After twenty years of working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of mega cities, Phileena Heuertz has learned the importance of contemplation in a world of action. Together with her husband, Chris Heuertz, she has launched Gravity: A Center for Contemplative Activism. It was a joy to have Phileena and Chris partner with School for Conversion for our 21st Century Freedom Ride.
By Phileena Heuertz
“I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.”
Our 21st Century Freedom Ride has come to an end, but the ride for freedom will never end until all are free.
During the five nights and four days of this Freedom Ride, I have been gifted with the unlikely friendship of former convicts, undocumentable youth and wise old peace activists. I have soaked in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. Their witness, courage and presence embolden me to not give up in the struggle for personal and collective freedom.
In terms of the historical civil rights movement, Martin and Malcolm’s messages were both critical to the progress of not only African Americans, but American society as a whole. Furthermore, their differing messages about how to obtain freedom speak in some ways to my personal experience as a woman. Malcolm X’s message of self-assertion by illuminating and standing up to the violence of the white oppressor played an important role in lifting the African American psyche from a place of subjugation to equality. That same message speaks to the minds of many women and all who experience personal, social, political and religious subjugation.
Malcolm’s message of calling out the violence of the white oppressor and the power and control of that violence over the African American was critical to the path of self-awareness. Self-awareness is the beginning of liberation. One who is subjugated to powerlessness does not rise to the way of Martin’s non-violent resistance for change until one has the experience of self-actualized development. You cannot lay down your life for another until you possess a self to lay down. Once self-actualization is achieved, the so-called “powerless” can proclaim with self-confidence and freedom, “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own choosing for our shared liberation.” Thus real societal change can occur.
Dismantling paradigms that keep people oppressed is a necessary violence—a deconstruction for both the oppressor and the oppressed. But rather than inflicting physical violence on the oppressor, the “violence of love” can force a psychological reconstruction that affirms the true identity of persons as beloved. This kind of revolution bears fruit in society as demonstrated in the witness of Martin’s message on the streets and the peaceful resistance of the original freedom rides.
The long road to freedom begins with me—hearing the Voice calling me “Beloved” and then calling me to the wilderness. My inner wilderness is home to the shadows of over-identification with power, prestige & possessions; and it is here that the first battles must be fought. The inner journey intertwines with people and causes along the way. With every step inside and outside of myself, I am invited to awaken a little more and dream a little bigger. With my eyes fixed on the dream of a new America—where all have the right to liberty and justice—the way becomes clearer and the heart a little freer.
Our collective work for social, political, economic, ecological and spiritual freedom takes us outward into various modes of activism. Those experiences have the power to change us and change the world. But social transformation is only as effective as we are committed to personal transformation.
Bringing together social engagement with inner transformation is the call of contemplative activism. This demands a commitment to spiritual practices that trigger self-awareness and teach us how to consent to the Spirit who is at work in us and in the world—always working for the full restoration of every living being and system.
Yes, the road to freedom is long and difficult, but it is precisely journeying this road that makes us human. So let us renew our commitment to this pilgrimage which resurrects us with each step—a continual experience of birthing, dying and being reborn.
Together we can be the dream we imagine.
My deepest thanks to Jonathan and Leah Wilson-Hartgrove, Dr. Vincent Harding, Jim & Shelly Douglass and the communion of saints who we follow on Freedom Road.