Posts Tagged 'spirituality'

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.

 

Meditation for Utilitarian Ends?

Last month’s blog focused on the power of meditation to enhance success in life and work, with a particular focus on sports. Numerous studies demonstrate the beneficial effects of meditation on one’s life and work, not only in sports but also in other arenas.

Yet such studies raise further questions: Is the purpose of meditation to increase success? Should meditation be pursued for utilitarian ends?  Does using meditation to achieve one’s personal goals corrupt an ancient spiritual practice?

There is nothing wrong with coming to spirituality because following a spiritual path will make one’s life better.  Members of Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, find that relying on a higher power provides the first step necessary for their recovery.  In fact, most seekers come to a spiritual path because of need, believing that through meditation or prayer the need will be met.  And they are right.

At the same time, as sojourners continue on the path, they find the ground shifting under their feet.  They encounter the transition to the second half of the journey, the part of the journey in which they transition from thinking that the spiritual journey is about getting something to realizing it is about their own transformation.  What happens when it becomes difficult to pray or meditate, when the “honeymoon phase” is over? Often people feel they must be doing something wrong and they try harder, only to discover even more dryness and frustration.  They may give up on prayer and meditation altogether, deciding that they’re not cut out for the spiritual path.

Yet spiritual teachers through the ages have taught that this is a normal and predictable part of the spiritual journey.  The spiritual dryness provides an opportunity to be weaned from the expectation that meditation will always result in good feeling, that prayer will always result in the answers one wants.  One learns to listen and let one’s prayers be shaped by the divine presence.  Maturing spirituality involves embracing and letting go, time and again, of ways of meditation, of relationships, of work commitments, of community.

In articulating this transition to the second half of the journey, spiritual teachers help the sojourner understand what is occurring when she experiences it. When the first exhilaration of experiencing the blessings of meditation begins to fade, a deeper foundation can be formed, just as in a marriage when the initial romantic exhilaration begins to fade.

Thus, there is nothing wrong with seeking spirituality for “selfish” reasons.  Anyone who continues on the spiritual path will eventually reach a different place.  He will learn that the spiritual journey is about his own transformation rather than about the success he can procure from it.  He ultimately learns that self-preservation is not the highest good, experiencing the relativization of self to a higher purpose.

Meditation and prayer are good practices, regardless of the reason they are taken up.  May we learn to recognize in ourselves and others the vulnerable transition times, so that we can deepen into the mature spirituality of the second half of the journey.

 

Part of this blog is an excerpt from Soul at Work: Spiritual Leadership in Organizations.  Used with permission of the publisher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Foundations of Racial Justice

Howard Thurman. Photo Credit: Fourandsixty

At this time of bitter political division around the world, in this time of rising racial tensions, I find myself asking, “Who will bring healing to us? Who will bring us together?” As we have recently celebrated Martin Luther King Day and as we approach Black History Month in the U.S., I wonder, “Where did Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. find his strength? Where did he get support? How would he guide us in these times?”

Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown recently reminded me that Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman served as a spiritual guide to King.  Thurman helped King stay spiritually grounded in the midst of his struggles for racial justice.  King carried a copy of Thurman’s groundbreaking book, Jesus and the Disinherited, wherever he went.

Moreover, Thurman served as a spiritual guide for many others in the Civil Rights Movement.  He advised James Farmer, Sherwood Eddy, Pauli Murray, and A.J. Muste.  He reminded leaders that, like a tree, their strength and reach went only as far as the depth of their roots.

Howard Thurman was born in 1899 in Daytona Beach, Florida. He experienced God in nature and was profoundly influenced by his grandmother, a former slave and a person of deep faith.  After graduating from Morehouse College as valedictorian of his class, he was ordained a Baptist minister and went on to study at Colgate Rochester Divinity School. Eventually, he became Dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University and then Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University.

In 1935, Thurman traveled to India, where he met Gandhi.  The two conversed widely and deeply and Gandhi questioned Thurman closely about racial injustice in the U.S.  Gandhi opined, “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.”

Thurman viewed his calling as being a spiritual support to the leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, and as helping them learn a nonviolent approach to working for racial justice.  He knew that the success of the movement depended upon its spiritual foundation.  He prayed deeply and worked tirelessly to build that foundation and nurture the leaders.

If we could ask Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King how to face the challenges of our time, I’m convinced he would point us to God.  He would remind us that we need to draw on our spiritual foundations to face the challenges of these times.  Racial justice will come only through deep spiritual transformation.  The healing of our political divisions, likewise, requires spiritual grounding.  King would urge us to seek wise leaders like Thurman to guide us in developing our spiritual foundation.  May we draw on the inspiration of King and Thurman and deepen our spiritual roots to face the challenges of our time.

 

(An earlier version of this blog first appeared in January 2017.)