Do be do be do! Spiritual Exercises for justice-seeking #1

By Nick Coke

A year on and there’s only one sentence I can remember from the justice-seeking seminar. Such is the way of things, as we preachers and teachers well know. It came do be do be doright at the close, just as the speaker was heading for the door. She’d packed up her notes and left the microphone behind at the lectern when suddenly she glanced back over her shoulder, fixed her eyes on me and from under her breath came the throwaway remark – ‘of course we don’t do social justice, we live justly’. She disappeared out of the door and down the corridor. I looked around to see if anyone else was struck by the Colonel’s final word but the post-session hubbub had already began. Perhaps it was meant just for me.

I’ve pondered this one-liner ever since.

On the surface the point is quite obvious – it’s an echo of the perennial tension between doing and being. On the one hand we feel the urge to go and do something – to change the world right now where we are. On the other hand we are also committed to the idea that all action should spring from an inner life fuelled by God the Holy Spirit. Too much emphasis on the doing and justice-seeking becomes yet another programme to drain our time, energy and souls of sustaining life. Too much emphasis on the being and before long we think we’re fighting for justice simply because we sing songs that declare our God is of the poor, we can quote the angrier prophecies in Amos 5 and spend hours contemplating God’s liberating actions on behalf the oppressed.

The challenge I heard that day, of course, was to avoid the dichotomy and to find the narrow path where justice-seeking becomes both doing and being – a way of life where we become contemplative activists.

When we wrote the pamphlet, ‘Marching Towards Justice’, we intentionally made it a call to action. Our aim was to give a brief, clear and workable methodology for seeking justice from the bottom up. It sprung from our own frustration at so much of our church-based experience of justice-seeking remaining in the realm of praying for or getting informed about issues only. We wanted to do something!

But of course the kind of spirituality that goes hand in hand with this kind of methodology is equally important. The contemplative dimension needs as much nurturing as the activist. Teaching on the intersection between doing and being are easy to come by through the works of Thomas Merton, Richard Foster (Renovare), Richard Rohr (Centre for Action and Contemplation), St Teresa of Avila, St Francis of Assisi, Simone Weil and Dallas Willard.  We plan to explore this over several blogs in the coming months and share resources via the Match Factory. But here’s a starter.

Spiritual exercise #1

All community organising begins with relationship – this is why visitation is the first element of our methodology. Genuine, mutual, trust-based relationships are more than just anear neighbours basis for building human community, they are a reflection of the very nature of God – ‘three persons in the Godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.’

Make a list of 8 people you have relationship with. Include a variety of people you spend lots of time with and those you don’t yet know very well – it could be people in your family, corps, workplace and community, Christian and non-Christian. Bring to mind the face of the individuals, one at a time. Give yourself a moment to hold them before God – acknowledge whatever feelings come but do not dwell on them too long. Just imagine lifting them up before God.

Now reflect on these questions:

  • What characteristics of the Trinity have you experienced through each relationship? When have you given or received acceptance, forgiveness, service, grace, fellowship, sacrifice, comfort, challenge through these relationships?
  • How has this relationship changed you?
  • What have you learnt about God through the other?
  • What might God want to do through this relationship?

Spend some time in prayer for each person – ask God to help you understand them better, to strengthen the relationship, to help you deal with any difficulties between you and to lead you on into changing the world together.

Finish by getting your diary out and committing yourself to visit them in the next 2 weeks. Do be do be do!