Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Spirituality and action

Although I may have profound disagreements with Fr Berrigan with regard to doctrine, I cannot help but agree with the sentiments expressed in this article.  I certainly admire his lifetime and principled opposition to capitalism and war and his focus on the social message of Jesus' ministry - to which I can find no objection.

What particularly struck me was this paragraph:

Some people today argue that equanimity achieved through inner spiritual work is a necessary condition for sustaining one’s ethical and political commitments. But to the prophets of the Bible, this would have been an absolutely foreign language and a foreign view of the human. The notion that one has to achieve peace of mind before stretching out one’s hand to one’s neighbor is a distortion of our human experience, and ultimately a dodge of our responsibility. Life is a rollercoaster, and one had better buckle one’s belt and take the trip. This focus on equanimity is actually a narrow-minded, selfish approach to reality dressed up within the language of spirituality.
I have on many occasions found myself prone to the belief that I need to set my own spiritual house in order before committing to political action.  There is some justification for this.  I was fairly active in my youth but found that within the radical left there was a tendency to reproduce the old power dynamics of the the system we were ostensibly trying to change.  It was difficult at times to determine whether the principal motive was to improve conditions or to simply become the "man at the top".  It seemed that ideological purity was often more important than actually helping people.  This scene in "The Life of Brian" is painfully accurate on this count:

The left became, or appeared to become, so fractured that it ceased to have any real credibility and was totally unable to present any coherent narrative to counteract that of Thatcher and Reagan when they launched the disastrous experiment whose inevitable result we are seeing today.

The rise of feminism, however, has led to the emergence of a new way of seeing things.  As the political became personal and the personal became political it became clear that hierarchical/patriarchal thinking was ingrained within each individual and that this had to be addressed.  Consciousness had to be raised so that the old scripts could be recognised  when they threatened to dictate actions.  The scripts, however, live within our deep memory and act in very subtle ways so that it becomes very difficult at times to see that they are present.

This does not mean, however, that we can defer action until we are clear of them.  This is something of which I now realise that I have been guilty.  I am now 65 and am no nearer enlightenment than I was when I was 20.  In fact, in many ways I am further off.  I am, however, a little more self-aware.  I know that my emotions are rooted in my own narrative and that of the society from which I sprung and in which I live.  I cannot escape this no matter how much I may try to do so.

In the meantime, things have gone from bad to worse politically and economically.  The very fact that I can spend time writing, reading and thinking is due solely to my dumb luck to have been born into a very small portion of the human race.  Although I may be considerably poorer than most of my compatriots I am vastly richer than many if not most who live outside the Western bubble economy.  I am among the privileged and tend often to forget that inconvenient fact.  The time that I have spent seeking self-awareness is a luxury unavailable to many whose daily task is to survive.

This is the reality that Berrigan's words have brought home to me today.  I now feel an urgency to get involved in something that I have not felt for some time. I am an anarcho- socialist by conviction and have ever been so.  I am also a follower of Goddess and see no conflict between the two.  Each feeds and feeds on the other.  What I now need to do is put my beliefs into action and do so with both aspects of my belief acting together in concert. It is vital that self-awareness and social action must in some way become partners.

The question that remains is how.  But to find out, I must go out of my door.  And that is scarey.


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