Beyond right and wrong
There is a field
I will meet you there
When I learned that Bishop Desmond Tutu spent hours praying during the most tense moments of the anti-apartheid movement, I was so confused. Who has time for that much prayer??? In my own social justice work, I’m always busy, and yet nowhere nearly as impactful as Bishop Tutu. What am I doing wrong?
I used to think that contemplative practices such as prayer, journaling, and meditative walks were for people who would prefer to hide in a warm and fuzzy relationship with God than to roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work of justice.
At the same time, I was running around all over the place like Taz from Looney Toons. I blew through places, ending my days still looking for the next thing to do.
Eventually, I burnt out. It was my first year in Washington, DC and I was working as a job counselor for the un/under employed. I listened to story after story of heartbreak, and my perfectionism was no match for structural unemployment.
After months of running myself ragged, my body intervened with illness and I couldn’t eat solid food for three months. During that time, I was presented with an opportunity to participate in a centering prayer class. Desperate to escape the pressure of my work, I said yes.
In centering prayer, I realized that social justice action is bound to my relationship with myself. How can I ask nations to lay down their weapons if refuse to lay down my cruel self talk? How can I ask the world to see the belovedness of every human, if I cannot acknowledge my own belovedness? How can I ask the world to do the work I am unwilling to do for myself?
In contemplative practice, I saw how Bishop Desmund Tutu did the work in himself that he asked of his community. Through my own contemplative prayer and journaling, I continue to glimpse the field beyond right and wrong, where there is healing for every wound, space for everyone’s story, and a massive table to which all are invited.