I love the moniker “ordinary mystic.” It resonates with me.
In contrast, the word “mystic,” standing alone, tends to generate the names of the great wisdom teachers – extraordinary, not ordinary, individuals. Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, and Thomas Merton, for example.
All of these teachers would embrace the conclusion that everyone is, or has the capability of being, a mystic, of having an experiential communion at some level with the Divine. So, “ordinary mystic” creates for me a grounding, one that connects me with an inordinate number of folks who see themselves linked to each other and to the Divine in a commonplace and commonly available way – a way that brings us all into the Mystery of Creation that is extraordinarily ordinary.
And it was, in fact, a small group of ordinary mystics that last year came together connected by a restlessness and frustration over the direction of our nation that prompted us to ask what we could do, as those seeking to live the truth of compassionate engagement in this world, about the fascism and tribalism that was not only gripping our country but was being promoted at the very highest levels of our government.
One of our group recalled the actions of several Christian church leaders in Germany who, seeing the rise of Nazism and the German church’s not mere complacency toward it but embrace of it, issued the Barmen Declaration. Others recalled the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a martyr whose condemnation of the Nazi movement cost him his life:
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
The recollection of these actions, along with our fair share of individual and collective contemplative thought and meditation, led us to speak. We chose to speak through a new declaration of conscience, Barmen Today: A Contemporary Contemplative Declaration.
“Precisely because we want to remain faithful to both the Divine which we seek to understand and the Love which we seek to live,” we chose to not be silent in the face of evil.
Barmen Today states:
History is filled with moments which demand words and actions to define fundamental values and commitments. Such moments require not only humble introspection consistent with contemplative practice but also the concurrent courage to speak prophetically … In 1934 in Germany, at a time when humanity faced the threats of the tyrannical and evil power of Nazism, when the state church of Germany affirmed the actions and leadership of its nation to ensure its place of privilege in society, not all voices of opposition remained silent. Those signing the Barmen Declaration spoke out as an act of “divine obedience” in resistance to the church’s unconscionable moral compromise.
In the words of Barmen Today, we now face “policies and actions irreconcilable with the pursuit of peace and justice. Many of these policies and actions demean people of color, support hate-filled speech from white supremacists, ostracize gender minorities, demonize refugees and immigrants, and ignore climate change realities.” And as our leaders promote these policies, they “falsely cloak nationalism, fascism, and racism in words of universal beliefs and values, distorting and undermining the very bases of many faiths.”
Barmen Today seeks to bear witness as an act of divine obedience to resist and reject those policies and actions which marginalize any human being, threaten the stewardship of creation, or embrace evil rather than good and hate rather than love.Barmen Today also seeks to bear witness as an act of divine obedience to embrace love and compassion, healing of division, promotion and protection of human dignity, stewardship of creation, and the inherent Divinity existing within all of us and all of creation.
Our group of ordinary mystics – the Barmen Today Circle – were quite unsure of how to move this new declaration of conscience forward into the public space. Following the wisdom of one of the Circle, we chose to “let it flow in the river of the Spirit” by simply sharing it: online, with prayer groups, at conferences, among friends … and asking people to “read it, sign it, and share it.”
Letting Barmen Today flow in the river of the Spirit has led to more than 21,000 people signing it over the course of but a single year, including faith leaders such as Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, Brian McLaren, and Jim Finley. Twenty-one thousand! Never did we anticipate such a result.
As one of the ordinary mystics of the Barmen Today Circle, I have read and re-read Barmen Today over and over and over. I put it away for a while and then read it, again. When I do, I know that its words come from places far deeper than the rational minds of its authors. Barmen Today is not perfect. It is not wholly right. But it arises from that place in all of us where the Divine resides, from that place which we long to find but which we never lost.
It is our hope that Barmen Today reaches your secret place, moving you to reject and resist the words, policies, and actions of exclusion, denigration, hatred, fascism, and nationalism. It is our hope that you, as one more ordinary mystic among thousands, will read it, sign it, and share it.
Barmen Today concludes with these lines:
We invite all who are able to support Barmen Today: A Contemporary Contemplative Declaration, to hold it in a circle of unity of faith, hope, and love, and to stand steadfast in non-violently rejecting and resisting until our nation chooses to serve all people and all of creation with the Divine love to which all are entitled.
Nothing has ever been more imperative.
Roy A. Hoagland is one of a group of students and graduates of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School that came together as the Barmen Today Circle. The others are Leslye Colvin, Enrique Otero, Scott McClelland, David Morris, Susan Rau Stocker, and Amari Verastegui. Roy has spent his career as an advocate for environmental protection and restoration with a focus on water quality and the Chesapeake Bay. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear Roy talk about Barmen Today in this Contemplative Light Podcast Interview.