Spiritual Resources for Activists

As we approach the anniversary weekend of the occupation of Zuccotti Park and the birth of the Occupy Movement, mainstream media will once again pronounce it as finished and wonder what, if anything, it accomplished. However, as John Wellington Ennis pointed out in a recent article the Occupy Movement

did not simply fizzle out or lose steam. The fact is, Occupy encampments were broken up in a coordinated effort led by the Department of Homeland Security working with local police departments...the Occupy presence had grown so intense nationwide, gaining sustained media coverage, that this had become the biggest threat to the status quo in modern times. In widely documented raids, police drove protesters from public lands with blunt force, tear gas, and arrest, then proceeded to blame Occupy protesters for the mess that was left behind.

And, yet even in all of that brutality and pushback the young people were able to accomplish great things. The movement did change the national narrative and for the first time in decades income inequality came to the forefront of our national debate. In addition, the movement has an impressive record on projects like Occupy Sandy or recent victories which have abolished over $15 million of medical bills for thousands of people across the United States, and more recently a victory of abolishing almost $4 million of student debt. The list is long and mainstream media has not paid attention to it.

Three years after the original eruption of this mass movement, there is a new campaign, #FloodWallStreet, which is taking seriously what liberation theologian Leonardo Boff said, that the Cry of the Earth cannot and should not be separated from the Cry of the Poor. After the People's Climate March, people will gather at "the heart of capital" to protest how "the economy of the one percent is destroying the planet, flooding our homes, and wrecking our communities."

In the handbook for spiritual activists that I co-wrote with Matthew Fox, Occupy Spirituality, we wrote:

Revolutions will come and go. Movements will change names and forms. But what is emerging in people's hearts will continue. Most likely it will continue quietly, in small communities, among friends, mostly unacknowledged by the dominant media. It will continue quietly creating a counter power to all the institutions, power structures, eventually moving the center of life from things that no longer serve life, to relationships that nourish and celebrate life.

Inspired by the original impulse of Occupy, I began gathering people for contemplative prayer and dialogues to cultivate wisdom resources for those of us who have quietly been working on building alternative structures for a new world. This inspiration was translated into a radio show, Radical Spirituality and Sacred Activism, a dialogical discovery of how our longing for justice and a world "in which it is easier to be good and just" could be connected to methodologies and aspirations of spiritual giants like Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Maha Ghosananda and others.

It is a show that seeks to connect these new emerging dreams of the young people who started this global movement for justice and solidarity by camping out on Wall Street, by taking over their cities in nonviolent occupations, and by often risking their lives to stand up for the dream that is emerging in their hearts with spiritual wisdom given to us by many prophets of solidarity and justice. Ultimately, this show is about reflecting on ideas and dreams that can help us infuse our struggles for justice with spiritual wisdom and help us build a network of like-minded people who can commit to a deep contemplative and spiritual practice, share in prayer, help each other discover their calling and gifts, and then through prayer and hearlthful presence build courage together to live as an expression of God's dream of compassion, justice, and solidarity in the world.

Here are some conversations that I hope can help us to be infused with inspiration and commitment to continue to dream and act for a better world:

Nathan Schneider, one of the first journalists to cover the Occupy Wall Street movement, was recently interviewed for the show. He talked about his involvement with the movement as well as the relationship between what happened in Zuccotti Park and his own spirituality as well as the emerging spirituality he witnessed there.

Chris Saade shared with us his experiences of being touched by the brutality of war as a young man growing up in Lebanon during the civil war, and as a result feeling a mendate to dedicate his life to working for peace and justice and a new global spiritual possibility he calls Second Wave Spirituality.

Renowned theologian Matthew Fox joined us to talk about what it means to follow one's calling even when that calling puts us in conflict with the institutions to which we belong. He talked about the need for a new spirituality that no longer hides our contemplatives in comfortable monasteries, but instead recognizes that we are all called to be mystics and prophets at once.

Author, translator, and spiritual teacher Mirabai Starr talked about her experience of discovering the contemplative dimension of world religions and the lessons she has learned about contemplative life taking us into the heart of action.

Beverly Lanzetta joined us for a discussion about a spirituality that combines the ancient solitary depth and commitment of desert monks with the justice-oriented way of spiritual nonviolence, exemplified by pioneers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

These are just a few of the guests I've had the privilege of interviewing. Others have included Dr Kurt Johnson, Phillip Helmich, and Felicia Parazaider.

Andrew Harvey said:

A spirituality that is only private and self-absorbed, one devoid of an authentic political and social consciousness, does little to halt the suicidal juggernaut of history. On the other hand, an activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness and rooted in wisdom and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions.

May we all be inspired to sacred activism, using whatever resources available to us to work together to heal our world.

To see complete archives of the show please see Radical Spirituality and Sacred Activism.