Spirituality in Daily Life: Choosing Nonviolent Activism ll By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

Spirituality in Daily Life: Choosing Nonviolent Activism ll By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

From a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

He penned this on April 16, 1963, and would be assassinated five years later, on April 4, 1968.

Last week we honored his birth. His largeness overwhelms me—not his size, but his activism against injustices. And there are others: Mahatma Ghandi; Mother Teresa; Nelson Mandela; Gloria Steinem; Cesar Chavez; Rachel Carson and Steve Biko—to name only a few of the greats.

While working in Peshawar with Afghan refugees and the reconstruction efforts of their war-torn country after 10 years of fighting Soviet occupation, all my Afghan friends had plans for how I could help them rebuild their nation. The war had destroyed their nation’s infrastructure of bridges, roads, schools, and irrigation systems. My education and experience were in the architectural/engineering field and that’s where I focused my energy—an easy choice for me.

But life in the States today proffers a crush of struggles. My days in Peshawar didn’t include internet media depicting a global non-stop volley of suffering and grief.

“What can I do?” becomes our common cry. Paralysis slides in to protect us from so much angst and its accompanying stress.

We can fall back on a supportive quote attributed to Dr. King:

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

And just empathy—entering into another person’s pain—isn’t enough. It eventually extracts an emotional toll on our bodies. Compassion takes us to the next step: doing something.

We are back to spirituality in daily life. Can we—and should we—include activism as part of our spiritual path? Dr. King certainly believed so.

“Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest” (1).

All major religious traditions include acts of compassion in their practices; if we say we love, the suffering of others ought to move us to do something (2). Our souls/psyches/spirits do have the capacity to live with—and to a measure, move through grief—otherwise why do our greatest loves die and leave us physically? But we’re not made to carry as much grief as we’re bombarded with daily. I’ve become especially careful about pictures and videos imprinting themselves on my psyche through social media. I control how much grief enters my life.

How to start:

1.Choose your passion (see non-exhaustive list below). Where you will focus your attention? As I run through my never ending list of injustices that need righted, I listen to my deepest self. It becomes part of my spiritual practice, my spiritual discipline. Where shall I focus my attention, and hence my energy?

2. Know thyself—what are your strengths? Do you tend toward extroversion or introversion? Where do your gifts lie? Author Madeleine L’Engle tells the story how she was asked to make a cake for her young child’s school function. The cake flopped, and she told the teacher that while she couldn’t cook, she could write a play for the children to perform, and that’s what she did.

3. Recognize your commitments and/or limitations. Are you raising a young family and/or working full-time? A full-time student? A primary caretaker to an aging parent? Limited in physical mobility? Perhaps you can still make a few phone calls to your elected officials or write letters. As your children grow, include them as much as possible—be an example.

A partial list of injustices follows that we read about daily. Pay attention to what pings your spirit—and then write that down. If your list ends up too long, read that list also, and watch for greater movement within you for one or the other. Which sorrow marks your soul? Which one (or two) leaves a deeper and more painful impression?

It’s like going to the eye doctor: “Which one is clearer? Slide one or slide two?” “This one [pause] or this one?”

Watch for other ideas springing up from these words; these are clues, saying, “Walk this way.”

•Chemicals killing our bees.

•Pollutants in our freshwater supplies.

•Pollutants in our soil.

•Plastics and computers in the ocean.

•The dying off of insects due to chemicals.

•Our nation’s wealth inequalities.

•Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

•Women’s rights.

•Rights of children.

•LGBTQ+ rights.

•Our nation’s war machine.

•Melting polar caps.

•Corporations writing our nation’s laws, vs. elected representatives.

•Disenfranchised voters.

•Abused dogs.

•The international trade in endangered species.

•Unfettered access to weapons.

•Our nation’s lack of decent public transportation, forcing dependency on the automobile and oil and gas industry.

•Corporate greed and bullying for our nation’s natural resources, often at the expense of our nation’s natural heritage—our national, state, and county forests, parks, and reserves.

•The weakening of laws protecting our nation’s air, water, and ground supplies, thus threatening our children’s health.

•The anti-nuclear movement.

Keep in mind that just as life changes—the children grow, the aging relative passes on—so might your passions and giftings ebb and flow. Don’t let society or the status quo dictate to you what injustice you fight or what shape that battle takes. Let Dr. King be your example.

______

Notes & Sources:

1. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929-1968) Pastor, Civil Rights Activist, Morehouse College 1948. http://hbcustory.org/on-conviction-martin-luther-king-jr-morehouse-college-48/

2. Contemporary author on religion Karen Armstrong has written extensively on how compassion flows alongside the cruelties of fundamentalism which raises its head in all religions, through all the centuries. Les Miserable plays itself out continually in our societies through Victor’s Hugo’s character Inspector Javert, as we balance the God of Mercy with the God of Judgment.

3. https://charterforcompassion.org/ The mission of the Charter for Compassion: “To that end we support and work to achieve the seventeen sustainable goals of the United Nations.”

4.  https://www.thenation.com/article/fifty-most-influential-progressives-twentieth-century/


About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

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