Good Friday: Contemplation and Resistance

Good Friday 2014 at Beale Air Force Base

Today is Good Friday, the darkest of days, when Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus and stand by him in his suffering.  It is also a dark season in the world, with the Trump Administration dropping the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan, threatening North Korea, bombing Syria and Yemen, targeting immigrants, abandoning climate legislation, dismantling the social safety net, eviscerating education, and unleashing corporations to wreak unregulated havoc on the earth.

I grieve.  I enter and face the darkness.  I resolve “to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified,” as Paul did when he visited the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:2). This has been my ongoing spiritual practice during this season of Lent.

Contemplating the death of Jesus in prayer and holding space for that story throughout the day grounds me in the painful reality of Jesus’ time and of ours.  It helps me to face and bear what seems unbearable—that the evil powers of this world, the “rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:8), seem to have the upper hand, and are crucifying what is precious, destroying our hopes and dreams and everything that we hold dear.  But the ability to bear this apparent reality—that the dominant institutions and systems of our world are moving us toward global death—depends on my determination to resist.  Otherwise, how could I simply “accept” this cruel, unjust, and unspeakable state of affairs? That would be consent and complicity.  Instead, I choose to stand in solidarity with the crucified Jesus and all other victims of Empire, to follow him in nonviolent resistance to the Powers, and to risk the same fate.

For me, contemplation and resistance go together.  In contemplation, we assimilate actions that we have taken in the world and receive clarity and inspiration for further actions of mercy, justice, and nonviolent resistance to the Powers.  In our actions in the world, we express the love and insight that we have received in contemplation. Contemplation and resistance go together.

Reflecting on the cross, the death of Jesus, and all the other deaths throughout history can bring us face to face with our complicity and our rock-bottom poverty of spirit.  We may even experience what seems to be the absence of God, as Jesus did as he hung on the cross, crying out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” As we reflect on our own personal failings and our participation in unjust systems, we discover our moral bankruptcy, emptiness, and inability to control the outcome of events.  We recognize that our wisdom and strength are inadequate to the task of personal and social transformation, and so we surrender ourselves, our very being, to God, whose wisdom and power are hidden in mystery.  Our ego stops trying to justify and defend itself.  We die to ourselves.  We enter the darkness, the depths, the journey of emptiness and loss and letting go, the dark night of the soul, trusting beyond trust, where trust has been betrayed, hoping beyond hope, where all hope is gone.  Paradoxically, it is by entering this very darkness that light dawns and hope is reborn.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The mystics call this the Via Negativa, the way of nothingness.  It is the Way of the Cross.

Previous blog post:  God’s Restorative Justice

Next Post:  Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus 

This post is part of Sharon’s series, A Lenten Call to Resist.

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Embracing Spaciousness

Ike's Cherry Tree (c) Andrew Wright LightHawk Photo

Ike’s Cherry Tree
(c) Andrew Wright LightHawk Photo

This is a reposting of a blog posting titled “Easter Renewal” from last year.  It feels timely in my life right now.  

 

When I look at the major problems in our world–climate change, predatory capitalism, war, injustice of every kind–or even the small problems of family and friends, I want to do everything I can to help.  But that impulse can get me into trouble.  Doing “everything I can” takes me on a track that gets more busy and confusing as I go.  I end up feeling anxious, discouraged, and just plain tired.  As Hindu poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote:

Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.

I’ve learned that instead of rushing off to do more, I can recommit myself to prayer and meditation, which allows me to rest in the loving arms of God.  I know from experience that this is a more direct route to effective action than multiplying my activities.  As I open to Spirit, I can count on getting the guidance and energy I need for the next right action to take.

This practice parallels the spiritual journey through Lent and Easter:  1) facing the disappointment, pain, and suffering of life; 2) accepting death and the annihilation of hope; and 3) experiencing a renewal of spiritual energy, hope, and joy.  This does not negate any other spiritual tradition, and in fact letting go into emptiness and coming out on the other side is part of Eastern religious practice as well.

For today, instead of trying to get everything done, I embrace the spaciousness and timelessness of Spirit.  And I entrust myself, my family and friends, and the world to “the One who, by the power at work within us, is able to accomplish immeasurably more than all we can ask or even imagine.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

A Moment’s Indulgence

by Rabindranath Tagore

I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by thy side. The works
that I have in hand I will finish afterwards.

Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.

Today the summer has come at my window with its sighs and murmurs; and
the bees are plying their minstrelsy at the court of the flowering grove.

Now it is time to sit quiet, face to face with thee, and to sing
dedication of life in this silent and overflowing leisure.

The Silence of God

IMG_1177

I believe that the great challenges of our time require deep inner work as well as courageous outer action.  If we stay on the surface of things, it feels natural to act in ways that are approved by the dominant culture.  Contemplative prayer, meditation, and other spiritual practices can help equip us for resistance to forces that would have us conform to the status quo.

Often in prayer what I hear when I listen is silence.  People sometimes interpret God’s silence as the absence of God.   Not me.  I understand God as the Ground of Being, as Love itself, in whom we live and move and have our being, so there’s nowhere for God to go.  I have let go of expectations.   Spending time with Spirit is enough.   Settling into darkness–listening to the silence of God.

Sometimes I feel the love or gain an insight or find clarity about some decision or sense a nudge in a particular direction or feel moved to make a course correction.  But the most familiar answer to my prayer and my most familiar form of prayer is immersion in silence.

It is here, in the silence, that I hear the still, small voice of God, a barely discernible movement of Spirit almost below the level of consciousness, a dynamic darkness, a pervasive sense of peace, an invitation to stay awake and pay attention to what’s going on below the surface, a reminder to live life at its depths.  An answer to prayer:  the silence of God.

Resistance and Contemplation

IMG_1058Contemplative prayer is the practice that grounds my personal relationships and my work.  This grounding in prayer is a means through which the Holy Spirit, when I am open, equips me with clarity, compassion, and courage to resist the Powers that would destroy and diminish life.  As Karl Barth said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

I write about this my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization:

We are called to resist being taken over by the forces of a culture that would have us believe that comfort and pleasure and ease and looking good are the most important things in life. We are called to refuse to worship our culture’s dominant gods of money and domination, to resist the lure of materialistic values that keep so many enthralled, and instead to value human life and the natural world. By so doing, we plant seeds of hope and honor the Creator.

Prayer is crucial in this process. Prayer is an act of humility, a way to acknowledge our utter dependence on God and our gratitude for the new life we have received in Christ. In prayer, we open ourselves to the clarity, guidance, and empowerment that only the Spirit can bring. Prayers of intercession and petition have immeasurable effects on our lives and on lives around us. Prayer “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” as Karl Barth recommended, helps us develop the ability to discern God’s activity in current events. Contemplative prayer and meditation can help us stay grounded in the present moment and give us a sense of freedom from time. Prayer can also enable us to discern the inner effects of the Powers. Regular ongoing prayer can help us resist collective thinking and to understand our own inner dynamics, so that we can know which of our impulses are based in anger or fear, and which are Spirit-led, guiding us in the direction of God’s call and empowering us to move toward creative transformation. The inner journey and the outer journey together constitute the spiritual life. Prayer is essential. So is action. In Resistance and Contemplation: The Way of Liberation, James Douglass wrote of the inner and outer journeys as two sides of a mountain, as two parts of a whole way of life:

“Contemplation is an encounter on the dark side of the mountain, in the soul. Contemplation, the struggle to experience reality as it is, in the life-giving water of the One, is the acceptance of the upward wind of the Spirit and the disciplined loss of my self-control. I struggle for the power of the powerless, where I would lose myself, where only the Spirit moves. . . .

“Resistance, on the bright slope, is the struggle to stand against a murderous collective self and to express communally the living unity of all . . . in the One. Resistance is active opposition to the death forces discernible in every modern state. The confrontation of resistance therefore takes place on the bright side of the mountain, in the sunlight of public or collective consciousness, where [people] struggle with the powers of war, racism, exploitation.”

Contemplative prayer and other spiritual practices can equip us for resistance against social, political, and economic “death forces” in the outer world. Such practices repudiate the values of domination, violence, and greed. They also constitute resistance in their own right. Douglass sees contemplation itself as a form of resistance:

“The Spirit is received through a painful resistance to, and renunciation of, the claims of the self on the climb into greater darkness. Contemplation receives by resisting. At its center contemplation is receptivity to the wind of the Spirit, but it is conditioned by my active resistance to the fears and claims of the self: claims of comfort, security, self-control.”

If we neglect to nurture our relationship with God through prayer, we lose ourselves in outward activity and we forfeit what peace, freedom, and clarity we have attained.   Open me to your Spirit, O God.  May I practice your presence throughout this day.