Wisdom of the Heart

Politics: Week 2

Wisdom of the Heart
Thursday, July 19, 2018

The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? —Terry Tempest Williams [1]

My fellow faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault writes that “the heart is first and foremost an organ of spiritual perception. Its primary function is to look beyond the obvious, the boundaried surface of things, and see into a deeper reality.” [2] Within the contemplative heart you are indestructible, even though you feel quite vulnerable and unsure of yourself in many ways. Inside this sacred space you can love and critique America at the same time. You can weep for the bigger evil of which both sides are victims and imagine an alternative universe because you have now been there yourself. [3]

Parker Palmer reflects on the necessity of heart-consciousness within politics:

When all of our talk about politics is either technical or strategic, to say nothing of partisan and polarizing, we loosen or sever the human connections on which empathy, accountability, and democracy itself depend. If we cannot talk about politics in the language of the heart—if we cannot be heartbroken, for example, that the wealthiest nation on earth is unable to summon the political will to end childhood hunger at home—how can we create a politics worthy of the human spirit, one that has a chance to serve the common good? . . .

Here are five interlocking habits of the heart . . . deeply ingrained patterns of receiving, interpreting, and responding to experience that involve our intellects, emotions, self-images, and concepts of meaning and purpose. These five habits, taken together, are crucial to sustaining a democracy.

  • We must understand that we are all in this together. Ecologists, economists, ethicists, philosophers of science, and religious and secular leaders have all given voice to this theme. . . .
  • We must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.”. . . [This] can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger. . . .
  • We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. . . . When we allow [these] tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. . . .
  • We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency. Insight and energy give rise to new life as we speak and act, expressing our version of truth while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. . . .
  • We must strengthen our capacity to create community. . . . The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. [4]

References:
[1] Terry Tempest Williams, “Engagement,” Orion, July-August 2004, http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/143/. See also Williams, The Open Space of Democracy (Wip and Stock: 2004), 83-84.

[2] Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Way of the Heart,” Parabola, January 31, 2017, https://parabola.org/2017/01/31/the-way-of-the-heart-cynthia-bourgeault/.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Voice of the Day: Richard Rohr on Sacred Space,” Sojourners, October 24, 2016, https://sojo.net/articles/voice-day-richard-rohr-sacred-space.

[4] Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy (Jossey-Bass: 2014, ©2011), 6-7, 44-46.

Image credit:
Mexico–United States barrier at the border of Tijuana and San Diego (detail), Tomas Castelazo, 2006. The crosses represent migrants who died in the crossing attempt—some identified, some not. Surveillance tower in the background.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us—our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor, and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy. —Parker Palmer

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