An Inward Revolution

Ghandi

This post was written by I. Malik Saafir with contributions from candi dugas. To check out her commemoration of Juneteenth, click here to visit her blog.

What does it really take to be a sacred activist? It takes unconditional love, which requires an inner freedom, which is a total freedom that more of us ought to nurture. This year’s Juneteenth remembrance inspires me to encourage more of us to create and maintain inner freedom so that we may be more effective in our activism.

In her article that commemorates the two-year delay in our ancestors receiving word of the Emancipation Proclamation, Kelly Brown Douglas reflects on inner freedom. She believes inner freedom allowed our ancestors to endure the brutal realities of physical enslavement. That inner peace was comprised of the psychological and emotional strength to prevent imprisonment of their souls by the dread of chattel slavery and the stifling longing to be physically free.

Today, there is still a delay in our complete freedom from the trappings of white privilege, heterosexism, patriarchy and global capitalism. Essentially we become totally free when we awaken to the entrapments of greed, hostility and delusion that continue to plague Western Christianity and our society at-large. We must awaken to experience total freedom and let go of greed (the identification of our self-worth with our net-worth), hostility (willingness to do harm to those standing in the way of our acquisition of wealth/power) and delusion (our valuing of possessions/property over persons). This kind of awakening, total freedom as letting go, can be transformed into sacred activism:

“[A]n activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness and rooted in divine truth, wisdom, and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions. When, however, the deepest and most grounded spiritual vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic, and social institutions, a holy force – the power of wisdom and love in action – is born. This force I define as Sacred Activism.” – Andrew Harvey 

We have witnessed this holy force through the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi called satyagraha. Gandhi knew that the Indian society could not sustain an outward, just revolution until the individuals within the British Empire experienced an inward revolution. That outward revolution happened when activists let go of their fear of psychological, emotional and physical pain with the willingness to face imprisonment and physical death. Satyagraha teaches sacred activists how to use non-cooperation, civil obedience and fasting to achieve total freedom.

After meeting Gandhi, Howard Thurman (a Christian mystic) re-discovered this holy force in the life of Jesus, viewing Jesus as a Jewish mystic and sacred activist. (Read more below about Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited.) In the gospel of Luke this holy force (spirit) drove Jesus to experience inner freedom in the wilderness and then drove him to fight to free the impoverished, oppressed and marginalized from the bondage of the Greco-Roman Empire.

The inward revolution happens when we become free from our personal greed, hostility and delusion. Yes, social and environmental justice activists are susceptible to internalizing the same privileged trappings that we fight against. Yet we can resist this kind of bondage by nurturing our total freedom, a change which happens and moves from the inside-out. Let’s stop participating in the delay of our own inner freedom to live fully into our vision of a just world.

Thurman Books:

  • Jesus and the Disinherited – “In this classic theological treatise, the acclaimed theologian and religious leader Howard Thurman (1900-1981) demonstrates how the gospel may be read as a manual of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised. Jesus is a partner in the pain of the oppressed and the example of His life offers a solution to ending the descent into moral nihilism. Hatred does not empower–it decays. Only through self-love and love of one another can God’s justice prevail.” (From beacon.org – Click the title to read more.)
  • Strange Freedom: The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life – “A spiritual advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr.; the first black dean at a white university; cofounder of the first interracially pastored, intercultural church in the United States, Howard Thurman offered a transcendent vision of our world. This lyrical collection of select published and unpublished works traces his struggle with the particular manifestations of violence and hatred that mark the twentieth century. His words remind us all that out of religious faith emerges social responsibility and the power to transform lives.” (From beacon.org – Click the title to read more.)

Gandhi Film:

DVD cover for Gandhi Film

Image from collide.com.

“Gandhi is a 1982 epic biographical film which dramatises the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, an Indian lawyer and activist who was a leader of the nation’s non-violent, non-cooperative independence movement against the United Kingdom’s rule of the country during the 20th century…The film covers Gandhi’s life from a defining moment in 1893, as he is thrown off a South African train for being in a whites-only compartment, and concludes with his assassinationand funeral in 1948. Although a practising Hindu, Gandhi’s embracing of other faiths, particularly Christianity and Islam, is also depicted.” –Wikipedia

(c) 2013 I. Malik Saafir