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Out of Stillness and Silence

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Vikki Montgomery

Author Pico Iyer avoids using the word God, claims no particular religion, and doesn’t speak of himself as a spiritual person. Still he has something important to say to Christians striving to be “contemplatives in action.”

In an On Being conversation with host Krista Tippett, we learn that Iyer was born into a family of East Indian professors at Oxford University. When the family relocated to California, Iyer attended school in England from age nine through university. By his thirties, he said he had racked up one million frequent-flier miles in a single U.S. airline.

He confesses, “Anyone who travels knows that you’re not really doing so in order to get around—you’re travelling in order to be moved. … So I realized I have a lot of movement in my life, but not maybe enough stillness.”

At the advice of a friend, after losing his family home to fire, he went on retreat at a Benedictine hermitage in Big Sur. At first he felt guilty for leaving his work and his family. “And as soon as I arrived in that place,” he says. “I realized that none of that mattered and that, really, by being here, I would have so much more to offer my mother and my friends and my bosses.”

In the last 24 years, he has visited the hermitage more than 70 times. “Sometimes, people like me have to take conscious measures to step into the stillness and silence and be reminded of how it washes us clean,” he explains.

Tippett reminds him of a line that he wrote, “[T]he point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or the mountaintop, but to bring that calm into the motion, the commotion of the world.”

Soon, Iyer launches into a description of spirituality and religion:

Spirituality is … the story of our passionate affair with what is deepest inside us and with the candle that’s always flickering inside us and sometimes almost seems to go out and sometimes blazes. And religion is the community, the framework, the tradition, all the other people into which we bring what we find in solitude.

Iyer then quotes his long-time friend, the Dalai Lama, saying “[T]he most important thing without which we can’t live is kindness. We need that to survive. … [K]indness is water, religion is like tea. … It’s a great luxury. It increases the savor of life. It’s wonderful if you have it. But you can survive without tea, you can’t survive without water.”

Circling back to religion, Iyer says, “And so everyday kindness and responsibility is the starting block for every life. … [We need to] ground ourselves in the people around us before we start thinking about our texts and our notions of the absolute.”

Hold the doctrines. Hold the theology. Just share everyday kindness.

“Our outer lives are only as good as our inner lives. So to neglect our inner lives is to incapacitate our outer lives. We don’t have so much to give to other people or the world or our job or our kids,” he cautions.

My takeaway from this conversation is that even if we can’t go on retreat, we can enter a contemplative space: where we live, perhaps where we work—and definitely where we worship.

How can injustice continue if we, alone and in community, allow stillness and silence to do its work in us?


Vikki Montgomery

Vikki Montgomery is a contemplative, communications consultant, writer, and educator. Her greatest joy is being a mother and grandmother. Her spiritual mentor confirmed her intuition that silence is the first language of God.

For what shall I pray?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Martha L. Wharton

I live in Baltimore, Maryland, and I have been thinking about the recent situation here. The grief and violence have troubled my African American mind and spirit. I am a northerner transplanted below the Mason-Dixon Line, a middle-class woman with no involvement in the criminal justice system, residing in a city where a significant minority of the men and women have been in some way engaged with the local police or probation services. I am a mother raising a bright black girl in a city where so many of her classmates have little or no choice in the public educational lottery. As one who believes God is everywhere, always, and that we have the capacity to recognize Heaven around us every day, for what shall I pray?

At heart, I am an optimist. Nevertheless, in these days of mounting trouble in urban, suburban, and rural communities, I struggle to find the silver lining in the threatening clouds that hang just above my city’s skyline. I listen to the local leaders for the wisdom they may bring to our current crises. There, I find little that actually enlightens and much that sounds like a new mix of the pre-trouble talk. No help there. I look to state and national leaders and hope for real change, soon. Again, I realize that change requires courage and a deep willingness to take political and career risks. When the goal is higher office, I can’t expect that politicians will deploy their power and privilege for the sake of the unjustly disenfranchised whose votes cannot be counted on in the next big election.

Always looking up, though, I turn to the least likely book in the Bible—Ecclesiastes—and find a reason to renew my hope. I also observed the following example of wisdom under the sun—it impressed me greatly:

There was a small town with only a few residents. A mighty king came against it, surrounded it, and waged a terrible war against it. Now there lived in that town a poor but wise man who saved everyone by his wisdom. But no one remembered that poor man. So I thought, Wisdom is better than might, but the wisdom of commoners is despised and their words aren’t heeded. The calm words of the wise are better heeded than the racket caused by a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one incompetent person destroys much good” (Ecc. 9:13-18, Common English Bible).

My hope and my answers are bound up in the Word, in this pithy parable about a town, a king, and a forgotten commoner. Poverty, joblessness, poor education, absent security, and high crime are absolute rulers of the bodies and minds of many who live surrounded by them day after day. They wage “terrible war” against the spirit and attempt mightily to bend the human will to corrupt values. When one rises from among those living under siege, makes a way out of no way, and overcomes the warring hegemony, that one is celebrated and a local park is re-named for the Wise One, for “wisdom is better than might.” Good things do rise from the ordinary folk.

But then, when the matter is no longer newsworthy, the Wise One is forgotten, the old battle fades in memory, and plans to make change are lost in the shuffle. Nonetheless, the next verse offers wisdom from whence emanates my prayer: “The calm words of the wise are better heeded than the racket caused by a ruler among fools” (Ecc. 9:17).  I have resolved to pray for the “calm words of the wise,” that no incompetent action will destroy the good things that might come of troubled beginnings (Ecc. 9:18).

This I will pray:

Bringer of Light and Wisdom, Creator of Opportunity, and Wind of Wise Change, You are the God in whom we place our trust and our hope.

God, our cities, suburbs, and rural communities are troubled with crime, drugs, poverty, and joblessness. Your people who reside in challenged and compromised communities lead lives that afford them few legitimate and safe choices. They see the lives of those who live in more prosperous communities and wonder, “Why?”  “Why must my family, neighbors, friends, and I live as if we are at war with local government, the police, the bodega owners, and social service agencies that are willing to locate on our streets?” “Why must we live in struggle, when those who live across town seem to live in communities of plenty?” God, You know the questions of those who struggle are heard, but not heeded. Their questions are fair, but little or no justice seems to be available. 

God, we ask for the wisdom, courage, and strength to work for justice and for the humility to be allies for our neighbors. Remind us when we forget, that many of us are privileged and have power that we can wield on the behalf of those who have been ignored in spite of their efforts to be heard. Even if it is our first time to take a stand, help us press forward, embrace the wisdom of other’s lives, and provide a platform from which the disenfranchised may speak for themselves and be heard.

We ask that You cultivate in us the gift of insight so that we might discover together new and wise ways to share the fiscal, social, and cultural benefits offered in this city. Reveal to us a new way to reason and negotiate with one another for our common good. 

Inspire our leaders to listen to the wisdom of those who have been ignored, but whose lived experience reveals the truth of our true connections to one another and to You.

Amen.


Martha L. Wharton holds a doctorate in English, has a law degree, and is a spiritual director. She works as a grief educator and support, and conducts diversity workshops. Now she is developing a spiritual direction practice in Baltimore, MD.

 

Racism: A Culture of Malformation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Elizabeth Leung

When I think of contemplation, the name of Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and social critic, came to mind. I read “No Man is an Island” and “Seeds of Contemplation” decades ago, and what he said about the illusion of the false self, in contrast to the true self in God, inspired me to think of the spiritual life in a deeper way. However, it would be years later, when my eyes were opened to the false self as a colonized subject growing up in British Hong Kong, while coming into racial consciousness living as a non-white immigrant and learning of Asian American history in the United States.

A few weeks ago, I heard a plenary address “Engaging Racism: Merton and the Unfinished Quest for Social Justice” given by Bryan N. Massingale at the International Thomas Merton Society meeting. Massingale has focused on racism as culture—“a way of interpreting human color differences that pervade the collective convictions, conventions, and practices of American life … functions as an ethos, as the animating spirit of U.S. society, which lives on despite observable changes and assumes various incarnations in different historical circumstances.” (Bryan N. Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, p. 15.)

Quoting Merton who wrote in the mid-1960s about U.S. racism as a white[ness] problem and a spiritual crises, and African American agency as white kairos, Massingale explained racism as a cultural ethos of malformation of self and conformation to a social order that adopts a racial superiority. In terms of Merton’s understanding of the true self in God, the contemplative is one who is uneasy with the social order and its mechanisms that keep us in a false self. For in the adoption of racial superiority, the inmost being, whose destiny is in God as the true self, becomes a specter.

Racism as a culture of malformation echoes with my reflection on racism as disfiguration of the image of God and the creation of the beloved community as the transfiguration of the body of Christ. Similar to Massingale, I consider racism a culture in which we are already immersed. We cannot ignore the lasting impacts of the historical realities of racism on the establishment of social structures and on present attitudes and behaviors regarding race. In other words, when we say that racism is a sin, it cannot be simply about what one person does to another. Racism is a malformation that afflicts all and a disfiguration that violates all.

If racism affects the destiny of our true self in God and the creation of the Body of Christ, I wonder why social justice regarding race is often treated as an application of theology. For me, the vision of John of Patmos in Revelation 7:9 indicates that in heaven, at the end of times, God is not “colorblind.” Perhaps it is time to face the malformation in our current church culture and to seek reformation for the next—one in which racial justice is integral in our theological discourse, foundational in our seminary curriculum, and central in our Christian faith formation.


 

Elizabeth LeungThe Rev. Elizabeth Leung is the Minister for Racial Justice with the national setting of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio. She was trained in spiritual direction at Mercy Center, Burlingame, CA. Her PhD in Christian Spirituality was from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA.

Breathe on Me Lord; I Can’t Breathe

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Rosalie E. Norman-McNaney

Breathe on me, Breathe of God, Fill me with life anew,

That I may love what Thou dost love,

And do what Thou wouldst do.

“Breathe on me, Breath of God by Edwin Hatch (1842-1914) Composer Robert Jackson (1842-1914) Composer Lockhart (1745-1815).

I usually begin a spiritual direction session by inviting a directee to focus on his/her breath as we begin a time of silence. Focusing on one’s breath is a way to become centered in the moment, during a meditation practice, so that we can be attentive to the moving of the Holy Spirit within our lives. As we attend to each moment of inhaling a deep breath and then slowly releasing it, we can experience the easing of the tension within our physical bodies and the scattered thoughts jostling within our minds. The spiritual discipline of focusing on our breath is also a reminder of Genesis 2:7, when God breathed the breath of life into Adam and then to Eve bringing forth life.

Recently, our nation has been reminded of the importance of human breath from those whom the breath of life has been extinguished due to injustice. On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, 17, was fatally shot by George Zimmermann in Sanford, Florida. Trayvon was unjustly profiled as dangerous because he was wearing a hoodie and Black in a neighborhood that Zimmerman believed Blacks did not belong.

On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, was shot by a white police officer who suspected the youth of a recent robbery and of carrying a weapon. Millions watched the unbelievable actions of New York City police officers holding Eric Garner, 43, in a choke-hold on Staten Island on July 18, 2014. “I can’t breathe,” Garner gasped, as officers held him down and repeatedly banged Garner’s head on the hard pavement. Garner was arrested for resisting arrest and for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner’s body went lifeless, and he was dead on arrival (DOA) to the hospital. Eric Garner was also Black.

The most recent example of injustice was Freddie Gray Jr., 25, who was arrested for allegedly carrying an illegal switch blade. Gray died on April 21, 2015, as a result of unnecessary force used against him, resulting in a spinal cord injury. In addition, Gray was not correctly secured inside a police van while being transported to the police station. Gray also said “I can’t breathe.”

Gray’s life ended due to the actions of six police officers. It was later found that Gray did not have a switchblade. He had a knife that is lawful under Maryland law. It was the type of knife that millions of men of all races carry every day throughout our nation. Unrest, protesters, and riots broke out after each of the deaths of the Black youth and men previously mentioned. Each demonstration echoed loud and clear the same sentiment of injustice and violation of civil rights. Mothers, fathers, spouses, and children moan their loss of loved ones, and we are yelling and shouting individually, corporately, and as a nation, “I can‘t breathe;” We can’t breathe.

The violence and injustice we are facing today is far from the dream that The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had spoken of on August 28, 1963. This is not the dream we had hoped would end racism and the inequality of Blacks and others not of the dominant culture. Instead, there is a noose of injustice and racism cutting off the air of our Black youth and men, and we have been jolted out of our dream state to face a civil rights crisis and a complete reversal of what we had all hoped would bring peace and new life. Instead, the breath of some human beings is being cut off because of their color. The recent violence against our Black youth and men has ignited the racial and injustice conversation again. A pertinent conversation to get to the root of racism, which is a deep societal wound that has long been bandaged over, is essential for all of us. The worn bandages are peeling away and falling off as new forms of racism are introduced into society. These new systems are strategically being carried out through a set of laws that unfairly tips the scales of justice in support of destroying our Black youth and men.

The “Stop and Frisk” practice that allows police to stop an individual who may be suspected of carrying a weapon has been inappropriately used to restrict civil liberties rather than for the prevention of crime. It is sadly assumed that our African American men and most others outside of the dominant culture are all dangerous and are most likely to commit a crime. The media has long perpetrated the negative views about African Americans and specifically Black men and youth. This continues to cause a divide to the point that society does not distinguish between one person of color from another. Fear and suspicion is cast over all Blacks instead of seeing people as individuals. The portrayal of Blacks and others outside of the dominant culture as dangerous, as demonstrated in the cases previously cited above, consequently profiles our Black and minority youth and men in a negative light.

Michelle Alexander, social activist and author of the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarnation in the Age of Colorblindness, uses the analogy of Jim Crow laws to show that the old racial caste system has just been redesigned as a mass racial incarceration system for blacks and Latinos. Alexander challenges the view that, by electing President Obama, a Black President, we are living in an era of colorblindness. Instead, Alexander speaks to the caste system that keeps our Black youth and men, and all others, disenfranchised through a racial incarceration caste system that relegates them to second class citizenship. Alexander calls us all to action to bring about change.

As Christians, believing that we are each made in the image of a loving God, we cannot turn away and breathe within our own safety zone. We are all affected, especially those of us whom are Black and others outside of the dominant culture with sons, spouses, brothers, fathers, uncles, neighbors, friends, and coworkers. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, “…injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere.” We must all be prayerful, speak up, and advocate for justice for all.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

Until my heart is pure, Until with Thee I will Thy will,

To do and to endure.

Closing Prayer:

Lord, help us to be new; breathe on us God. Breathe courage and peace within and instill in us the willingness to breathe out the racism that has hold of our country and bring new life. Help us to be free from our own biases and to be reconciled through Jesus Christ. Move us to peaceful actions that bring about change, so that we can breathe the breath of New Life. Amen.


 

Rosalie Norman McNaneyRev. Rosalie E. Norman-McNaney is an ordained American Baptist minister, spiritual director, and hospice chaplain in Central Florida. She is vice manager of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Norman-McNaney is committed to sharing the transformational love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in ministry with all people regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, language, age, sexual orientation, and or ability.

Silence Before Protest

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Vikki Montgomery

Two great men separated by continents and decades have been on the leading edge of social change through silence.

One was the late Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, mystic, preacher, theologian, author, and poet. He was also well known as a spiritual mentor to the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One observer said of King, “I was not at all surprised to find King reading not Gandhi, but Howard Thurman.” Thurman headed the first African-American delegation to meet with Gandhi in 1936.

The other great man is Nobel Peace Laureate and Emeritus Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu. Tutu chaired the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the request of the late president, Nelson Mandela.

Tutu serves as the honorary chair of The Elders, established his peace and family foundations, and is writing a book on joy with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Thurman worked quietly in the background with other Civil Rights Movement leaders, “… to challenge [those] clergy never to lose their rooting in spiritual practices such as meditation, prayer, singing, celebration, worship, and silence,” according to Dr. Robert Franklin, former president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, during a Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program.

“There is very great virtue in the cultivation of silence, and strength to be found in using it as a door to God,” Thurman wrote in his book, Meditations of the Heart.

Tutu also found personal strength, solace and direction in the silence. In his book, No Future Without Forgiveness, he speaks of:

… those moments in the early morning when I try to be quiet, to sit in the presence of the gentle and compassionate and unruffled One to try to share or be given some of that divine serenity.

In fact at the first meeting with the commissioners, Tutu got them to agree to go on a retreat, where as he says:

… we sought to enhance our spiritual resources and to sharpen our sensitivities. We sat at the feet of a spiritual guru, who happened to be my own spiritual counselor, while we kept silence for a day, seeking to open ourselves to the movement and guidance of the transcendent Spirit, however conceived or named.

The Civil Rights Movement was about righting systemic wrongs. The post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission was about healing a nation. As believers in the living God, we need revisit the first and begin the second.

What if as a start, churches, which too often strive to fill services with sound, institute a time of silence within liturgies and meetings? Not just for a moment, but for an extended period of time.

What might the Spirit say to us collectively as we wait in silence?

And what might happen if we individually accept Jesus’ invitation in Mark to, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while?”

The book of Mark shows Jesus as a man of action and also as a man of contemplation. All of the gospels mention him retreating for nights of prayer and then advancing to do good works.

Jesus was the original contemplative in action. The prototype. Tutu and Thurman have been fine copies, and through their influence, they have mentored others to be.

In these days of anguish about the injustices in our nation, before we raise our voices in protest, let us first sit in silence.


Vikki Montgomery

Vikki Montgomery is a contemplative, communications consultant, writer, and educator. Her greatest joy is being a mother and grandmother. Her spiritual mentor confirmed her intuition that silence is the first language of God.

Jesus is Stripped of His Clothing: A Good Friday Reflection on Racism

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Editor’s note: This blog was first published in April 2012 on the author’s blog, Leslye Wrytes.

By Leslye Colvin

As a child, he was taught the history of his people and their ongoing relationship with the living God…a people created and loved by the one God…a people whose faith endured as they struggled in captivity, in exile, in slavery, in oppression; the same faith that inspired them to hope for a new day.

Living in an occupied land without privilege, he embraced his God-given dignity though never denying others theirs. In fact, he empowered others to do the same.

Yet, there he stood in his truth before this cross assembled by others—stripped of his dignity, standing in his nakedness, knowing the assault of lies, the weight of shackles, the sting of scourging, the absence of respect, the pangs of exhaustion, the judgment of unjust systems, the apathy of others, the violence of fear.

In spite of his compassionate teaching, centuries later, other peoples stood in their truth before crosses assembled and maintained by others—stripped of their dignity, standing in their nakedness as they faced the cross of racism.

For too many generations, peoples have known the assault of lies, the weight of shackles, the sting of scourging, the absence of respect, the pangs of exhaustion, the judgment of unjust systems, the apathy of others, the violence of fear—in the midst of it all, mindful of God’s love for them.

Grateful for the progress made, truth compels us to acknowledge that racism is neither a relic from history, nor a single cross. Instead, our nation’s original sin is a complex web of crosses deeply entrenched in our landscape.

Dismantling this web is an ongoing ministry dependent on moving beyond our apathy and divisions to work together in truth so that we may confront the unjust systems and fear that racism perpetuates. When we, who are people of goodwill, stand together in truth, no man or woman is stripped of dignity.


L Colvin

Leslye Colvin is a writer at heart and a bridge builder among peoples who respect the value of listening and engaging in dialogue. She embraces the lessons offered by diversity and views life as an ongoing invitation to compassion. Currently in the midst of a professional transition, her measure of success is to live a life of integrity. A JustFaith graduate, she also earned a Certificate in Social Justice from the University of Dayton. 

Contemplation and Social Justice

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

In case you have missed any, here is a master list of  this month’s posts exploring contemplation and social Justice:

Blog curator Therese Taylor-Stinson introduces this month’s topic in “Contemplation and Social Justice: A Month of Blogging by Members of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd.”

photo credit: DSC_0082 via photopin (license)

photo credit: DSC_0082 via photopin (license)

Second, Leslye Colvin shares a reflection on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in “A Clearer Image: Two at a Well.”

Next, Cynthia Bailey Manns explores the challenge of engaging in meaningful discussions about race, faith, and politics in a two-part post, “Reluctant Companions.” You can read part I here, and part II here.

In “Embracing Diversity,” Therese Taylor-Stinson reflects on Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman’s keynote at the 2015 NEXT Church National Gathering in Chicago.

In Jesus Stripped of His Clothing, Leslye Colvin provides a thoughtful Good Friday Reflection on Racism.

Vikki Montgomery compares the contemplative work of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement with Desmond Tutu’s work to end Apartheid in her post Silence Before Protest.

Rosalie E. Norman-McNaney writes about the importance of breath in her spiritual direction sessions and the violence directed against young black men like Freddie Gray in her post Breathe on Me Lord; I Can’t Breathe.

Elizabeth Leung reflects on Thomas Merton in Racism: A Culture of Malformation.

In For What Shall I Pray?, Martha L. Wharton shares a heart-wrenching prayer on behalf of Baltimore mothers.

Vikki Montgomery reviews Krista Tippet’s On Being Interview with Pico Iyer in Out of Stillness and Silence.

Finally, Lerita Coleman Brown and Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks provide a four part series about Intersectionality. You can read part 1, 2, 3, and 4 here.

Embracing Diversity

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Therese Taylor-Stinson

At the annual gathering of NEXT Church in Chicago this year, Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman gave a keynote on diversity.  Its thesis caught me by surprise!

Diversity was not framed in the familiar words of inclusion and tolerance and “Kum-ba-ya,” but in relation to the shocking discovery that diversity is messy.  Using the research of social scientist Robert Putnam, we heard such statements as:

Diversity corrodes trust and organization.

Diversity without authentic inclusion can be harmful.

Robert Putnam’s research on “The Downside of Diversity” shows that, when diversity increases, trust levels decrease initially between groups and within groups.

In diverse communities, when people have the time and resources to make a difference, they do nothing.

According to Michael Jonas’ Boston Globe article of August 2007, even Robert Putnam was disturbed by his findings but could not deny their correlation to civic engagement. There is evidence, however, that though diversity corrodes community in civic matters, it increases creativity and productivity in the workplace, where differing views and perspectives, when included, result in greater innovation and adaptivity.

The positive findings in the workplace leads to another conclusion presented by Jana and Freeman:

People will only participate in that which they help to create.

Thus, I believe Putnam’s findings on diversity in civic life, combined with the findings on the effects of diversity in the workplace, are indeed an invitation. We are invited not to just embrace the truth of the initial mess of diversity in community but also to keep going!  It is indeed an invitation that is worth the mess.  Expecting the messiness should inspire us to keep going and not default to business as usual.

Putnam’s research was conducted in situations of ‘real’ diversity, when divergent ideas, cultures, lifestyles, ethnicities, values, and the like are authentically allowed to co-exist in the same place; not ‘token’ diversity, where everyone has either the same views, background, and or culture, or there is a set of rules to prohibit divergent or conflicting beliefs.  A Rwandan proverb states, “If you can’t hear a mouth chewing, you cannot hear a mouth crying.”  That means we must power through the mess in order to find empathy and compassion for the suffering of others.  The empathy and compassion then leads to authentic inclusion of differing values and ideas, and to the birth of a creative and innovative community.

Real diversity can initially blind us to the ways in which our differences can make us stronger. Thus, we must have the fortitude to push past the messiness of our tribal leanings.  This is where contemplation comes in—to raise our self-awareness and then our awareness of the other.

Brian McDermott, in his keynote presentation at the Spiritual Directors International Educational Event in Louisville, Kentucky, referred to “contemplation in action” [emphasis mine].  That small word “in” as opposed to the usual “and” makes a great difference because it speaks of contemplation indwelling the action taken, not separate from it.  Thus, I wrote in my notes:

We are both connected and separate.  We dwell in both, but we are not meant to stay in either. Separateness allows us to become aware and deepen; then, we are called to remain in that deepened place as we enter the connectedness of the universe.

The dilemma is to know when to remain separate and aware of oneself and when to integrate that more deepened self with the flow and connectedness of the universe. Contemplation calls us to awareness and connectedness, to use the deepening of our separate self to cultivate compassion for our differences in community.  When we acknowledge our experiences and the experiences of the other and come together with creativity to find where our differences merge to create something new and innovative, we overcome the initial messiness of diversity and become a productive human community committed to the rights, the needs, and concerns of all.  We become the human race rather than a socially constructed list of groups with whom we compete for superiority.

I have often contemplated the act of breathing because, as a child with asthma, I sometimes struggled to breathe.  As an adult who had acquired the habit of shallow breathing, I participated in a 6-week workshop to learn how to breathe deeply.  As I thought about the involuntariness of breathing and its power to regulate the body, I pondered on our dependence on the breath to live. Without the breath, we cannot live; without oxygen, the act of breathing is fatal.  This is not just true for humans but for all animal life:  We breathe in and out every minute of our lives, sharing the air as humans and with all other forms of animal life—without conflict.

Thomas Merton wrote, “We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another.”  Contemplation quiets the mind so that we can hear from a deeper place, and it is deeply healing of trauma—even generations of trauma.  From that place, there are four actions we must take to truly experience the life-giving aspects of diversity:

  • Healing the trauma that stems from the messiness of equal diversity not allowed.
  • Reconciling differences through love and confession.
  • Increasing the awareness of privilege and how it perpetuates the oppression of others.
  • Dismantling destructive systems that support privilege and deny equal rights to all.

I think it was Brian McDermott who said, “God doesn’t change the condition of a people until they change the condition of their hearts.”  We are called to move from noticing something to letting it affect us and the world around us.  That is contemplation in action.

Wendell Berry expresses it well:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, 

and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have come to our real journey. 

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. 

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Let it be so!


Theres Taylor-StinsonTherese Taylor-Stinson is an ordained deacon and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church and is currently serving as Vice Moderator of the National Capital Presbytery.  She is a member of the Shalem Society for Contemplative Leadership, and she has served on Shalem’s Board of Directors, and Marketing and Communications Committee.  Therese is the Managing Member of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd., and maintains a private spiritual direction practice.  She is also a co-editor and contributing author of the groundbreaking anthology Embodied Spirits:  Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color, released in March 2014.

Reluctant Companions Part II

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Editor’s note: This post is a continuation of “Reluctant Companions Part I.” You may wish to read it here before reading this post!

By Cynthia Bailey Manns

In “Reluctant Companions–Part I,” I wondered how we, the collective we, can engage in conversations about Faith, Race, and Politics, when each topic can be polarizing and tumultuous. Currently, we are faced with so many issues which divide us—misunderstanding of various faith traditions, religious freedom, same gender marriage, LBGT equality, voter suppression, the dismantling of the social construct of race, minimum wage increase, just policing, immigration, poverty eradication, gun control, global warming, education reform, and the list goes on. I, like everyone else, have opinions on each one of them that have been shaped by my spiritual beliefs, which are the foundation for my values and my life experiences. So I ask again, how do we have the difficult conversations necessary regarding these topics in order to act to ensure a more just society?

The only way I know to be a part of this process is to begin with myself. I am giving “spiritual attention” by contemplating how God is calling me to action. I am asking myself:

  •  What do I truly believe?
  • How do I use what Rev. Donna Shaper calls “sacred speech” by acknowledging God’s presence in the words I choose and having an intention of connecting and building bridges instead of divisions?
  • How do I listen to another with what St. Benedict calls “the ear of the heart” by recognizing that we all bring our values and life experiences to these conversations, and I need to listen closely to what is being said and not said?
  • How do I ensure that I am respectful of another’s viewpoint and not blame, shame, judge, or denigrate them?
  •  How do I see God’s presence in another, recognizing that we are all more connected then we may choose to accept?
  • How am I being called to bring empathy, compassion, and healing to these divisions?

A lot to contemplate. A lot to bring to prayer. I am fully aware that we are the recipients of the sins and graces from those who came before us. Now it is our time to determine what sins and grace we will leave for those who come after us. How are you being called to action?

“Listening entails vulnerability because it entails that we can be influenced.” George Mumford

How you consistently respond, is consistently who you are. ProjectForgive.Com

Every new day is a new beginning, take a deep breath and start again.

Cynthia Bailey Manns


 

Cynthia Bailey Manns, M.A., currently serves as a spiritual director and educator. Her ministry also includes workshop and retreat facilitation. Cynthia is currently completing her Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Direction.

A Clearer Image: Two at a Well

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Leslye Colvin

There are differences between our languages that no language, not even yours, can bridge. There are differences between you and me—differences of time and space, differences of culture and place, differences of perception and understanding—there are differences between us that language cannot capture.

Even when our language is the same, differences may whisper their presence—subtle differences in meaning or intonation may pierce the heart. Throughout the human experience, the wise have accepted the limitations of language as you and your neighbors accept the limitations of photographic images.

Rather than defer to the limitations, the wise gingerly hold language as though it were a fine gold thread with which to weave simple yet profound lessons that can neither be frayed nor unraveled by reasoning or lack thereof.

•••

Across the centuries, my wish has been that you had witnessed our encounter. Had your ears heard us, you may have remembered it differently than written. That is, if your ears knew the language. If your ears knew not the language, your eyes may have observed that which was beyond words—if your eyes knew to move beyond the norms and beneath the surface to see clearly with the heart.

•••

Some matters are best served through the language of heart and spirit. It is the spirit that connects one to the other in silence, in nuance, in the unspoken. The heart is the doorway. When fully opened, it embraces the spirit of the other. When securely closed, it imprisons the spirit of self and denies the spirit of others.

•••

For you, what meaning is there in the word Samaritan? Is it possible that the meaning has been lost to you? Suffice it to say that many showed us no favor. It was easier to deny us, to deny our humanity. Even their laws condoned this action. For many, the mere thought of us barred the heart. Then, who would have faulted him had he chosen to travel the preferred, yet longer path to bypass Samaria?

Most, if not all, would have been amazed that the writers would have chosen to include me in his story, as amazed as they were that he chose to journey through our land. But amazing was this son born of woman. Did he see her in me or me in her?

•••

To you, in your language, I am the woman at the well…not “a” woman, but “the” woman. For many, the distinction is of no consequence. Yet, to my mind, it is.

Having known him, I say that I was neither “the only woman” nor “the only Samaritan” to whom he spoke, whose presence he embraced. How do I know such? His comfort in my presence was real. It was the reality of his presence that disarmed me.

Seeing me as a woman and a Samaritan, he did not bar his heart. Pretense did not journey with him to be used as a garment of derision. His speaking was as gentle and natural as his breathing. He was sure of himself, but with no hint of arrogance. Of him, I say that it was not a state of mind, but a state of being—to be present, clearly present.

Our conversation was no aberration but to those limited by language, those who chose not to understand. Could they not think beyond the gate?

•••

What understanding do you have of my significance—the significance of “the” historical woman? Do the women of your time share the standards and limitations that were my lot?

•••

In affirming my humanity, he brought new light to the law of God and freed the law of man. Twenty centuries later, can you begin to grasp this reality? He affirmed me.

•••

I understand that uncertainty accompanies the memory of me. Did he affirm the existence of my faiths or my lovers? I will allow you to ponder the answer, but I do say, far beyond this, he saw me clearly in my humanity.

Beyond judgments, labels, and stereotypes, he saw me. He knew me. He honored me.

Where others saw only a woman or a Samaritan, he clearly saw me in my humanity. Do you? With a clearer image of me, a clearer image of him may you see.


L ColvinLeslye Colvin is a writer at heart and a bridge builder among peoples who respect the value of listening and engaging in dialogue. She embraces the lessons offered by diversity and views life as an ongoing invitation to compassion. Currently in the midst of a professional transition, her measure of success is to live a life of integrity. A JustFaith graduate, she also earned a Certificate in Social Justice from the University of Dayton. This blog was first published in October 2009 on her blog Leslye Wrytes.