As we observe the fiftieth anniversary (on August 28th) of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King’s transcendent “I Have a Dream” speech, I am reminded of the quiet power and effectiveness of nonviolent collaborative community effort directed towards achieving common goals.
Nonviolent action achieves its objectives without using violence, but rather through symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political noncooperation, and other means. The modern form of non-violent resistance was most notably practiced by Mahatma Gandhi, and subsequently followed by Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. Importantly, nonviolent resistance differs from pacifism in that is calls for action.
One of the most effective campaigns of nonviolent civil resistance in U.S. history was the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins. Current Congressman John Lewis was then a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and spoke at the March on Washington at the age of 23. His story gives a good account of just how much careful intention and collaboration and discipline went into the practice of nonviolent action. And an easy read in his new graphic book (yes, a comic book!) entitled March: Book One.
I can’t help but see the American civil rights movement, in particular its conscious strategy of nonviolent action, as an example of incarnational spirituality at work.
What is “incarnational spirituality” you ask?
“Incarnational Spirituality” is a phrase coined by writer and teacher David Spangler, and he defines it most simply as the exploration and celebration of the individual and his or her unique spiritual and creative capacities. The practice of Incarnational Spirituality is one of honoring the sacredness and sovereignty of each of us and practicing our powers of blessing, manifestation, collaboration, and loving engagement with life.
Incarnational Spirituality is not a religious practice, but an understanding of how we connect to this world and how we may grow and develop and shape ourselves and our world by our intention, presence, participation and service.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s model of nonviolent protest is a beautiful example incarnational spirituality: individuals responded to their own inner calls to action, combined forces to generate change, bravely, patiently, collectively, lovingly, and in service to the future.
I think of each of us as having a passive and an active component: the potentiality and its implementation. We arrive as the incarnation of a complex soul, with great capacity and possibility—a good blueprint, to be sure. But action is required to move towards wholeness, both for ourselves and for the world we live in.
As we each move through this life, there comes a time we must ask: What do I bring? What action am I called to take? What are my rules of engagement? Who may I collaborate with? Who and where is my community?
The possibilities for contribution, sharing, engagement—your action—are unlimited. It depends on you. Your mark need not be made in civil or social causes; it could be made in parenting or gardening or cooking or inventing or educating or healing and myriad other ways to express yourself as only you can do. Because you are one of a kind.
So how are you going to use your incarnational opportunity?
Or, as Mary Oliver writes:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
For more about Incarnational Spirituality, go to www.Lorian.org.
The following books are recommended:
Apprenticed to Spirit, The Call of the World, and An Introduction to Incarnational Spirituality, all by David Spangler.
The Gathering Light, by Jeremy Berg.
For more about nonviolent protest see http://www.nonviolent-conflict.org.