‘Instead of seeing the many parts that make up a collective whole, the polities of faith and legal justice practice often tend to splinter and fragment these diverse facets of life’[I]

I want to, over time, examine four propositions:

  1. Genuine human justice is an inherently spiritual endeavour [iii]
  2. The service and results of justice will be enhanced by intentionally introducing certain elements and skills of spiritual formation into the process [iv]
  3. It is in the crucible of the spiritual practice of justice that the space for human transformation is opened up, and religious coercion is guarded against
  4. The practice of alternative modes of dispute resolution like mediation with an emphasis and restorative justice thinking can be the finest of launching pads for all of the aforegoing

The idea of justice is rooted in the spiritual.

The secular-sacred divide has its origins in Greek thought which tended to compartmentalize the human condition into dual worlds -the physical and the spiritual.

This dichotomous view of reality has begun to lose its credibility[v] and we have started to see a rise in restorative justice which could be regarded as part of a shift in thinking around what it means to be whole beings. Precipitated by restorative justice, we now see a re-emergence of ancient forms of indigenous justice practice-all of which have deep spiritual roots[vi]

This resounds with the strengthening of movements like the integrative law movement. Lawyers are discovering themselves, or rediscovering themselves as healers, changemakers and peacemakers. An inspiring source of work in this is to be found in the writings of J Kim Wright[vii] whose work traverses law schools and legal professions and practice in alternatives across the world. There are many other courageous seekers and doers: Amanda Lamond, Gabriela McKeller and John Ford, to name a few.

Western adversarialism and accusitorialism is not an easy place to find or extend the sacred-secular continuum. In these systems the messiness of actual life and lived experiences that result in conflict and legal disputes and that are oft fraught with inconsistencies and ostensible contradiction must necessarily give way to the either/ or, this/that thinking that belies the process of distilling stories (testimony told by witnesses) into facts that the court is able to adjudicate upon. This means much truth is sacrificed on the alter of ‘facts’. As I have often said, in court, facts can be the enemy of the truth.

This means that those of us who practice and/or are drawn to the practice of alternatives like mediation and philosophies in justice like restorative justice, unitive justice and therapeutic jurisprudence are well placed, and I would venture further and say, and have a responsibility to work to bring about a reconnection of the secular and the sacred in the work of justice.

We know that in medical and psychological terms humans function best where their physical, emotional and spiritual lives are integrated. We know that we become unhealthy when the various parts of our being dis-integrate. My experience has been that very difficult professions like law can force us into our heads and we can dis-engage our hearts. This can be a coping response. We can become stoic. Understood differently, we need a healthy head-heart connection in order to remain healthy or whole. We can go further and say we need a healthy head-heart-body connection in order to be whole and healthy. When we become stuck in the one aspect of ourselves be it head, heart or body, we become vulnerable to addiction. Addictions and pain numbing pursuits can come in many different forms from exercise to alcohol, medication, screens and many other ways that we get stuck in the one part of ourselves while failing to live in the others.

As ADR practitioners and mediators we get to keep pointing parties back to the whole, we get to apply a whole system approach, we get to look at the whole person, the whole relationship, the whole family, the whole community and we could go on. We get to. So what do we do with this?

We do the work on ourselves, we reflect and we seek.

I have run our five day training groups this year. What wonderful discussions we have had. What learning and growth. And I speak largely for myself. One of our participants messaged me and said ‘that mediation training has changed the course of my life’. Her name is Lungile and I believe that she was already on a unique path as a seeker before she spent time with me. Samora Michel used to say that the beautiful people have not yet been born. I think they have. They are amongst us and they see things a little differently. Uncomfortable with they way we live life from compartments, they are on a search for the whole way.

A new way of working for justice is being built in the shell of the old. I think it’s a re-emergence of how things were always meant to be and it’s a chance for us to systematically rediscover the practice of true justice where the practice of law has become more about the rules than about just-ness.

In South African law, ours is a constitution where the secular and the sacred can co-exist. We have everything we need to narrate a sacred justice: one that liberates, heals, restores and honours the whole.

Sheena Jonker

Resources for this work:

Write to me for recommended reading
Mediation, ADR and Restorative Justice Training:

Trauma release exercise:

This is excellent for releasing trauma and I recommend it for those who have suffered trauma (we all have) as well as for those working in high conflict situations and/or doing conflict resolution workj

[i] Narrating Spirit Justice, Carl Stauffer, Regional Peace Network, Southern Africa

[ii] Pensees, B Pascal (1958) at 277

[iii] Carl Stauffer, supra

[iv] Carl Stauffer, supra

[v] Carl Stauffer, supra

[vi] Carl Stauffer, supra

[vii] Lawyers as Peacemakers; Lawyers as Changemakers