It’s late on a Wednesday evening, and I am on the train from Montreal to Toronto and thinking about spirituality.
I do not often form my thoughts this way. I am not a theologian: I’m a writer who tries to tell other people’s stories. But I am heading home from a day largely spent with friends that I have known and worked with for most of the past decade or longer. There was a sort of eagerness to step away from our usual concerns and to hear from each other in a deeper way.
That was hard to do in a meeting where we were supposed to talk about programs and resolutions, but we were all inspired by the witness of people in the Occupy movement, the indignados in Spain, the student protests in Chile and Colombia, and the Arab spring uprisings. After 30 years of neo-liberal economics—and governments that are cowed by corporations and banks and talk radio into re-making the rules to give advantages to the rich ahead of the interests of the poor and the middle classes—people are saying: Enough. ¡Basta ya!
In my own life, I work alongside survivors of earthquakes, hurricanes, and economic collapses. I know quite well what science says about climate change. I am exposed too often to the violence that is tied to the so-called “War on Drugs” in Mexico, Central America, Colombia and the Caribbean.
“Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realise what that means.” – Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
It would be easy to feel despair. But I don’t, and its not because I am heartless. I lived most of 2010 in a kind of emotional fog brought on by the Haitian earthquake, but I seemed to find the care of friends and family around me and sources within me and the blessing of time to balance work with doing other things so as to be able to heal and press on.
I want to say something about spirituality before I write about that war-on-drugs violence in this space over the next few weeks.
So tonight on the train I am thinking of people, some well-known and others whose names I never knew (and many more than the few who are mentioned here), who taught me the few things I know about “spirituality for social justice” (a phrase that gets 6 million hits in Google) and about how to stay engaged for the long haul.
At the Ecumenical Global Gathering of Youth and Students in Brazil in 1993, the Korean theologian Chung Hyun Kyung said: “Spirituality is not what we think, but how we walk the way. “
Also in Brazil but a few years earlier, a Brazilian friend said: “We will continue to strive for transformation of Brazil with full awareness of the ground beneath our feet.” I think of him when I write about how social movements are transforming Latin American politics.
In 1983, when I was still in a bit of a muddle in the wake of my encounters with Haitian sugar cane-cutters in the Dominican Republic, a friend in British Colombia helped me to name the hope that I had found in all the community groups that were working to make things better.
Fr. Pablo Richard, a Chilean priest who works in San José de Costa Rica, has said that a “spirituality of liberation is not in confrontation with atheism, but fundamentally with idolatry.” He points out that idolatry of the invisible-hand market (which must always be satisfied lest our currency or interest rates rise) is a “profound perversion of the way of God when it permits the destruction of human life and nature.”
Finally, the ways that the people of El Salvador celebrate the life and witness of Archbishop Oscar Romero always move me forward. The annual marches (in which I have participated twice) from the hospital chapel where he was shot to the cathedral crypt where he is buried take on a festive air.
In remembering Oscar Romero, we celebrate the example of a great man who might have remained coolly aloof from the problems of the world. With Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, as his model, Romero heard the cry of the poor, took the side of the poor, and spoke in places where they are not allowed to speak.
During the weeks before he was killed in 1980, Archbishop Romero said, “If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.” He is risen indeed! He called out, and more than 30 years later, people still respond to his voice.
For us to uncover hope, how can we not be daring in our witness and action for life and for justice?
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