A recent essay by Christian scholar and Professor of Divinity Christena Cleveland raised the question whether reflecting on institutional racism, environmental racism, and the like could be a form of spiritual practice.

Combining Mindfulness and Social Justice

Turning our attention toward systemic pain is not something we typically associate with spiritual nourishment and liberation, but what if it is? What if we can’t truly experience the hope of the Divine until we are able to experience the Divine in the most hopeless situations?

To read the full essay, “So Much of the Privileged Life is About Transcendence,” click HERE

Her provocative essay resonated with what I and others— people like law professor Jon Powell — have been exploring and expounding for years.  In my legal essay, Racial Suffering as Human Suffering, I discuss why this is necessarily so:

The issue at the heart of the struggle against racism manifests itself not merely in material or substantive ways but also as a crisis at a pyscho-spiritual level calling for a transformation of the consciousness of all humankind.

Professor Cleveland’s essay, then, joins, in spirit, what many scholars have suggested over the years.  And it echoes what new religious scholars like Seth Shoen and John Freese have been sharing of late as well. Check out Rhonda’s article on the subject: Racial Suffering as Human Suffering

Neither freedom is not a state that we reach — if we reach them at all — fully and finally.

We do not arrive at freedom and find that we are done, once and for all.

Freedom is a state, an experience, that may arise, if we are fortunate, in our lifetimes.  And if it is like other experiences, we can trust that the sense of freedom that we enjoy at any given moment will, for most if not all of us, fall away.

If we are lucky, it will arise again.

And if and when it does, it is as a result of some action in the world, something we or others do or have done, to create a world in which the experience of freedom is possible. It is from a combination of mindfulness and social justice and it results from the intersection of what we might call “social practice” with personal awareness practices.

Mindfulness practices that raise our awareness of racism and other forms of injustice in our midst are actions through which social justice practices may arise.  They are practices which break our hearts open to the suffering of others, and helps us find ways of living more richly in loving community — in what Martin Luther King called “Beloved Community” — with all others.

So yes: the work of turning toward and reflecting together on systemic racism, environmental racism, homophobia and the like is not merely supported by spiritual practice.  In my view, it is spiritual practice.

Turning toward the difficult is the practice of love, of compassion, of freedom.

May we commit to engaging in such practices together, forevermore.