Spiritual practices and social action
“Spiritual practices undergird social action. Accordingly, socially active congregations must make spiritual practices essential to their mission. There is no division between prayer and protest, between spirituality and social concern. Contemplation deepens our spirits and broadens our sensitivities. Action expands the scope of our spiritual sensitivity. And God can enlarge our hearts to see God’s presence in every human and all creation, and to respond with grace and compassion.” Bruce G. Epperly, “What does it mean to have a Savior?” Sunday’s Coming, The Christian Century, September 16, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Christian Century.org
Life goes smoother if we can balance spiritual practices and social action at the same time where each cycles back and forth with the other. One leads to the other and nourishes and affirms the other. We learn about the Christ in ourselves and the Christ in each other.
There are many who support social justice who do not seem to connect to a spirituality they can affirm, and consequently sometimes these issues consume them, and there is no visible presence of love in their actions. There also are those with deep spirituality but no sense of social justice. Often their spirituality turns so inward that it becomes stagnant and cannot grow.
I have also had other experience suggesting that this relationship between the two does not always happen in the same way and at the same time. My story unfolds with the death of someone I loved. This drew me back to the spiritual life I had a taste of in my youth. For years later I simply learned and read and prayed and practiced spiritual practices daily. I was one of those “groupees” who went to every possible conference and retreat I could find. I never spoke out or participated in any social justice action. I blamed my inaction on being an introvert. Gradually my heart could no longer hold inside the injustices to women, African Americans, immigrants, gays. I had to speak out, sometimes boldly, often quietly, more often writing about it.
My “spiritual” excuse for the delay is biblical, of course. After Paul’s conversion and before he started his ministry this is his story. “I did not confer with any human being nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days.” (Galatians 1; 16-18). Paul then goes on to say he went to Syria and Cilicia and was unknown to the churches of Judea, but after fourteen years he finally went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas.
My time in Arabia was much longer. It took me twenty years of spiritual reflection before I began to make a dent at social action, and finally almost twenty more years before I let my feet do the talking and participate in two women’s marches. Now I make calls, write letters, and financially help social justice causes and the candidates who support them. My hope is that my spiritual practices keep me centered on the God of love, the God who loves us all, and that being a voice concerning social injustices leads me to the people where the God of my understanding abides.