Hindu spirituality as professed by Deepak Chopra for that matter.

The path to the spirituality I am talking about may not even be tied to any traditional religion, however (although I bet you’d find it hard to find one that hasn’t at least at its roots some religious elements!). New Age spirituality, I find, is too centred on the self and shallow.

Whichever spiritual route you chose to develop or deepen a way of love, joy, humility, patience, forgiveness and inclusivity, I surmise, if it is at all effective, it will likely be one grounded in a mystical experience of the sacred.


Author: Simon Appolloni

I am a writer, teacher, publisher and lover of the universe

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