Many of us feel a complication between what is urgent and what is important. In my experience, contemplation has always taken me closer to the truth of urgency with a clarified mind and settled body. It has shown me the marriage of that which is urgent and important. In this way, I believe urgency can be an embodied means of reaching for justice and collective well-being. In this way, I see urgency in the minds of contemplatives attuned to the present moment and in the struggle of the activists’ pursuit of change. In this way, I see “activism” and “contemplation” as interchangeable dimensions of the same expression.
Often times, contemplative life errors on the side of silence and solitude instead of a meeting place for speaking out and showing up. But in order for contemplation to be whole, writes Therese Taylor-Stinson, “it must consist of both inward solitude and reflection, and an outward response to the situations in which we find ourselves present and awake.”
Similarly, in his work on mysticism and social action, Howard Thurman talks about action as sacrament. He writes that the mystic “recognizes that he shares in the collective ills of his society… In him is mirrored the very life of the society of which he is a part, but he must begin with himself. For the mystic, social action is sacramental…”
Responding to these two voices I ask myself: To what am I willing to be present and awake? What ills of society am I identifying with? How am I yielding to social action as sacramental? How am I weaving together the indisputable connectivity of contemplation and social action? In recognizing they belong to each other, their beauty is enhanced wherever we find them coexisting.
The image I chose to share with this brief writing is a well known image of the late John Lewis standing his ground before the oncoming beating by the Police which would leave him severely injured. And, the reason I chose this image is because in his backpack at this very moment, Lewis was carrying Thomas Merton’s spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (it’s been noted before that perhaps it was a different book by Merton). In the summer of 1998, Lewis said, “I had a book by Thomas Merton when I was walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, marching from Selma to Montgomery…I would also sometimes carry books by Gandhi and about Gandhi; books by Dr. King and about Dr. King; and Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience.'” Why is this important? Why would a man with the conviction of activism carry a book by a Trappist monk? I believe this image exemplifies a visual embodiment of Action as Sacrament. It shows what we all know that Lewis was a man of deep thought, sincere courage, and a man whose action was born out of his contemplation. Lewis was a man whose life was a constant weaving together of contemplation and social action. So, I give him the last word…
“When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something. To do something. Our children and their children will ask us, ‘What did you do? What did you say?’…we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.” –John Lewis, December 2019
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