Writer and educator Cole Arthur Riley describes contemplation’s integral connection to action that supports justice:
Activism is the body of justice. It invites you into embodied declarations of dignity and worth. As you participate in its body, you find yourself increasingly grounded in your own.
I think activism is a virtue. To be a person who cares and honors creation is to be a person who acts in favor of its flourishing. I am distrustful of spiritual people who are not roused in their bodies on behalf of justice. We can disagree on what activism should look like, but not on the necessity of its existence or your participation in it. . . .
A mentor and friend once said to me, If there is someone who is both activist and contemplative and who does both well, I have not yet met them. I silently accepted the challenge. He was articulating a very credible tension between the heart of the contemplative and the heart of the activist. At first strike, they appear inherently in conflict. The contemplative, some pillar of stillness, tasked with thinking and asking enduring questions that require a kind of slowness and pause. The activist, a beacon for the movement, committed to the doing of justice and mercy—not later but now, which does, as the name suggests, require action.
But what if what we take as stillness is not always inactivity as we perceive it? Can there be a form of contemplation that is at once stillness and movement? Some might say the beginnings of Christian monasticism were, in part, a defiant protest against the elitism and centering of the upper class in the faith. And today, activism tells the truth about what is and imagines what should be. This imagination for justice requires contemplation.
While committed to activism, it took Riley time to discern her true calling as a writer in the service of justice:
For quite some time, the only portraits of activism I had were Dr. King and Malcolm X. Marches, rallies, sit-ins—holy embodiments that should be respected deeply, for they protect and guide us today. But the first time I picked up James Baldwin, I finally saw myself. It occurred to me that I could be an activist from my own source of power—words.
It can only make our journey toward justice more robust, more beautiful, when we offer a diversity of paths, a more expansive vision of action. This is not new. This is Detour and Hiero Veiga’s graffiti art resurrecting Black faces slain by the police. This is Tricia Hersey and The Nap Ministry creating collective sleeping experiences to reclaim the justice and liberation in rest. . . . If writing is a calling, I have a responsibility to demand justice in my writing as much as in the streets. When we expand our imaginations for activism, we enter into practices of lament and rage with more particularity, and we begin to realize more nuanced paths to justice.
Cole Arthur Riley, This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us (New York: Convergent, 2022), 125–127.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Barbara Holmes on Fannie Lou Hamer as a contemplative activist.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham, used with permission. McKenna Phillips, Free Hands (detail), 2018, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Albuquerque, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: What is next? We may want to know, right now. We may want this suspended droplet of water to drop, right now, but it will take its own time. It is beyond our control. We are invited to trust the suspension of liminal moments.
Story from Our Community:
I know I exist to love everyone I encounter actively and without judgment. Fr. Richard’s call to universal love has sparked in me a journey of anti-racism and a need to work each day to create a beloved community for all beings. —Joseph R.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.