This is Part 4 of our interview with Chris Heuertz (his Facebook and Twitter) on his new, vulnerable book, Unexpected Gifts. In case you missed them, check out Part 1 (my overview of the book), Part 2 (the beginning lessons of living with Mother Teresa) and Part 3 (on working with mutilated childhood soldiers in the Sierra Leone civil war).
Andrew: Chris, you write about the need for contemplative spirituality as a key to sustaining the strength to do good. What is contemplative spirituality, and how does it help in sustaining a weary soul?
Chris: “One of the primary mistakes we made over the past 20 years of forming, building and nurturing community was that our community would be what allowed our vocations of hope to be sustainable.
It turns out that community, because of natural and necessary transitions among other things, sometimes required more work to be sustained that our vocations. We finally learned that community doesn’t always sustain vocations but is a great incubator for these kinds of vocations. What we learned through mentors like Father Thomas Keating, Father Richard Rohr and others was that it was cultivating a contemplative spirituality that would ultimately sustain us in our struggles for hope, peace and justice.
Contemplative spirituality is marked by commitments to solitude, silence and stillness. And though many of us think these things are great disciplines, the truth is that they are under-practiced, intimidating and often seem to require more from us than we’re willing to give.
This is important to name because though there’s much good being done in the world and there’s much more that needs to be done, but it will take awakened individuals to make change. It will take transformed communities to forge lasting partnerships towards hope. It will take a movement.
And so, last fall, my wife Phileena and I launched Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism to support such a movement.
We hope to be part of what is an inevitable contemplative renewal within Christian spirituality that affirms our need to cultivate a spirituality of consent to the action of God in our lives and through our lives.”
Andrew: What led you and your wife to start over in a new place and found The Gravity Center?
Chris: “For 20 years my wife and I have given ourselves to grassroots movements of hope among some of the most vulnerable of the world’s poorest people. We’ve helped establish multi-ethnic, multi-national and ecumenical communities all across the globe.
In South Asia we founded the region’s first pediatric AIDS care home, offering safe haven and family to children orphaned because of AIDS or suffering with the disease themselves.
During West Africa’s infamous “Blood Diamonds” civil war, while rebels controlled 60% of the territory in conflict, we brought vision, volunteers and resources—ultimately establishing a community to address the needs of children who were forced to fight in battle.
Throughout Eastern Europe, South America and South East Asia we’ve supported women and children—many of them trafficked into prostitution— journey from the commercial sex industry to freedom.
Around the world we have invested in communities of youth who live on the streets, in sewers or slums. Some of these children work on trash heaps scavenging for recyclable or resell-able items. Many are so hungry they “smoke” cellophane bags of paint or glue to curb the hunger pangs. In the worst cases some are forced to sell sex as their only option for survival.
Our vocation of hope has literally taken us all over the world, having lived on four continents and traveled to nearly 70 countries.
We’ve seen a lot. We’ve sacrificed a lot. We’ve received a lot. We’ve learned a lot.
There’s much good being done in the world and there’s much more that needs to be done, but it will take awakened individuals to make change. It will take transformed communities to forge lasting partnerships towards hope. It will take a movement.
Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism is established to support such a movement.
Though activists and social justice workers live faithfully into compelling vocations of compassion, they are sometimes the grumpiest, crustiest and meanest people out there—often down right unpleasant folks to be around.
Many who fight to alleviate poverty are unhappy. Loneliness and sadness are familiar companions in their work for hope.
Sometimes the stereotypical “dirty hippie” social justice advocate offers an uninviting example of how to serve beautifully for the common good.
Many practitioners involved in causes, charities or communities of hope often do a much better job of taking care of those they serve than they do taking care of themselves.
Sadly, many social justice activists are unhealthy—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Of course this is understandable given that most folks involved in grassroots work in places of poverty experience versions of secondary post-traumatic stress disorders. What they see, the work they do, and the solidarity of suffering with their exploited friends ultimately takes a toll on their personal health.
It is the luxury of the non-poor to be able to make healthy choices and options for themselves, but in many cases this comes with a price—feelings of guilt or undue self-critiques of entitlement.
Often those engaged in the difficult work of justice perpetually teeter on the edge of burnout. Countless young people sign-up for volunteer opportunities, internships and even careers of service and while some find ways to sustain and thrive in these callings most are not as fortunate.
It’s not uncommon for activists to leave vocations of service disillusioned. Some even walk away from their faith.
Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism, is a grounding place for people to root their social engagement in a deep, contemplative spirituality in order to do good better.
Gravity doesn’t exist simply for social justice activists, but for anyone and everyone who wants to make the world a better place. This is tough work and everyone involved needs to be grounded in the effort to bring love, hope and peace to the world.
We can live better.
We can love better.
We can serve better.
…we can do good better.
Through Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism we will support those who want to do good better.”
You can check out Gravity on Facebook and Twitter. Also, some of our staff at The Marin Foundation already attended one of Gravity’s contemplative retreats. A post about that experience will be up next week.