Spiritual Practice as Resistance

New Year’s Resolutions are so passé. The thing us minister types have been talking about is creating and sustaining spiritual practices. I was going to talk today about how to sustain ourselves through hard times, and that this is an important counter-cultural way to be, and a way to resist the capitalistic society’s push to do more and be more. And maybe that’s where I’ll start, but while sitting down to write it didn’t feel like – enough – it didn’t speak to my soul in this moment.

2015, and parts of 2014 have been incredibly difficult and life changing for me, and as I sat there dealing with my own personal heartbreak, I watched the world go crazy. I watched and didn’t have enough in me join in the revolution that I saw sprouting. I felt guilty and selfish and like a hypocrite – I can preach it, but I can’t do it. It’s my job as a minister to comfort to your spirits, it’s my job as a UU minister to also send you out to create a better world.

This has never been my strong suit – creating justice opportunities. It’s not in my nature as a homebody and an introvert to actively participate in much. I spent my time and energy growing up on creating beloved community in my own world, through theater and in the UU youth community. This is where my call to ministry is rooted, in communities of people working together to create something beautiful.

To me ministry is about people and connections. It’s about building healthy and strong relationships – a place to come home to when life outside is beyond what we can deal with. This is my ministry.

Yet I was raised UU, so I know all about social justice, working for change, protesting in the streets and giving our time in service. I know that to make a difference you have to put your money and time where your mouth is, you have to vote in elections, and when there are unjust laws, you have to disobey.

When the kids at my high school wanted to protest the campus closure at lunchtime, they stood with signs on the “correct side” of the line, showing their displeasure. I told them that they were doing it wrong. There were only 2 campus security guards and dozens of them. I told them that if they wanted to take back the campus, they needed to cross the line and take it back. I showed them what it would take – I just walked past the line and took a seat.

Of course, I had nothing invested in the action. So when they asked me to move, I said no, but when they told me I wouldn’t be able to graduate, I walked away. I feel like that’s been my life. I know how to make change, I am just haven’t found the thing I am passionate enough about to give up my peace and comfort for it.

And this is my own privilege showing. I have the ability to live comfortably despite oppression and injustice. I have the choice whether or not to engage with the work of changing the world. I can think about how to spend my money and where to spend my time and where to put my energy. I choose to put my energy into working on sermons for you, on helping our UU children to understand their place in UU history, and to create a healthy future for my family.

So this year, instead of choosing a resolution, I am choosing a spiritual practice to focus on. A practice to keep me sane in my divided world. A practice to focus my mind beyond the immediate discomforts of my life. I am going to choose a practice that will help me turn from the inward focus I’ve been carrying for too long a time, and help me look beyond myself and connect in a real way to the revolution this world is facing.

But what resolution will I choose? Some people I know have taken a word and dedicated the year to it, but writing in a journal every day. But I’m not sure how long I can remember to focus on a single word, and like many resolutions, I imagine in a couple weeks I might forget to do it. Some people I know have made collages with images and words of their hopes and dreams for the coming year to look at every day for motivation.

There are so many spiritual practices to choose from these days. For a long time, I thought it was only praying or meditating. But through the years of my training, I learned that almost anything can be spiritual practice, if it helps you clear your mind and come to an inner calm.

Many people find spiritual practice in physical pursuits – running, yoga, fishing. I personally find an inner calm when swimming or when dancing, dancing alone when I’m not worried if I’m doing it right.

I know there are many people who find calm in repetitive actions, like washing dishes, cutting wood, or even knitting. Certainly Buddhists would agree that anything can be spiritual and bring you to nirvana, if you do it mindfully. One of the many spiritual practices, or methods of meditation, in Buddhism is the practice of bowing 108 times.

In seminary I participated in a meditation class where every morning at 7:30 am a large group of us would practice 108 bows, then do a sitting mediation for 30 minutes. Now, so you know, these bows are not just standing and bowing at the waist, no, these bows are full salute-the-sun bows – from standing with hands clasped in front of you, you fall to your knees, and place your forehead on the ground, then return to standing – preferably without unclasping your hands. One of these bows is hard enough, but 108? All I can say is that I only was able to complete 108 twice in a whole semester.

I guess what I’m saying is that physical and repetitive practices are definitely a good choice for many people, but if it’s not something you’re going to stick to for a whole year, it may not be the best promise to make.

A spiritual practice that is starting to make waves in the wider culture, as a creative pastime, is coloring. I can’t help but giggle that people are calling it “adult coloring.” It makes me think of other “Adult” activities. Maybe so many people are coloring because they’re under the same impression?

But the truth of the matter is, after Caroline died in April, I spent many hours of most of my days coloring. Choosing the right colors for my pages, taking the time to fill in each area with care and confidence, these repetitive, but comforting tasks helped me to find an inner calm, and a brief respite from the chaos of my life. It’s simple and creative and gives me a great sense of satisfaction to have created something beautiful.

But there I go making it about myself again. Let’s refocus.

Parker Palmer published an article on the blog On Being last week, he called it My Five New Year’s Revolutions. A slip of the fingers, a typo when he meant to write resolutions, got him thinking about some of the revolutions that need to happen to help this world be a better place. He found that he really wanted to “write about my resolve to commit to a few of the revolutions we need if we’re going to regain our humanity in 2016.”

To Parker Palmer, author, Quaker, intellectual; to Palmer, thinking about resolutions was boring. To Palmer, the idea of revolutions – revolutions that have already started in this country and around the world – was much more satisfying.

Generally, most people I know were glad to see the back of 2015. It was certainly full of my own personal tragedy, but it was also full of global heartbreak, of national outcries, of disasters and death. It was also full of many good times and good things that changed people’s lives for the better. And yet, the New York Times found the year, at least the end of it so dismal that they called their Christmas editorial “Moments of Grace in a Grim World.”

They, like Palmer, want to see the signs of progress in chaos. So what are the revolutions that Palmer wants to take on – to live into – in the coming year? There are five of them, and he certainly states them more baldly than I will as I tell you about them.

  1. He wants to revolt against the fear of otherness – he wants to stand up to those who peddle fear, to those who are afraid of people who “aren’t like us” – to say “I stand with those you are afraid of”
  2. He wants to revolt against “the state of denial in which most white American’s live.” He wants to look into his own heart and understand that he’s not had to experience oppression in the same way as people of color do. He wants white Americans to sit in the discomfort of seeing what they’ve not been able to see – that oppression is what pays for their privilege.
  3. He wants to revolt against the public education system which doesn’t account for poverty and is being overregulated and underfunded, in a power play to make private schools the only way to get a decent education.
  4. He wants to revolt against the gun-related policies that make it easy for people to obtain automatic weapons, and those people who keep touting that more guns and less regulations will make the world safer, which is clearly not the case. There were more mass shootings in the US in 2015 than days in the year.
  5. And lastly, he wants to revolt against the idea that the few deserve more than the many. He wants to revolt against capitalist theory that tells us those of us who are born into privilege (say born in the middle class in the United States, or other Western countries) deserve to live in luxury, while millions of people around the world live in poverty.

These revolutions are on the horizon, and I too want to be a part of them. I want to spread love and compassion to the world. I want to choose to be more pro-actively justice seeking.

AND, I think if you and I are going to try to make change, we need to start where we are. Working to keep ourselves sane while we go through our lives, fighting for justice, supporting our causes, helping those we can help. We can’t do everything, but we can do something.

Sometimes that something is taking time to find calm within ourselves as the storm rages around us, and sometimes it’s jumping in feet first to fight with a revolution.

Let’s start where we are though – if you are working to make it day by day in your life, practice calm. If you are holding your own, and looking for something more – practice embracing justice. It doesn’t take much, just some self-education and a dedication to allowing discomfort. It’s a good place to start anyway. Will you join me?


Sara Goodman, Consulting Minister
UU Congregation of Rock Valley, Rockton, IL
January 3, 2015
© 2015 Sara Goodman. All Rights Reserved.

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