The emerging leaders session derailed a bit into of that intellectualism I mentioned before (believe me, I’m not an anti-intellectualist, I just think there’s more to wisdom than the knowledge in our heads). After a well-intentioned but frustrating second session, I found myself in discussion with two other young people about why this had happened.
Just as a bit of background, the Emerging Leaders were split into topic groups: Climate Change, Income Inequality, and War and Hatred. We had two-hour sessions over the course of three days to discuss the topic and come up with an “actionable plan” by the end. Of course, that’s after spending time on getting to know each other and set out safe-space guidelines for the conversation to take place. Have you ever tried saving the world in about 4.5 hours with a group of people you know, let alone people whom you’ve never met??
…I’m guessing I already know the answer to that question.
The three of us who found each other after the session ended up in one of those glorious hours-long conversations that remind you that Something Special exists. I felt that I had entered some other realm, a realm in which I began to understand things I had never know existed, in which I almost forgot that I was in a body labeled Chelsea MacMillan, and in which falling in love with strangers is completely acceptable.
Our little triangle of souls asked, what could work better? Were we just a bunch of people talking about social change who just happen to be people of faith? Where was the spirit in the action? These questions rolled around for about four hours. How do our individual spiritual beliefs or practices inform or inspire the conversation? Sure, we each have a different concept of the Divine, but isn’t there something more to this than our faiths (or non-faiths) simply being an identifier in a social justice gathering? What are we connecting to as a group that will drive forward as well as ground our service?
What we landed on was the term “oversoul.” What is the oversoul for this group? Each of one of us has a consciousness and is part of a consciousness; any group or community or humanity has a consciousness and is part of It. There isn’t just you and me in a relationship, there’s You and Me. It’s a third space, a separate entity almost, that exists, that is created from the exchange of our energy. That is what expresses itself in each of us – through, around, and in between us. How can we tap into that in order to come up with “action plans”?
“A problem can not be solved from the same consciousness with which it was created.” ALBERT EINSTEIN
What is that which so desperately desires to manifest itself in our Emerging Leaders group or any social justice group? Instead of deciding on a plan and all of its required action steps, maybe we can admit to not knowing the answers. Maybe we have a pretty good clue as to what might be witnessed in a peaceful and just society – things like a restorative justice system or values-based education. But, thinking that we have THE answer is the same consciousness that starts holy wars, that encourages evangelizing, that listens to and regurgitates hate speech. That consciousness is religion that puts G*d in a box, that says we know what G*d wants and the Others don’t. I don’t want to pretend that I am the authority on who or what the Great Mystery is and I certainly don’t want to be part of a group that claims that authority. The same goes for activism. I don’t want to pretend that I know how to eradicate violence in the world or reverse climate change by coming up with the end-all-be-all answer because the answer is going to show up differently in each person and in each community. If we can break out of that consciousness in this and other activist groups, we have already begun our action plan of operating out of a different paradigm.
The concept of coming up with a solution can be limiting in itself. Peace isn’t static; it’s dynamic! It’s not some gemstone that we’re going to dig around for, mine out of the earth, dust and polish and set on the shelf to be admired. Hit two rocks together for a spark of fire and light and that’s far more creative and useful. It’s what happens in the space between – between speaking and listening, music and silence, the ordinary and the extraordinary – that’s powerful. This is, in essence, relationship.
The thing is, I believe that, for myself and many of us so-called spiritual activists, we know that peace is already happening. That’s the paradigm from which I want to do my work in the world – without falling into the the “everything is light and love” sentimentality of the New Age crowd. Yes, I fully accept that peace already is. I have personally experienced it as well as witnessed it many times over. AND I stand in the shadows and accept that violence is also occurring. Both of those things inspire my love in action.
Service as a spiritual path
My idea of divinity is accepting that I am a manifestation of that Oversoul, I am a part of something greater than anything I can possibly fathom and that I am in an ongoing relationship with It (sounds a bit like the Trinity, no?). This ultimate and compassionate presence exceeds my understanding and that‘s what I want to put my trust in – not in the minds of others of any age, no matter how well-meaning! That‘s what I want taking care of the pain and hatred I see. How can I or you or we take care of this on our own, from our limited human understanding? I think that saying I know what to do is me assuming the role or responsibility of being G*d. However, this not does mean that I should give up the responsibility that I do have to interact with G*d, to respond to It and be shaped by It and listen to It. Spirit is speaking through me right now and it speaks through our groups and our communities – IF we listen.
A seminary friend said the other night, “Spirit is a question.” Questions allow for movement and creation. The question allows me to constantly engage in a relationship to that Great Mystery. It’s a call-and-response. Listen and speak, speak and listen. The moment I decide that I know is the moment I’ve separated myself again.
So, if we can come up with a question that can open us up to an active relationship to possibility, that is a move toward relinquishing the illusion of control while accepting a part in the co-creation process. For me, this is an ongoing spiritual practice that constantly reconnects me to that which I serve (I keep typing “swerve”… maybe that’s more apropos?). This dynamic practice requires prayer and times of quiet. It involves communion with others in worship or dialogue, both formal and not. The only guru to tell you what to do is your own heart. It’s a “theology” of service to self, service to others, and services to that which connects us all. I might add that it’s service with all of those as well.
That to me, is the spiritual path of service and activism.
I’m on a Quest-ion
Just to give a better example of the power of a question, I’d like to paraphrase the writer and activist, Colin Beavan (www.noimpactproject.org). I listened to a talk he gave called, “Are We Screwed?” The earth and her creatures are all in dire straits. Carbon and methane levels are encroaching upon fatal levels, birds are dying, bees are dying, the Pacific Ocean is now the Plastic Ocean, etc. etc. If you listen to the data and aren’t frightened, you’re not hearing the right data. So, Colin asks, what happens when we ask that question: are we screwed? If we answer “yes,” then everyone goes, “Fuck it, I’m gonna just enjoy myself and not worry about making conscious decisions because we’re all gonna die soon anyway. If we answer “no,” we’re not screwed, then everyone breathes a sigh of relief and goes back to sleep.
So, the answer is, drumroll please… THERE IS NO ANSWER! If we operate in the limited space of either of these answers, there’s no room to grow and innovate and come up with big, crazy ideas that just might work!
Let’s say that my Emerging Leaders Family Group 8 on the topic of War and Hatred had had enough time to consider some of these ideas (which, I must add, are heavily informed by my awe-inspiring new friends; this is simply my wandering synthesis of what we talked about), maybe our action plan would have been to leave with the question, “Where does violence show up in my life and what can I do to respond with love?”
What question will YOU ask?