Posts Tagged 'hope'

3 Leadership Lessons from John Woolman

We currently face at least five pandemics in our world:

1) COVID-19

2) Racism

3) Police brutality and militarization of police

4) Climate change

5) Economic inequity

In the face of these pandemics and the related refugee crises, wars, world hunger, bitter political divisions in this country, and international political tensions, I sometimes find myself feeling helpless and even hopeless. What can one person do in the face of these impossible challenges? Where can I find the courage and hope to move forward? And in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, in which I must quarantine, no less?

I find the eighteenth-century American Quaker John Woolman inspiring and instructive for this time.  He faced one of the impossible challenges of his time, slavery, with prayer and action.  Through prayer and discernment, Woolman discerned what was his to do.  He felt called to travel to visit American Quaker slaveholders to challenge them to free the people they had enslaved.  Woolman was both loving and prophetic. He didn’t give into hating the evildoer while denouncing the evil of slavery.  He didn’t water down his prophetic message in order to “love” the slaveholder.  How did he hold this tension?

He held it through prayer and discernment.  After visiting a slaveholder, he would return to worship, holding that person in the Light, reflecting on the pro-slavery arguments with which he had been presented.  Not getting hooked by his ego, he would systematically refute each argument, returning to the slaveholder and presenting his thoughts clearly, with humility and love.  He knew that oppression hurt the oppressor as well as the oppressed.  He met each slaveholder with love, yearning for the slaveholder’s liberation from slaveholding as well as for the enslaved people’s liberation from slavery.

What can I learn from John Woolman in this time in which I find myself?  Can I love Donald Trump, a President I see as dangerous for my country and my world, for example?  When I pray for Donald Trump, I do feel compassion for him.  I see a hurt little boy inside and I long for his liberation from the fear and hatred that imprisons his soul.  Will I be called to speak truth to him?  Is there hope for his transformation?  These are questions that are beyond me.  All I know is that I will continue to pray for him and I will seek to be faithful as I am led.  I also know that I will work to get him out of office, to stop the damage I think he is doing.

Closer to home, how do I love the Trump supporters in my own family?  I know that I can pray for them.  When I pray, I am changed from an oppositional stance toward them to feeling compassion for them as I see the fears and hurts that draw them toward Trump and his rhetoric.  As I am led, I can speak to their fears and hurts, and also speak prophetically to them.  And when the conversations grow tense, I can keep returning to my spiritual grounding, keep praying that I will come from a place of compassion.  When my ego gets hooked and the conflict escalates (which happens more frequently than I like to admit), I know it’s time to take a break and center down.  Loving and speaking prophetically at the same time is a spiritual practice for me.  Will it change others?  I don’t know.  But I do know that it changes me and that it sows seeds of transformation in others that might take root and grow, either now or sometime in the future.  There is no template for loving across differences, no formula that we can follow that will result in transformation of others at the end.  There is the lifetime work of spiritual practice, practice that will change me and, through my actions, sow seeds in the world.  Whether those seeds grow is up to other people and to God.

So, in this time of multiple pandemics, how can we have courage, faith, hope, and love for all, even for those with whom we disagree? First, by staying spiritually grounded through daily spiritual practice. Second, by making the practice of loving across differences one of our regular spiritual practices. Third, by discerning in community “What is mine to do?” and being faithful in carrying out our part.

 

America’s Dark Night of the Soul, Part 2

Photo credit: Michelle Geuder

At this darkest time of the year, both Jews and Christians celebrate holidays of light. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, commemorates one of God’s miracles: the long–burning oil that allowed the Jews to rededicate their holy temple in victory over foreign oppressors. Hanukkah celebrates the light of religious freedom after dark oppression.

Christmas also celebrates the triumph of light over darkness: God’s entering the world in Jesus, and the light of Christ overcoming the darkness in the world.  Both religions exhort the faithful to remember that the night is darkest just before the dawn, that we must not lose hope but that we must trust the God who has the power to deliver from even the darkest night.

Great spiritual teachers throughout the millennia have taught that any spiritual journey consists of ups and downs, and that sojourners on the spiritual path can experience a personal dark night of the soul. If the faithful persevere, they will discover that the personal dark night, like the historical darkness commemorated by Christianity and Judaism, is darkest just before the dawn, and the breakthrough to the other side is worth the walk through the darkness.

In institutions and societies, as in personal lives, the deepest darkness comes just before the dawn. If an institution or society perseveres, it can experience the great power and light that come with breaking through to the dawn.

At this time of bitter political divisions in the U.S. and around the world, of rising racism, terrorism, and scapegoating of minorities, of environmental degradation, and of wars and genocide, it’s easy to wonder where the light is.

One guide for me in this time of darkness is St. John of the Cross. John describes the personal dark night as a time of necessary self-emptying, not of our choosing. We fill ourselves with knowledge and accomplishments and loves and allow these to define us. Yet growth involves emptying. Constance Fitzgerald summarizes John’s understanding of the process of emptying:

Only when one becomes aware of the illusory and limiting character of this fullness in the face of the breakdown of what/whom we have staked our lives on, the limitations of our life project and relationships, the irruption of our unclaimed memories, and the shattering of our dreams and meanings, can the depths of hunger and thirst that exist in the human person, the infinite capacity, really be experienced.

John claims that this deep hunger and thirst, this infinite capacity for love, cannot be fulfilled by our human loves and accomplishments, but only by the transcendent.

Constance Fitzgerald extends John’s work to the societal level.  In this time of societal impasse, when it seems that our human attempts to figure out solutions to our overwhelming problems only run us into brick walls and tempt us to cynicism and despair, John, Fitzgerald claims, offers a way forward.  Fitzgerald claims that “paradoxically, a situation of no potential is loaded with potential, and impasse become the place for the reconstitution of the intuitive self.”

Fitzgerald believes that the insoluble crises we face are signs of transition in societal development and in the evolution of humanity.  These crises provide an invitation for us as a society to empty ourselves of rationally constructed answers that no longer work.  The crises invite us to humble ourselves and seek deeper wisdom, wisdom that emerges from letting go, from our collective intuition, from prayer.  In the words of II Chronicles 7:14, “If my people humble themselves and pray and seek my face. . .”

Fitzgerald challenges us to bring our societal impasse to prayer.  It is only through letting go and seeking God’s perspective and God’s way forward, she claims, that society will be freed, healed, and brought to paradoxical new vision.  Only in this way can we be set free for selfless action.  “Death is involved here – a dying in order to see how to be and to act on behalf of God in the world.”  Dying leads to new life.  Out of the darkness comes light.

In this season of darkness, let us respond to the invitation to let go of our egos and preconceived notions, and seek the deeper wisdom that emerges when we become empty.  And may our society humble itself, recognizing the limits of human understanding and effort, and seek a way forward guided by the emergent divine.

(This article first appeared on the Executive Soul blog in December 2016.)