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Contemplative Activists
Contemplative Activists

Contemplative Activists: Weekly Summary

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Contemplative Activists

Saturday, July 18, 2020
Summary: Sunday, July 12—Friday, July 17, 2020

In order to have the capacity to move the world, we need some “social distancing” and detachment from the diversions and delusions of mass culture and our false self. (Sunday)

Dorothy Day’s spirituality and her social witness were equally rooted in the radical implications of the Incarnation. In Christ God assumed our humanity. And we could not worship God without honoring God’s image in our fellow human beings. —Robert Ellsberg (Monday)

Fannie Lou Hamer was cloistered in an activist movement, finding her focus, restoration, and life in God in the midst of the beloved community already here and yet coming. —Barbara Holmes (Tuesday)

Jesuit Pedro Arrupe identified the suffering endured by the victims of war and poverty with Christ’s Passion and taught that alleviating the one through justice was honoring the other in faith. —Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell (Wednesday)

Far from being withdrawn from the world or indifferent to the suffering that goes on in it, the mystic is uniquely motivated and qualified to respond to social and economic injustices. —Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell (Thursday)

I believe that there is a deep relationship between the inner revolution of prayer and the transformation of social structures and social consciousness. (Friday)


Practice: Putting Flesh in the Game

Like the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the Black Lives Matter movement is working today to end the systemic injustices caused by white supremacy in the United States. At the same time, as scholar Walter Earl Fluker points out, there are real differences between the two movements and eras. Fluker writes:

The Black Lives Matter movement that began in 2013 is a hopeful sign of this new moment to which we are called. As a grassroots movement it bears similarities with the prophetic cadence of an earlier era when young black activists, many of them college and university students, were able to produce a critical tension among the black leadership of the civil rights movement and the larger society. In doing so, they elevated the struggle for freedom and jobs to a cultural revolution of black consciousness and political awareness. This new movement . . . incorporates some of the same logic but within a very different historical context and therefore agenda—particularly evidenced in the leadership of youth, women, and LGBTQIA activists.

It struggles not so much with the ghostly apparition of Jim Crow . . . but with the ghost of contested post-racialism that has reconfigured the radical egalitarian hypothesis into an assertion that since all lives matter, slogans like “black lives matter” dismiss the many others in our society who also have legitimate claims to identity, difference, and equal justice. In doing so, the ghost disguises itself yet again by minimizing the particularity and the disproportionate vulnerability of black youth in American society over and against the majority of other youth. . . .

Most importantly, the youth of this movement have placed their bodies on the line—they have put some flesh in the game; “This is flesh we’re talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved.” Every church leader and scholar who is involved in the work of social and political transformation should follow the lead of these youth in being committed to placing his or her body on the line and putting some flesh in the game in new ways. In doing so, we will continue the legacies of those sainted martyrs whose broken bodies and dangerous memories rest just above our heads.

I resonate with Fluker’s call to those of us in leadership roles in the church and other organizations to join these young people in their mission. God put “flesh in the game” through the incarnation of Christ; we, too, are called to incarnate love with our own bodies in solidarity with those marginalized by unjust systems. Like Dorothy Day’s anti-Vietnam protests and Pedro Arrupe’s decision to allow his Jesuits to remain in El Salvador, our contemplation may very well lead us to action with unpopular and painful consequences. And yet, this too seems to be where the living flow of the Holy Spirit invites many of us.

Walter Earl Fluker, The Ground Has Shifted: The Future of the Black Church in Post-Racial America (New York University Press: 2016), 231‒232.

For Further Study:
Pedro Arrupe: Essential Writings, ed. Kevin F. Burke (Orbis Books: 2004)

Maegan Parker Brooks, Fannie Lou Hamer: America’s Freedom Fighting Woman (Rowman and Littlefield: 2020)

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day, illus. Fritz Eichenberg (Harper San Francisco: 1997, ©1952)

John Dear, “You Will Be My Witnesses”: Saints, Prophets, and Martyrs, icons by William Hart McNichols (Orbis Books: 2006)

Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 2008)

Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017)

A Penny a Copy: Readings from the Catholic Worker, ed. Thomas C. Cornell, Robert Ellsberg, and Jim Forest (Orbis Books: 1995)

Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014)

Dorothee Soelle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, trans. Barbara and Martin Rumscheldt (Fortress Press: 2001)

Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell, Blessed Peacemakers: 365 Extraordinary People Who Changed the World (Cascade Books: 2013)

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes
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