Spiritual Reading 23

23. Engaged Spirituality

Theologian Karl Rahner says:

“The divine love of the Eternal Word has become incarnate in the human love of Christ. It has fashioned itself a place in history and cast itself for an unmistakable role in the sinful world. Thereby it has guaranteed that love, and not righteous anger, is God’s first and last message to the world.”

The heart can grasp the opportunity to love in a way that the primitive ego cannot allow itself to imagine. Retaliation is the ego’s failure of imagination, a return to its favorite resort, to an imitation of what others have done rather than to the invention of a new response. It is hard to let go of the age-old drive to strike back when our ego is bruised and indignant. We attempt to rebalance things by retributive justice rather than restorative justice. In the former we punish a wrongdoer; in the latter we find a way to reconcile.

Compassion is the spiritual practice that helps us wean ourselves away from revenge. There is always a “please don’t hurt me” even in someone’s rage at us. To hear it and to respond is compassion in action. Without the compulsion to retaliate we can engage with the other’s pain. Then alienation collapses into participation and leads to reconciliation. In the cooperative model, we work together on our problem. In the verdict and penalty model, I react to a problem as if only one of us created it.

It is the human community, the persons in our life circle, who help us know the true nature of our personal existence. This is why in Christian theology we believe in a communion of saints and a mystical body of humanity. These are doctrinal pathways to a new cosmology, a spiritual world. Faith in a holy community presents alternatives to retaliation as a wonderful possibility and engaging in them as a spiritual victory.

In a spiritual practice of nonviolence, we do not seek to overcome and control others who are aggressive toward us but rather to win them over by love. The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus does not overcome us; it disarms us. We see an inviting, receptive, openness to us no matter how cruel or ego-driven we are. All of us are touched by love like that and we respond because that is the unconditional love we have ached for all our lives. At the core of every violent person is a hunger for just such love. A commitment to non-retaliation responds to that longing as Jesus did and this is true devotion to his heart. Devotion means alignment of our ego actions to the purposes of the Sacred Heart.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus involves an engaged spirituality. Our nonviolent work and love is both personal and communal. We care for those who are suffering and we work on reforming the institutions that create suffering. The heart is on the left side of our body, so can we say we act with heart when we become more liberal in our thinking and behavior? We look closely at our country and support it in doing good and we speak up in the face of policies that favor war, retaliation, and injustice. We affirm a planetary spirituality and do not support the move toward profit-based globalization at the cost of ecological and human exploitation. We take action against political and economic oppression. We speak truth to power at any cost. This is heartfelt love of humanity. John Dominic Crossan writes: “Jesus was building [for the poor and the rejected] a community on radically different principles from those of honor and shame, patronage and clientage.”

We begin by acknowledging the shadow side of ourselves, our inclination toward greed, hate, and delusion. We ask for the grace to see our own failings and to work on them so they change into something creative. This is how we integrate rather than deny our own dark side, rather than project it entirely onto others. We are also committed to being aware of the collective shadow of humanity. This is the ongoing and universal tendency of humans to go to war, inflict torture and mutilation, exact severe retaliation, make weapons and chemicals that can destroy us all, exploit the poor, engage in genocide, practice slavery, engage in cruelty to animals, undercut freedoms, become totalitarian, show racial, religious, gender, and lifestyle discrimination through exclusionary actions and hate crimes.

Christians cannot stop all this from happening in any one generation. The list above shows the mystery of the dark side of the human collective which seems hard-wired into our gene pool. That fact does not destroy or discourage us because we have the gift of hope from the Holy Spirit. We can practice the virtue of hope by not joining any movement or activity that is based on the collective shadow enterprises. We practice the virtue of hope by peaceful protest or by sending letters to our congress people in the wake of injustice. We keep working for justice in any little or great way we can, though the world may call us “fools,” it is “for Christ’s sake.” Jesus described himself as a good shepherd who watches the sheep carefully. We can join him in this mission by keeping close watch on the world. The internet and the news keep us up to date on where in the world there is oppression. We can respond each time in some way, no matter how small. There are a variety of Christian callings, based on our temperaments. We can take action in a counter-cultural way or we can be the silent leaven of love in society—or anything in between. We are not all called to protest loudly. We also serve who pray quietly.

To say that Jesus is lord means that he is our leader/model and that his teachings are our personal principles. This means striving to make this world the kingdom of God, that is, a world in which God makes the decisions that humans make now. This means commitment to the dignity of all humans, the fair distribution of wealth, equal human rights, seeking/planning nonviolent solutions to world problems, and fervent devotedness to being stewards of earth. Do we have that power in us? Ram Dass answers: “Every ingredient needed to generate the force necessary to change the political reality of the earth is already present and exists in every individual’s heart.” That heart is Jesus’ heart in us and that is why we do not give up.

Devotion is cosmic so our commitment is directed toward something immense, promising, and demanding. That is like the Sacred Heart. It is spacious enough to include all beings and galaxies. The danger we fell into in the past was to make devotion to the Sacred Heart a Jesus-and-I relationship with the accent on how “he will be sure to save me if I receive communion on nine first Fridays.” Now we are ready to open this “I” and let it give way to “we.” We move from ego/I to all/we. Our new devotion is about how the whole world can be saved not just our individual selves.