Towards Human Flourishing: contemplative action for a world in need
This Special Interest Area connects our spirituality with the deep issues which face humanity today. It will feature events, spiritual practices and resources which can help us to engage in working to bring into being a world in which all can flourish.
There is a shift underway in spirituality today, from a heaven-focused spirituality which placed great emphasis on transcending the world and the human condition to one which leads to an appreciation of the interconnectedness of all life and deeper engagement with humanity, and appreciation of our place within the whole cosmos.
To sign up for this Special Interest Area, please subscribe to our newsletter – www.livingspirit.org.uk/newsletter. You will then be given an option to sign up to the SIA.
Second Axial Age
Many believe we are entering a “Second Axial Age”. The first ‘axial age’ was the great shift in consciousness which led to the formation of our great religious traditions between roughly 800-200 BCE. This new shift is related to globalisation and a growing realisation of the interconnectedness of life, not just on earth but throughout the cosmos. Humanity shares a single planet, one which is also undergoing a major change in climate patterns – perhaps another stimulus to the awakening consciousness of being one human family.
Episcopal priest Rev Matthew Wright suggests: ’While the First Axial Age opened for us the possibility of the transcendent and a personal quest for enlightenment or salvation, it also tended to break our earlier, primal sense of collective identity (rooted in tribe) and our deep, felt connection to Earth. In this next shift, we are picking that earlier sensibility back up, not at the tribal, but at the global level. In the process, our religions are being transformed’.
Becoming more fully human
For many Christians there is a new awareness of the teachings and actions of Jesus with point us in the direction of love for all people, nonviolence, reconciliation, and seeing the whole of humanity as our neighbours, to be treated with positive regard and compassion regardless of colour, class, creed, age, gender or sexual orientation. This is all very challenging – as GK Chesterton observed the problem with Christianity is that it has been found difficult and not tried!
However, many groups are now sensing a call to use their their energies in working together for a world in which all people can flourish, to be at the service of humanity as a whole. This awareness is felt most clearly in the growing numbers of people who are finding in Christ’s teachings the call to become more fully human and deeply engaged with co-creating a new world. In the process many of our old ways of doing things are being broken down or radically changed together with the institutions that embodied them. Barbara Marx Hubbard puts it this way:
Now, during our current planetary crises, these institutionalized systems are breaking down and changing. Many people are experiencing the call of Spirit to leave organized religion to grow in consciousness and recreate the world in new ways while others are choosing to remain, serving as prophets to evolve religion from within. The second axial period of the Spirit has begun. There is arising in our midst for the first time, a more universal humanity.
Contemplative Social Action
An approach which we believe resources us and helps towards the personal transformation needed to become more a part of the solution than of the problem is what may be referred to as contemplative social action, or Sacred Activism. Contemplation can form a consciousness which allows us to act appropriately in the moment, with what is needed – no more, no less. It helps us to avoid over-reaction and knee-jerk action and leads to a deeper more whole response. Contemplative responsiveness is from a spacious place – a place which is rooted in a sense of wonder, heartfulness, compassion and Oneness.
In contemplation we’re consciously choosing to let go of our identification with our mind and our identification with our life situation or our false self so that we can fall into the One True Life, which is bigger than each of us, which is moving into a different body, a different state, a different consciousness that Christians call Christ consciousness. – Fr Richard Rohr
Contemplative practices can nourish and sustain when the going gets tough, as it almost inevitably does, as we honestly face and engage more deeply and positively with the chaos and inequality in our world.
Below you will find some resources which can help us along the way. In time we will add events and news of initiatives which may be of interest, as well as more resources and relevant articles. They will be mainly from within the Christian tradition, but not limited to it since part of this new awakening to humanity leads naturally to working with others who work towards human flourishing for all but who bring insights from diverse traditions.
God in the Midst of Change: Wisdom for confusing times by Diarmuid O’Murchu
Diarmud O’Murchu is a priest, evolutionary theologian, author and social psychologist whose working life has been mainly in social ministry. His website contains the following quotation which succinctly puts the ground of hope in this book,
‘The Spirit is the indwelling of God at the heart of the process of ongoing creation, empowering and luring all things into an unforeseeable future.’
From a book review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat:
(O’Murchu) observes that an increasing number of people are feeling “dislocated and confused” during this transitional period when Christians are discovering that they must let go of some of their most cherished beliefs and ideals. The rise of an adventuresome spirituality tinged with mystical elements is changing the ways we see God, ourselves and the world.
At the same time Western civilization is being attacked from many sides and the pendulum of power is shifting from the United States to China, India, and Brazil. The patriarchy and the hierarchy are under siege on many fronts. The money crisis has taught everyone to live with less except the rich who are getting richer…..O’Murchu is not cowed by chaos; in fact, he sees it as a chance for people to seek a different way ahead. Or as he puts it: “Evolution will push us into a new way of seeing, and novel ways of being.” And mysteriously moving through all this political unrest and social turmoil is the Spirit who is opening new doors and ushering us through them.
Diarmuid O’Murchu’s website: www.diarmuid13.com
The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism by Andrew Harvey
“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 divine truth, wisdom, and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions. When, however, the deepest and most grounded spiritual vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic, and social institutions, a holy force – the power of wisdom and love in action – is born. This force I define as Sacred Activism.” – Andrew Harvey
From the Back Cover:
Sacred Activism is Compassion in Action – the marriage of practical action with spiritual wisdom to create a holy force capable of transforming our world crisis and preserving our planet.
Written clearly and concisely, Harvey details the seven laws necessary for sacred activism, from the importance of incorporating a spiritual practice in your life to the transformation of anger into passion, and the significance of community.
The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson, and Kate Pickett
From the Amazon synopsis:
It is a well-established fact that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. The Spirit Level, based on thirty years of research, takes this truth a step further. One common factor links the healthiest and happiest societies: the degree of equality among their members. Further, more unequal societies are bad for everyone within them-the rich and middle class as well as the poor.
The remarkable data assembled in The Spirit Level exposes stark differences, not only among the nations of the first world but even within America’s fifty states. Almost every modern social problem-poor health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy, mental illness-is more likely to occur in a less-equal society.
Renowned researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett lay bare the contradictions between material success and social failure in the developed world. But they do not merely tell us what’s wrong. They offer a way toward a new political outlook, shifting from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more sustainable society.
Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson are part of The Equality Trust – www.equalitytrust.org.uk. Their website is informative and has many resources for those who are concerned about inequality.
The Dignity of Difference by Jonathan Sacks
From the Back Cover:
2001 began as the United Nations Year of Dialogue between Civilizations. By its end, the phrase most widely quoted was “the clash of civilizations.” The tragedy of September 11 emphasised the danger of the religious differences that exist throughout the world. As 21st century politics of identity replace 20th century politics of ideology, can religion overcome its conflict- ridden past and become a force for peace?
The Dignity of Difference is Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ contribution to this important debate. Not only is it the first major global statement by a Jewish leader, it also marks a radical paradigm shift in the approach to religious co-existence. Sacks argues that we cannot merely look at the values common to all faiths; rather we must acknowledge and make room for the important differences. The diversity of creation is as much to be respected as the Unity of the Creator.
Sacks argues that only new thinking will allow us to meet the challenges posed by globalisation and interconnectedness in this age of unprecedented change. In The Dignity of Difference, one of the boldest theological statements by a world religious leader in many years, he hopes to change the terms of the debate.
Awakening the Energies of Love: Discovering Fire For a Second Time by Anne Hillman
From Anne Hillman’s website:
An entirely new Intelligence has been blinking in and out of human existence for thousands of years. This astonishing gift has emerged from the immense creativity of the universe and is now becoming stabilized in increasing numbers of people the world over. I call it the emergent consciousness of Love. Such a consciousness is not a different way of thinking; it is a radically different orientation–to everything. Our work is to cooperate with it. This is not a self-help book. Nor is it a book about religion. It is an experiential inquiry into a consciousness of Love that honors all persons and all spiritual paths. If you love Life–all of life; if your intention is to serve Love, whatever it asks of you, Awakening the Energies of Love will help prepare you for its power and provide a pathway into the most significant transformation humanity has ever undergone.
Anne’s website where you can find more information about this book and the author’s work is www.annehillman.net.
Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth edited by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
From the book description:
Showing the deep connection between our present ecological crisis and our lack of awareness of the sacred nature of creation, this series of essays from spiritual and environmental leaders around the world shows how humanity can transform its relationship with the Earth. Combining the thoughts and beliefs from a diverse range of essayists, this collection highlights the current ecological crisis and articulates a much-needed spiritual response to it. Perspectives from Buddhism, Sufism, Christianity, and Native American beliefs as well as physics, deep psychology, and other environmental disciplines, make this a well-rounded contribution.
Richard Rohr – Centre for Action and Contemplation
Although based in the USA there are many ways to connect with the teachings of Richard Rohr and the Centre, including dvd’s and cd’s, Fr Richards books and signing up for their newsletters and daily readings.
From their website:
“We are a center for experiential education, rooted in the Gospels, encouraging the transformation of human consciousness through contemplation, and equipping people to be instruments of peaceful change in the world.”
The Center for Action and Contemplation supports a new reformation—from the inside—
- In the spirit of a Cosmic Christ
- Confirming people’s deeper spiritual intuitions
- Encouraging actions of justice rooted in prayer
- With a new appreciation for, and cooperation with, other denominations, religions, and cultures
The Eight Core Principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation
1 The teaching of Jesus is our central reference point. (criterion)
2 We need a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action. (process)
3 The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same. (emphasis)
4 Practical truth is more likely found at the bottom and the edges than at the top or the center of most groups, institutions, and cultures. (perspective)
5 We will support true authority, the ability to “author” life in others, regardless of the group. (non-tribal)
6 Life is about discovering the right questions more than having the right answers. (primacy of discernment)
7 True religion leads us to an experience of our True Self and undermines my false self. (ultimate direction)
8 We do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. (praxis over theory)
Gravity – a centre for contemplative activism
From their website:
After 20 years of grassroots work in some of the world’s poorest slums, red light areas and places of intense human suffering Phileena and Chris Heuertz have reflected on what it takes for communities to maintain a vibrant, growing spirituality in the face of human need by integrating faith-filled spiritual practice with modern daily life and service.
Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism, exists to nurture the integral connection between mysticism and activism. Gravity grounds social engagement in Christian contemplative spirituality, to do good better by facilitating contemplative retreats, spiritual direction and pilgrimage to places of religious significance as well as places marked by profound pain and hope.
Our aim is to support the development of Christian consciousness in the 21st century by making contemplative practices accessible to individuals, communities and organizations that engage the challenging social justice perils of our time.
Monasteries of the Heart – A New Movement for a New World
The Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania have initiated Monasteries of the Heart, an online movement sharing Benedictine spirituality with contemporary seekers.
Erie Benedictine sister and author Joan Chittister, one of the most influential religious and social leaders of our time, is the creator and animator of Monasteries of the Heart.
The movement was launched in 2011 to address a growing cry, from an increasing number of seekers, for a spiritual program that enabled ordinary people to implement Benedictine values into their daily lives. The movement is open to anyone—regardless, or even in the absence of a faith tradition—who desires to seek God through a Benedictine way of life. It provides online resources to form and deepen contemplative a contemplative heart to be of service in the world
In a period of great spiritual search, the world needs the kind of ancient spiritual tradition that can energize the present as it has the past.
Creation Spirituality Communities
From their website:
The vision of CSC is to create a network of communities which are grounded in the tenets of Creation Spirituality and revere the sacredness of all creation. Through study, ritual, celebration and action this communities support justice, compassion, transformation and sustainability for the universe and for all living beings.
Honouring all of creation as Original Blessing, Creation Spirituality integrates the wisdom of Eastern and Western spirituality and global cultures, with the emerging scientific understanding of the universe, and the passion of creativity.
In the UK creation spirituality is represented by Greenspirit.
GreenSpirit is a network of people who celebrate the human spirit in the context of our place in the natural world and Earth’s own evolutionary journey. Our radical vision brings together the rigour of science, the creativity of artistic expression, the passion of social action and the wisdom of spiritual traditions of all ages. Attracting those of many faith traditions, we are a body of people who believe that human life has both an ecological and a spiritual dimension.
Charter for Compassion
From their website:
We believe that a compassionate world is a peaceful world. We believe that a compassionate world is possible when every man, woman and child treats others as they wish to be treated–with dignity, equity and respect. We believe that all human beings are born with the capacity for compassion, and that it must be cultivated for human beings to survive and thrive. Join to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Embrace the compassion revolution.
Spirit of Peace – working together for a world in which all can flourish.
Working in the UK and Palestine/Israel, their three main areas of work include:
- social cohesion work in the UK
- intercultural dialogue and support of notable peace-builders in the Middle East.
- development and delivery of training to enable ourselves and others to be effective ‘societal connective tissue’ and global citizens.
- a particular focus on nonviolence training in schools, prisons and community groups.
Their work is informed and energised by spiritual and collaborative principals, seeking to expand love beyond the individual into the collective and finding language which is as inclusive as possible to enunciate these principals.
The work includes:
- Contributing to the creation of a culture of peace and nonviolence
- Fostering social cohesion through multicultural and multi-faith workshops, retreats and gatherings
- Developing and delivering their Pathways To Peace programme to resource people to become effective community connectors, enabling diverse groups and individuals to work and flourish together, reaching out beyond boundaries to create communities which work for all their members
- Providing a forum for individuals and organisations to use their gifts and skills to foster multicultural understanding, peace and social cohesion
- Networking and creating collaborative partnerships.
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 – Andrew Harvey
When we practice smiling peacefully and calmly, our peace can permeate the entire universe. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind – Thich Nhat Hanh
At a time of rapid change and crisis our future is too precarious just to be left to politicians alone. Citizens have to be engaged both at a global and local level – Francis Sealey, Globalnet 21
…A young Homo universalis is emerging everywhere, in every culture, faith, and background. The signs of our emergence as universal humans include an unconditional love for the whole of life; a powerful, irresistible passion to unite with Spirit within; and a deep heart-felt impulse to connect with others and co-create a world equal to our love and our capacities.
As we pass through our crises, as we successfully birth ourselves into a more universal humanity, we will emerge capable of co-evolving with nature and co-creating with Spirit. We will be able to co-create a new world – Barbara Marx Hubbard
Each individual is an expression of the collective consciousness of humanity and the collective consciousness of humanity is an expression of the One universal consciousness – Eckhart Tolle
Have the courage to go against the tide of this culture of efficiency, this culture of waste. Encountering and welcoming everyone, [building] solidarity—a word that is being hidden by this culture, as if it were a bad word—solidarity and fraternity: these are what make our society truly human – Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy
When I am Among the Trees
The following poem by Mary Oliver conveys something of the contemplative spirit and transformation which can resource us for working towards positive outcomes and flourishing in all in the messy business of life!
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
– Mary Oliver
A Prayer for Our Earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace. Amen.
Pope Francis, Laudato Si’
There are three Spirit of Peace events being run in February by LSC Steering Group member, Heather-Jane Ozanne.
Introductory events for Pathways for Human Flourishing training: Sunday 5th February, 2.30-5pm, in Stroud, Gloucestershire; and Tuesday 7th February 2017, 6.30-9pm, in Gloucester.
Spirit of Peace Community Bring and Share Supper: Monday 6th February, 7.00 – 9pm, in Gloucester.
More details for all these events can be found here – www.livingspirit.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/spirit_of_peace_events.pdf.