Portraits of the “Shy Hope”

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The Australian spiritual consciousness has been described as “a whisper in the mind, a shy hope in the heart.” This is not a spirituality of explicit religious language or loud evangelicalism but rather a deeply grounded hope, spoken of tentatively and with great care. This description by Gary Bouma alerts us to something very important in the cultural life and consciousness of Australians; namely, the tentative evidence of the sacred. Given its inexplicit and shy nature, such signs of the spiritual could easily be overlooked or dismissed as irrelevant by the secular, mainstream culture with its prioritization of the material and empirical. Alternatively, an overzealous, religious subculture may smother or spook the tentative spiritual expression with too much certainty, doctrine, and proscribed religious ritual. What is needed is a gentler and more respectful approach, a willingness to listen, to observe, to draw forth a fuller sense of the meaning of such hopes in a way that allows individuals and groups to name, explore and cultivate their spirituality. Young Australians are least likely to be engaged with traditional forms of spiritual teaching yet ironically are most likely to engage in an open, non-didactic conversation about spirituality and religion. It is their long-term well-being that is most at risk if access to the spiritual dimension of human flourishing is neglected. In light of this contemporary context, this paper examines three different portraits of spiritual consciousness, specifically in young Australians. An analysis of each of these portraits shows that spirituality does matter and is important for young people in their developing sense of self and place in the world. Furthermore, it is possible and necessary for members of adult communities and spiritual traditions to engage relationally and conversationally with tentative expressions of youth spirituality.