Excerpt from: A Principle Centered Practice, forthcoming by Ryan M. Barnett
In 2011, I spent several quiet days with the Jesuits at Manresa, in Convent, Louisiana. I am a recovering Southern Baptist and a practicing Methodist. Thus, I admittedly found myself wondering why I was so drawn to the Jesuits and the idea of silence and reflection. In addition to consuming entirely too much food – I learned a great deal by simply watching the elderly black woman who served our table, Ciola. Each day, she would place the dishes of bread, cereal, and eggs on the table in a curiously intentional way. She would smile. She didn’t necessarily look at the men sitting at the table or even acknowledge them with a nod. But she was present in a way that made clear she was present. She was there and was engaged in the work that she was doing because she believed it was worthwhile at her core. This had very little to do with how much money she was being paid. Any lawyer (or manager) will tell you that you cannot pay a discontent employee enough to keep them on a job they don’t find meaning in. It simply won’t work. It is a problem that money in the form of higher wages won’t solve.
This is the simple truth which is scoffed at by legions of empirical jurists. The spiritual life is where meaning, peace, and contentment is to be found. Case closed. And by spiritual I don’t mean dogmatically religious. True spirituality seems to most often lead to a connection with the divine which has little to do with dogmatism. Yet, the utilization of dogma as a “track” upon which to help keep the spiritual train is not to be entirely dismissed. And the inquiry as to whether one can only necessarily lead to the other (spirituality as the predecessor of dogma, or vice versa) may miss the point. The fact is that the spiritual life requires, largely, a commitment to the unseen and a reorientation as to the seen. Those tied to the profession of law often reflexively cling to empiricism because of the rigors that accompany practice. Lawyers frequently obligate their persuasions to only what they can see. And it is therefore not surprising that many of those disenchanted souls, mired in the trenches of law, are often looking for tools by which to connect to something greater. To anything greater than themselves.