As America marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and the historic speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., we take a moment to celebrate that spirit of sacred activism arising in the youth of today with an excerpt from Matthew Fox’s and Adam Bucko’s upcoming book:
An excerpt from the Introduction of Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation
by Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2013. Reprinted by permission of publisher.
Dr. Howard Thurman, the African American mystic and prophet who was in many ways the spiritual director behind the civil rights movement, was present at the March on Washington in 1963 that included Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. He leaves us with this—at first glance—surprising observation:
The thing that made the deepest impression on me at the ceremonies at the base of the Lincoln Monument . . . was not the vast throng, as thrilling at it was to be a part of such a tremendous movement of peoples on the march; it was not the inspired oratory of all the participating speakers, including the dazzling magic of the music and utter vitality springing from the throat of Martin Luther King; it was not the repeated refrain of Eugene Blake, saying on behalf of the church, we are late but we are here—no, it was none of these things. What impressed me most was a small group of young people representing student nonviolent groups, fresh from the jails and violences of the South, who time and time again caught the spiritual overtones of the speakers and led the critical applause which moved like a tidal wave over the vast audience. I do not know but this observation may be an embarrassment to them, but this is how it seemed to me. These young people were tuned to the spiritual dimension of what they were about even as what they were about was the exercising of their civil rights inherent in their citizenship.
This profound and holy man, Howard Thurman, who traveled to India with his wife in 1935 and met Gandhi and brought his nonviolent techniques for social change back to the black community in America, and whose book Jesus and the Disinherited was such a gospel to Dr. King that he took it with him each of the thirty-nine times he went to jail while protesting social segregation in America, does not remember King’s great oratory or even the hundreds of thousands who marched for freedom and justice so much as he remembers the young. Those who had the courage to themselves go to jail and take on an evil system replete with numerous “violences” and who “exercised their civil rights inherent in their citizenship.” And why did they make so profound an impact on Thurman’s awareness? Because they were leaders in catching “the spiritual overtones” of the historic moment. And because of their courage.
It is this same spirit of admiration for today’s youth that motivates the book you hold in your hands. We believe that today’s younger generation, who started a global movement by camping out on Wall Street and its equivalents around the world and who are often choosing a road less traveled rather than joining the military-industrial-academic-prison complex—these people are prophets in our midst. They are putting human and ecological values ahead of rapacity and greed. They are leading often with silent witness and appeals to moral imagination rather than reptilian brain confrontation or anal-retentive political wish lists. They are angry, but they are committed to an alternative set of values that will put community ahead of survival of the few and the fittest. They are not only exercising their civil rights inherent in their citizenship, they are attuned to the spiritual overtones of our times.
We also feel these young people have a message for the rest of us, all of us, whether we be of the age of elders or mentors, grandparents or parents. That is a second reason for this book—to give the young a voice, to let their values sound more deeply into our collective economic, political, educational, and religious consciousness. As anyone not married to denial can see, these systems are in crisis the world over. Our species needs to wake up fast, to stand up strong, and to deepen its value commitments, as time is rapidly running out on this planet. We salute and honor this Occupy generation—those involved and those not yet involved—and we hope and pray that they will be joined by other generations, and that all will work together to reinvent the way our species lives and carries on its business on this special planet of ours. We hope this book speaks both to the younger generation and to their parents and elders.
Ultimately, this book is about spirituality—a Radical Spirituality for a Radical Generation already known for its courage. Since everything humans engage in and give birth to carries a shadow with it, so this movement too needs a mature and examined spirituality that can support its success and reinforce its authenticity and that can assist it to incarnate its truth with both honesty and effectiveness—in this way we hope to provide some language that allows it to dialogue with other generations and multiple spiritual traditions even while it takes seriously the call to birthing new forms and new expressions of spirituality.
Given today’s crises the world over, we can no longer afford to hide our contemplatives in comfortable monasteries. We need to reunite contemplation and action, we need spiritual activists and, indeed, spiritual warriors on the streets and in all our professions and institutions, who can reinvent them with ecological values and the values of social justice that assure our sustainability as a species, as well as the whealth and beauty of this planet.
We feel it is important to underscore that the Occupy generation—what defines it, and what kinds of dreams it cherishes and gives birth to—does not depend on the success of Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring. Its vision is more long-term than that. Revolutions will come and go. Movements will change names and forms. But what is emerging in people’s hearts will continue. Most likely it will continue quietly, in small communities, among friends, mostly unacknowledged by the dominant media. It will continue quietly creating a counterpoint to all the institutions and power structures, eventually moving the center of life from values that no longer serve life to relationships that nourish and celebrate life.