I was at a training for community leaders interested in leading dialogues that bridge divisions. At the end of the evening we broke off into open space groups. This means a number of people propose discussion topics and we go to a room we want to and talk about the discussion topic. We had the freedom to come and go if we were not learning or contributing. The group discussion I joined focused on the spiritual element to healing and reconciliation work. We begin to talk about spiritual practices that might enliven, sustain and replenish the souls of justice workers. It made me think about a song we learned last week at our community worship service. It goes, “I’m gonna love everybody, deep down in my soul.” The music minister said that they used to sing the song during the civil rights movement before they would go out to march or demonstrate. They would sing that one line over and over again until their hearts and minds and spirits had absorbed enough of the message to go out and meet the harshness and brutality they would surely endure. No one moved until everybody felt ready. They let love permeate them until they could withstand abuse without retaliating. I think this is what Martin Luther King would have called soul force. It’s the force that it take to win your enemy or oppressor over not by gun force, malice or excessive force but by the sheer power of your love for what is right and good, to stand up and be beaten for it.
I’ve encountered a lot of rightfully angry activists, advocates and community members. They believe in their cause so much that they hate and libel and retaliate against their enemies. I don’t want to react in anger towards others. I might indeed be angered but I want to respond with the spirit of a peacemaker. At my core, I want to love and respect of all humans, even when it is not returned, even when they lash out against me.
One of our participants said that at the heart of the movement for justice should be compassion and forgiveness. He talked about love as a force, not sentimentality or intense good feelings, but moving into the world from a centered place of good will toward all human beings and the world we inhabit. This kind of movement takes deep inner work, inner healing and constant self-awareness and correction. In that vein, love seems to be more than feelings. Perhaps it’s about commitment to seek the good of the other, for all of humanity, to seek your own spiritual healing and growth, to commit to keep your heart pure of bitterness, resentment and hate. The premise of Initiatives of Change is that social change starts with our own personal transformation. In this particular open space session we explored the kind of practices that help us stay grounded so as to move toward changing the world from a transformed place, practices like reiki, prayer, mediation and in my example singing and worship. Love has to be nourished to be sustained.
Love as a social movement, even a political one, has at its heart the first two commandments, to love God and love your neighbor. To love God is to keep his commandments and be committed to what God would be committed to, which I think is peace, justice, healing, reconciliation and transformation (on all levels, person, social, political etc.), to name a few. Then to love your neighbor which means to love the people who are in front of you, in your community and the larger world; to be committed to their well-being in the ways that God has called, gifted and impassioned you. I think our calling is a way in which we can practice love and let it flow through us in our work and lives. Frederick Buechner said “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In this way we can practice and be committed to love with our whole beings, in our work, our relationships, our conversations and our movements toward our best selves and a better world. That kind of love is much bigger than a feeling, it’s both practical and spiritual. This kind of love is a movement into the heart of God and indeed a movement of the spirit.