This month, I’m taking an intensive course in “Sacred Activism” at Saint Catherine University as my final required course in the Graduate Certificate Program in Spiritual Direction there.
I was intrigued by the course title, but also because it’s taught by Professor Cynthia Bailey Manns, an African American Catholic laywoman who has been director of the certificate program, is a spiritual director in private practice, and the Director of Adult Learning at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community in Minneapolis—a congregation deeply involved in sacred activism for many years.
As Cynthia Manns writes in the course description, “The liminal space we all inhabit of ‘what was, what is, and what is to be’ creates unlimited opportunities for us to encounter the sacred and participate in the healing of the world. Teacher and mystic Andrew Harvey believes Sacred Activism occurs ‘when you combine deep spirituality, deep understanding and reverence for the sacred in life and the sacred in the creation with urgent, wise, focused action, you birth a holy force that can transform everything.’”
For most of my ministry prior to 2016, I had seen activism as an important, but additional, facet of my ministry—something I felt strongly about but struggled to include as a core part of who I am and what I do. Pastors have lots of irons in the fire, and we often feel a tension between our social justice values and personal spiritual life, on the one hand, and the congregation’s priorities, demands, and preferences of what we should be about in the world.
That all changed for me in 2016, as it did for many of us. I was serving an interim pastorate in a UCC church in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina during one of the most consequential and disheartening presidential election campaigns in U. S. history.
At the same time, I had been discerning how central the contemplative life was to who I am, spiritually and vocationally, and how I could be more open about that in my ministry. During that interim pastorate, I began offering classes in Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina (the ancient practice of praying with scripture), making it central to my identity and ministry.
While in NC, I also met Rev. William Barber, a Disciples of Christ pastor and the founder of the Moral Mondays movement, and I got involved in the sacred activism of the Mountain People’s Sacred Assembly, an outgrowth of Moral Mondays in Western NC. The activism he embraces is straight out of Martin Luther King Jr’s theology, grounded in deep prayer and spiritual discipline, because only with that spiritual foundation can political and social activism be sustained over the long haul.
So, I look forward to sharing what I’m learning with you this month and throughout the summer! Because the class meets Monday and Thursday evenings, 6:00-9:15pm, in addition to my usual Friday Sabbath rest, I will be taking vacation time the first three Mondays in June to do the bulk of each week’s reading and coursework. My wonderful colleague, Katie Johnson, will be available to cover for me on those days.