activism, prayer, Purpose, race, Take Action

The Spirit Calls Us to Liberation

Vigil for Safe & Sane Gun Laws at the NRA in Fairfax Virginia on the 5-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting

Maybe you, like me, are trying to figure out what “spiritual practice” is all about. My Unitarian Universalist congregation and faith strive to be homes for spiritual sustenance; yet I’m often at a loss for how to nourish the spirit outside of Sunday services. I show up to the Women’s Ritual Council full moon circles when I can, light a candle before bed, write gratitudes in my journal. These seem worshipful. So too do yoga, meditation, singing, gardening. But not every stretch or song turns the heart toward Beloved Community.

What makes an activity a form of prayer? And when is it simply self-care?

The overlap makes differentiation tricky. Mindfulness practice, for example, can focus attention, reduce stress and improve overall health. Schools are integrating its methods; so are parts of the military. Mindfulness keeps students and soldiers more focused and better able to make decisions. In “The Militarization of Mindfulness,” Ronald Purser warns, “Mindfulness as a spiritual practice is easily subordinated for military purposes when viewed as a decontextualized, ethically neutral, attention-enhancement technique.”

What are the ethics and context of our practice? What calls to us when we engage in it? It’s all too easy to mistake the siren song of self-improvement for a deeper voice. When I go to a dance class determined to sweat so that I can keep the dark mood at bay and perhaps slow the midlife weight gain, I am taking the bait of the wellness-industrial complex. It woos me with its 10,000 brands of self-care. Massages and facials, retreats and pilates. It caters to my appetites and my desire to feel OK in what is often a not-OK world.

Many of the activities mimic spiritual practice, but whetting an appetite falls far short of nourishing the soul’s hunger. Seeking connection to something beyond a narrow conception of self opens us to a deeper longing for justice, healing and love. Maybe it’s in that seeking, in that reach for connection, that our practice becomes spiritual.

And maybe spiritual practice doesn’t always feel good.

Heeding a deeper call carries us into places that those who profit from our disconnection would rather us not go. The path may be difficult or even dangerous. Spiritual practice leads us to where corruptions of power hurt the most vulnerable, and commits us to upending systems of white supremacy and economic injustice. Attending to the spirit invites us to unwrap from the blanket of self-care and bare vulnerable parts of ourselves while engaging in collaborative work with people who live very different lives. It welcomes us into joyous, complicated solidarity as we follow the lead of youth, people of color, people with disabilities, queer folks, poor folks, immigrants. It compels us to surrender our resistance to being decentered when we have believed so long that our values were good and right. Or it might pull us to the center to lead with boldness despite the clanging determination of those who want us to stay at the margins.

Learning the histories of resistance movements might show up as spiritual practice. As we pursue the education that the school system was never going to provide us, we might find that we have within reach what it takes to join the struggle and write a new story. We might grow in courage to act against the pervasive sense that we are imposters not cut out for bold work. When we engage in spiritual practice, we invite love and justice to call us into their service.

Even when we live our values in what seem like smaller ways – in our homes and our friendships – we nourish the spirit. We heed the deeper call when we honor the brokenness in us and try to rectify corrosive dynamics within our families and intimate relationships. We may find ourselves rebuilding bonds, boundaries, care and sustenance. Our practice has become spiritual when it commits us to disrupting stuck patterns and healing the old wounds.

And, yes, spiritual practice can also be meditation. When we meditate with the awareness that the universe has a purpose for us, we are choosing connection, life and love over “ethical neutrality.” We allow ourselves to listen for the call. We commit to answering it no matter how frightening, no matter how much it might change our plans.

Wellness and self-care will always weave through this work. Engaging in things that comfort and enliven us are necessary to keep us believing in ourselves and each other. It’s when we deepen those activities and allow them to nourish our connection to what’s within us, among us and beyond us that they become spiritual practices.

As we continue on this sacred journey, let’s ask ourselves – and help each other – to find courage in love’s invitation. Let’s keep making room to fulfill our soul’s purpose together.

This post first appeared on the Faith Matters blog of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax on November 18, 2019.

2 thoughts on “The Spirit Calls Us to Liberation”

  1. via
    a poem by Lotte L.S.

    Twelve Days of 21st Century Rain

    A voice rang out from the boiler in visceral encounter:

    “You must change your life.”

    The hibiscus moved in the breeze,

    everything else staying still.

    Well: the seagulls, the seagulls.

    Carbon monoxide had already claimed the last inhabitant —

    as if to misread sleep

    like to think of myself high up at the window

    imitating crown shyness

    continually changing faulty light bulbs

    at the ends of summer

    hesitating to thrust myself into others’ lives,

    other lives. A life,

    all £430 worth of it. Dangerous
    of course

    to draw parallels: tried the detectors,

    tried the weekly whole-building alarms,

    tried to imagine I could change my life —

    her dancing beneath the pines, told me:

    to love without doubt

    is to fuck without desire,

    and yet the nectarines are still ripe and juicy on the table

    at this time of year

    but I want them hard as can be,

    actualised at the ends of a midnight-blue corset dream —

    hands enough to touch yourself

    and watch the starlings murmur,

    a whole host of fish

    unionising at the same time every year
    to swim

    a full circle and disappear,


    if time is just perspective, and

    perspective: time.

    It touched me where it hurt,

    but the hurting felt good —

    seagulls watching from each rooftop,

    St George’s Cross flags razed across every allotment plot

    long road of curtains
    rippled open, crystallise my senses

    alone with a boiler

    that doesn’t emit a smell or sound or sight

    and all the windows are open —

    miniature ballet dancers twirling off the sill
    in small succession

    someone screaming, “I’m gonna fucking kill you

    you motherfucking son of a bitch”

    cries streaming over from the dark-bright street below,

    weekly Tuesday fireworks

    jacked-up and disseminating in rounds from the beach.

    In the almost darkness

    we cannot delegate “our” desire,

    seagull shit dripping down the windows
    in hot, thick tangles

    of a flat last inhabited, and I would have to say

    “OK, thanks. I didn’t know.” Why is this night

    different from all the others?

    The emphasis to fall on the asking,

    the making of an unchanged life

    awake until sunrise —

    avoiding the surprise of sleep

    gave me dreams:

    trees lining boulevards in the south of France

    you absentmindedly on your knees in the corner

    tipping something softly down the back of your throat.

    Do you know it?

    I tried to laugh and understand

    the pieces of human movement,

    one glance capturing a shape that emerged from them all:

    the fascist compost of the allotments,

    green was the forest drenched with shadows

    of my own lack —

    I decided I’d rather throw every broccoli head in the bin.

    And my own: a tenant to evict, landlord

    a penis to guillotine,

    police sirens ricocheting across the curtains

    unduly feminised in their flutterings,

    pink lilies bursting from the vase on the floor

    telling me: “I want to live deliberately” —

    “I want to live alive”

    headphones on

    means I can’t hear them

    coming down the boulevard

    coming down the high street

    the road I inhabit that leads so clearly to the sea —

    striding their guillotined dicks

    down the deserted streets.

    A woman was arrested the other morning,

    I saw it from the window: cops cuffing her to the car,

    miniature ballet dancers

    spinning from the windowsill

    gliding through the soft lace of the air

    to pinch cop tyres flat

    with their tightly pricked slippers.

    He literally wrote a worldview

    wherein she “went” out the window

    of his thirty-fourth-floor New York apartment

    in a blue bikini

    and a judge signed off on it.

    Awareness, or blossom:

    an archived commodity

    in which
    perspective is the removed corset

    often police ourselves

    to take off our clothes —

    but what’s another way to look at this?

    What else
    could you have asked?

    If you don’t recognise me

    among the treed-up, jacked-up roads

    the logical supposition

    of boulevards I have never been

    it is because I took off all my clothes

    in my most confrontational

    means I can’t hear them

    edgelit and hooting in the trees

    a politicised people

    suddenly and casually

    wondering if you were going to take your socks off
    before you came.

    These days I am trying hard not to come so consistently —

    instead asking my mother, “how are you feeling today?”

    wondering if I’ll ever see her

    dance beneath the pines,

    fantasise about suffocating my landlord

    with deliberate marmite: a whole feast of mugwort

    on the bedside table; gave me dreams of killing children, told me

    to dare imagining

    it’s not a thing you can touch

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