Spiritual Activism: Healing Ourselves, Healing Our World

When I first created the working title for this essay in parallel with a mini course on the topic, the subtitle I used was “Transforming Ourselves, Transforming our World.” However, when asked to shorten the description for the announcement, I returned it with the subtitle, “Healing Ourselves…”  Once I discovered my “error” I quickly made a note to send an email to correct it. However, upon reflection, I realized that “healing” was a more fitting term for this initial essay on spiritual activism, because as I have learned from study of various models of the spiritual journey and my life experience, this journey, a life-long endeavor, typically begins with some phase of inner healing.

For the last eight months, I have been studying Dante’s Divine Comedy. Thanks to a brilliant teacher and guide, Mark Vernon, author of the book, “Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Guide for the Spiritual Journey,” the treasure of Dante’s masterpiece has become accessible to me for the first time (I highly encourage you to check out Vernon’s book and/or his YouTube Channel). In the Divine Comedy, Dante used the classical Christian “3-Fold Way” of purgation (Inferno), illumination (Purgatorio), and union(Paradiso) to illuminate the spiritual journey.

For this essay series on the topic of spiritual activism, I will use the modern terms healing, maturation, and transformation in place of these traditional terms. In addition, I would like to emphasize that this 3-Fold Way stage model of the spiritual journey is one of multiple models that attempt to provide a conceptual framework for spiritual life. In addition, as cautioned by various spiritual teachers I have read (e.g., Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr), these stages are not neatly linear but more interwoven and “spirally” like a strand of DNA and make up an ineffable adventure of a lifetime. In addition, it is also important to note that if one engages the body, mind, and emotions along with intentional practices (e.g., self-observation, meditation, prayer, fasting, etc.) to heal, mature, and transform spiritually, the process can be deepened and accelerated (see Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory writings or my blog essays on Wilber’s work).

Interestingly, I recently heard a teaching by American psychologist, mystic, author, and former monk, James Finley stating that we humans like to jump to transformation and the mystical and avoid healing and the ordinary because the latter are painful, but we cannot. He further added that we need to understand that God is in the healing and ordinary as much as the transformative and mystical.

Reflection on these topics and the need to prepare for the mini-course I agreed to offer on this topic, inspired me to commit to creating a series of essays on being and becoming a spiritual activist. These two decisions were heavily influenced by over 20 years of activism and my longtime study of religious and non-religious systems of self-transformation to include but not limited to Contemplative Christianity, Buddhism, the 12-Steps, Integral Theory (Ken Wilber), and the Fourth Way.

Before I move into discussing the healing stage of the spiritual journey, I would like to offer my working definition of the concept of spiritual activism. By spiritual activism, I am referring to intentional reforming words and actions for greater harmony, justice, or the common good, inspired by a growing understanding (and possibly direct experience) of the ultimate unity or oneness of all life coupled with an intensifying love for others, life, and the Source (i.e., God, Ground of Being, Allah, Divine Light, Eternal Love, etc.) fostered and deepened, in part, by regular spiritual practices. I will return to the topic of spiritual practices and disciplines in a future essay.

So, where to begin the healing phase of this spiritual journey? As American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, teaches, “you start where you are” which for most of us is in a state that spiritual teachers often call “lostness” or simply being “asleep.” Of course, we usually do not know we are spiritually asleep until something happens (e.g., COVID, a divorce, employment loss, a terminal diagnosis, a death of a loved one, etc.), and our world falls apart or our life reaches a point of unmanageability due to an addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, etc. While these are extremely difficult life circumstances, these periods can propel us into a spiritual awakening by shaking and shattering our world (internal and external) to allow the light of a new perspective in and to ignite a spark of hope for a new way of living.

To be continued.