A Contemplative Approach to Social Change in our Post-Election Reality

When I was in college, I tapped into my latent social justice activist. Thankfully in college, I also connected with a wonderful, grounded mentor in my college chaplain, Kerry Maloney. Kerry provided opportunities for reflection and contemplation in the midst of the new passions I felt for advancing peace and social justice.

As I was busy with studies and changing the world, time for introspection was not high on my priorities list in college. Yet in spite of a full schedule, I came to programs facilitated by Kerry to learn more about spiritual practices. I went on "Urban Immersion" and "Rural Immersion" trips. I was exposed to authors like Henri Nouwen, who brought a deeply centered spirituality to social justice work.

Today, as a college chaplain myself (and now a colleague of Kerry's), I am so grateful for the seeds of contemplative awareness planted during my formational college years.

What are the benefits of contemplative practice? First, check out the "Tree of Contemplative Practices" at the link to see what I mean by a "contemplative practice." Explore the tree's branches to see how many rich and diverse contemplative practices there are (and this list isn't exhaustive).

Second, look at the bottom of the tree. The roots are labeled as communion, connection, and awareness. Spiritual practice starts not so much with WHAT we do, as with HOW we do it. Contemplative practice is less about what we are DOING and more about what we are BEING. We begin with self-awareness and self-examination.

This was one of the most important lessons that I began learning in college. Working for peace in the world isn't separate from inner peace work. The more I integrate peace, love, and compassion in my own consciousness through spiritual practices, the better equipped I am to be a positive change agent in the world. Similarly, the more engaged I become in peace work in the world, the more I am reminded to go within and find inner peace for spiritual, emotional grounding and centering.

In our post-election reality, there is one part of contemplative practices that I resist the most. I tend to stay in liberal bubbles, lamenting the lack of connection and sensitivity demonstrated by one political party. I default to mourning the dignity that was stripped from many during the Trump/Pence campaign- from minorities of color, to persons of different national origins, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions.

It is part of my faith to stand in these convictions. Recalling that Jesus put his life on the line for the marginalized and oppressed, my faith is made real in the world today by the same means.

And yet, in my work for social justice, I have to check myself when I begin to use "us" and "them" language about conservatives, Republicans, or whomever. I have to check myself when I make any group of people into an "other" and put them into a box. After all, that is exactly what I don't want others to do for me.

The growing edge of contemplative practice is that spiritual connectivity is always expansive. The call to communion always challenges me to come out of my comfort zone and connect with people who are different from me, who don't agree with me, or who don't believe the same things that I do. Contemplative practice calls me out when I "otherize" or create either/or stances against any group. Spiritual practice reminds me to live out Jesus' prayer that we may all be one. It calls me to remember that though we're different members of the body, we are ALL parts of the ONE body who need each other if we're going to advance as a society of freedom and justice for all.

Both sides of the political aisle have such differing views that dialogue and common ground may appear impossible. Yet contemplative practice points us to seeing the divine image inherent in every person. In the same way that Jesus did, God calls me to see the divine likeness in everybody, even when someone doesn't see this in themselves or forgets to see it in others. Similarly in the spirit of Jesus, we are ALL called to condemn fear-based acts of bigotry, prejudice, or hate that run counter to affirming this universal divine image. In these cases, it doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum we fall under.

All this may sound like distant, out-of-touch goals. But for me, faith is looking for God's reality (which I tap into through contemplative practice) and then working to make that invisible reality visible in the world. It is what I remember to live into whenever I say the prayer of Jesus,
"Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven."

I see heaven as a consciousness of love, connection, and communion always rooted in the here and now. With that definition, heaven may seem far off at this time of intense division along political, racial, and religious lines, where people on both sides of the political spectrum see the other's agenda as dangerous.

Thankfully, faith is not always looking at what can be seen. As scripture reminds me, "faith is... the conviction of things not seen."

Many of us are grieving, myself included. I honor that grief, born of love for people and things I care about. But as a person of faith, I constantly remind myself to live into spiritual convictions that are really hard to live into- convictions like Oneness with ALL people, which invites me to seek common ground, and which leads me to seek inner peace first as I work for outer peace in society. Thank you Kerry, for planting seeds of contemplative awareness in me. My prayer is that I too plant hidden seeds of peace, love, and unity. It may be an act of faith that they will grow. But paying forward the same gifts that Kerry gave to me is how I express my faith, the conviction of things not seen.