Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
My word for this year is humility. It shimmered for me because I knew in the heart of these challenging times I have so much still to learn, much wisdom to glean and integrate. A commitment to always being on the journey is the heart of the monastic virtue of conversion. One of the ways this is happening for me in particular is through our Lift Every Voice book club. I love being intentional about reading from a wider diversity of perspectives and letting those insights into the contemplative life shape me in new ways.
Our book this month, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown, feels like it arrived at the perfect time in this series. After reading several rich books about contemplative ways of being, Brown’s book really challenges us to see ourselves more clearly and the ways we participate in oppressive behaviors and structures. The contemplative life is never just for ourselves. It is always on behalf of cultivating deeper compassion and a recognition of our intimate connection with all beings.
Brown writes: “I need a love that is troubled by injustice.” This quote for me really touches into the heart of the contemplative tradition. We deepen our practice to deepen into Love. What would Christian contemplative practice look like if it took this call to troubled love seriously? In what ways in your love troubled by injustice?
How we enact this in our lives will vary widely. We are not all called to protest on the streets. But we are all called to act on behalf of suffering, to transform the world toward justice. We don’t achieve this by ourselves but only through collective loving action when we all say yes to that call. This is part of why having kindred souls is so vital. It helps us remember we are not doing this alone.
At the end of her book Brown discusses what she describes as “the shadow of hope. Knowing that we may never see the realization of our dreams, and yet still showing up.” This is the heart of faith, to continue trusting that love is at the foundation of everything and acting as if this is so.
She goes on to write “I stand in the legacy of all that Black Americans have already accomplished – in their resistance, in their teachings, in their voices, in their faith – and I work toward a world unseen, currently unimaginable. . . It is working in the dark, not knowing if anything I do will ever make a difference. It is speaking anyway, writing anyway, loving anyway.”
Sometimes in moments of doubt, I am seduced into thinking that my actions don’t really matter in the face of enormous challenges. Then I remember that even though I do not know what impact my actions will have, I must act regardless. I am compelled to write and teach and love. I make an offering to the world and have to trust that it will be enough. This is the heart of the humility. To know both our gifts and our limitations and to take them seriously.
I have often said that one of the things I love about monastic spirituality is that it is a way of life that stands in resistance to the dominant paradigm and status quo. It offers us alternative ways of being in the world informed by slowness, spaciousness, compassion, radical hospitality, and the humility that has called to me this year to honor all that Spirit might continue to do in my heart.
How are you being called to expand your vision of what is possible?
(Please join us on August 20th for a community conversation via Zoom about the book!)
We have four new icons added to our dancing monk icon series. Above is Howard Thurman, whose wonderful book Meditations of the Heart we discussed earlier this year. Thurman’s wisdom shimmers off every page and our conversation led me to continue reading some of his other powerful books, some of which I am sure I will share about in the coming weeks. As I read his wisdom I feel like I am gulping down nectar to sustain me in challenging times.
Another opportunity to expand your perspective on contemplative life and justice is to join us for Simon de Voil’s mini-retreat Queer Eye for Godde on August 21. We welcome you with us as we explore the gift of queerness for all of us who want to live life in resistance to what drains and destroys life and celebrate the creative impulse in each of us.
Three of my poems – “Origins,” “I Want to Be the Kind of Woman,” and “Dreams” – have been published on the Impspired website. These are poems that come from a third poetry collection I will be publishing in 2022.
I am also really honored by what Celtic priest Dara Molloy shares about our work in his latest Aisling (meaning dream or vision in Irish) newsletter. Dara is a treasured colleague and friend and I recommend following his work.
With great and growing love,
Image credit: Dancing Monk Icon © Marcy Hall at Rabbit Room Arts