Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
Good and Bad Power
Good and Bad Power

Growing in Power

Monday, August 9, 2021

Good and Bad Power

Growing in Power
Monday, August 9, 2021

It is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones. (1 Corinthians 12:22)

How ingeniously you get around the commandment of God in order to preserve your own traditions! (Mark 7:9) 

The epigraphs above are two subtle scriptures that I hope illustrate both good power and bad power. In the first, Paul encourages his community to protect and honor those without power. In the second, Jesus critiques the religious leaders for misusing tradition to enhance their own power.

If we watch the news, work on a committee, or observe some marriages, we see that issues of power have not been well-addressed by most people. When we haven’t experienced or don’t trust our God-given “power within,” we are either afraid of power or we exert too much of it over others. Enduring structures of “power over,” like patriarchy, white supremacy, and rigid capitalism, have limited most individuals’ power for so long that it is difficult to imagine another way. Only very gradually does human consciousness come to a selfless use of power, the sharing of power, or even a benevolent use of power—in church, politics, or families.

Good power is revealed in what Ken Wilber calls “growth hierarchies,” [1] which are needed to protect children, the poor, the entire natural world, and all those without power. Bad power consists of “domination hierarchies” in which power is used merely to protect, maintain, and promote oneself and one’s group at the expense of others. Hierarchies in and of themselves are not inherently bad, but they are very dangerous for ourselves and others if we have not done our spiritual work. Martin Luther King Jr. defined power simply as “the ability to achieve purpose” and insisted that it be used towards the growth of love and justice. He wrote, “It is the strength required to bring about social, political or economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice.” [2]

A prime idea of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is its very straightforward critique of misuses of power. From the very beginning, the Bible undercuts the power of domination and teaches us another kind of power: powerlessness itself. God is able to use unlikely figures who in one way or another are always inept, unprepared, and incapable—powerless in some way. In the Bible, the bottom, the edge, or the outside is the privileged spiritual position. This is why biblical revelation is revolutionary and even subversive. The so-called “little ones” (Matthew 18:6) or the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), as Jesus calls them, are the only teachable and “growable” ones according to him. Powerlessness seems to be God’s starting place, as in Twelve-Step programs. Until we admit that “we are powerless,” Real Power will not be recognized, accepted, or even sought.

[1] Ken Wilber, The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction (Shambhala: 2018), 68.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (Harper and Row: 1967), 37.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 85–87, 91.

Story from Our Community:
Martin Luther King Jr. answered the call of his heart to speak out against injustice. I am channeling my inner MLK, for I feel we’re being called to be part of a new Reformation. We have the power to choose to stand in the face of injustice. These injustices are exactly what Jesus came to reform. When will we choose to unite and stop thinking the power to change is outside of ourselves? When will we stop seeing ourselves as helpless and subject to the status quo? Together we can be the God/Spirit/Universe’s Light and Love. We are being invited to shine and be the beacon of Light of Living Love in the harbor. — Kelly G.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.