Interview with Chris Saade
Interviewer: John Amen
Transcriber: Sandra Soli
Author photo: Courtesy of Ginger Wagoner; Photosynthesis, Inc.
Chris Saade experienced firsthand the devastation of the Lebanese war, where he was involved in peace work for over a decade. His peace-building led him to develop a great respect for diversity, a passion for justice, and to subsequently direct three non-profit organizations. He teaches courses on the spirituality of the heart, authenticity, justice, and inclusion. A former therapist, he now offers personal spiritual and psychological coaching and has led more than two hundred psychological and spiritual retreats. He is the co-director of The Olive Branch Center with his wife, Jessie Thompson (www.theolivebranchcenter.net). He is the author of Second Wave Spirituality: Passion for Peace, Passion for Justice; Prayers of Peace and Justice; and co-creator with Andrew Harvey of An Evolutionary Vision of Relationships: the Spirituality of Romantic Love. He resides in San Diego.
JA: Let me say first how much I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy reading this book. It’s inspiring: Second Wave Spirituality. Let me start by asking you, for people who might not be familiar with second wave spirituality, can you tell us a little about it? What are you referring to? Maybe you could mention how it differs from what you call “first wave spirituality.”
CS: Sure. First of all, John, it is really a pleasure to be with you, and thank you so much for doing this interview. “Second Wave spirituality” is the term I coined, a phenomenon that I’ve been studying for about the last fifteen years. We have seen the development of a new consciousness of spirituality, really—one that is socially engaged, one that is earth-bound, one that is justice-oriented. I have seen that this phenomenon is developing all over the world, and in every religion, and even in philosophical humanism in France and other parts of Europe. We see a very large number of people who are saying this is the time to get engaged, this is the time to make a difference in the world. Of course, this phenomenon has happened all through history, people who care about the world, about animals, about politics, and about justice.
However, I do not believe we have ever seen it on such a global level. We are talking about millions of people putting their hands to the plow and wanting to make a difference in the world—in political structures, economic structures, educational systems, and so forth. The sheer amount of the people involved is staggering. The other thing that I have been following is how so many spiritual teachers and thinkers are talking about the connection between spirituality, or faith, and activism. A lot of these teachers, when you look at their earlier books, perhaps twenty years ago, were not addressing that as they are now. This movement seems to be spreading, and we are hearing many more people talk about the role of activism, from a spiritual perspective, or heart perspective. Andrew Harvey has been going all over the world talking about sacred activism and making a huge impact. There are others, such as Matthew Fox and Marianne Williamson—we are hearing some powerful voices calling us to love-in-action.
Now, the difference between this movement and first wave spirituality: first wave spirituality was developed basically in the 1970s and through the 1980s; it was a moment in our history of faith where we came to say, “Look, God is within us.” Our image of God changed from a judging, harsh, shaming God, so to speak, to a God who is loving and accepting. We came to realize that we have to find the divine within us, however we name or label the divine. We have to accept that all paths lead to enlightenment. We moved away from the dogmatism of “This is my truth, and you are wrong.” We started to realize that Buddhism can take us where we need to go, as can Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other traditions.
However, the problem with first wave spirituality is that it stayed within the individual and was about the individual. It did not develop a planetary vision and a global vision. It stayed within the duality that we inherited from traditional religion, where salvation is really a personal issue, which is the case not with all religion, but with some. With first wave spirituality, what happened was that it liberated a great many of us, but it kept us imprisoned in the shadow of our own selves and did not make the connection between us and the world, between us and the earth, us and the struggle for human rights, for the ending of poverty, for democracy, and so forth.
So, second wave spirituality, the huge phenomenon that has been happening in the last fifteen years, since 9/11, has helped spur it along. The sad tragedy of 9/11 has been taking us to the connectivity vision and connecting the inner world and outer world in a very intimate and solid way.
JA: There are two things that have occurred to me. One, I think probably just the urgency that we are facing has prompted us to some degree.
JA: Just the fact that we’ve really got to get on the ball, here. That shook people. People have been awakened to the reality that something must shift. We’re the ones that can make the shift. The other thing that occurred to me, as I read the book—it was so interesting, because on one hand there are complex ideas here, theory, ideas that are very well thought out. On the other hand, there’s something very natural about what is being suggested here, particularly as a person—or a culture, maybe—becomes less self-absorbed, it is quite natural for a certain generosity to be extended to the world around you.
JA: I kept thinking to myself this feels so natural, very congruent with how things progress in the natural world. Maybe, to some degree, in first wave spirituality we were not prompted to resolve ourselves to any degree. That turned into a kind of narcissism which prevented us from the natural caring and expression for other people, for the world.
CS: Yes. John, I love your use of the word “natural” and the way you highlighted it, because it’s so true. First of all, it is unnatural for us as human beings to be disconnected from one another and the world. It is in our DNA to be caring human beings. We are made to connect with the earth, with our community, with broader communities, with the world. This is how we were designed. That’s the loving, caring part of us. To split us from that, to say, “Okay, you are going on a spiritual journey, but it has nothing to do with human rights, or with immigration, or what’s happening in your world,” there is something very unnatural about that.
The second thing about your using that word “natural,” which I believe is so much the foundation of what’s happening now in second wave spirituality—it’s very natural, when a house is on fire, for people in that house to say “We’ve got to get out. We have to do something.” It’s a natural response. Today we can say, our world is on fire.
CS: There is a natural response happening in most religions, and especially in our spiritual movements. We cannot be disassociated any more from the state of the world. Our democracies are under siege; we don’t know if our democracies will survive or not, and that’s a very important thing. The ecological problem is becoming a cataclysm and is a huge threat, mainly to the poor, but it’s a threat to everybody, really.
And then the divide between the poor and the mega-rich is something we have never known historically, at least to this degree. Overpopulation is becoming insane. We are projecting to double our numbers very soon, and so on, and that’s mainly people who do not have resources, people who struggle. Our children will be suffering. A lot of wars will result. We are coming to a point where the policies that we have been following are leading us to a dangerous dead end. And we see that reflected in the movies. There are so many movies that are oriented towards the apocalyptic; we see the collective imagination bursting with fear; it’s at the edge here. Active spirituality is naturally coming to the forefront. Love is the pursuit of justice; love is the pursuit of global peace. We can no longer split meditation from action.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, it’s time to meditate on our feet. The Sufis are saying the same thing. Lewellyn Vaughn-Lee says it’s time to meditate in action. That’s very different from go and isolate yourself in order to find yourself. Now you find yourself through love, love in action.
JA: It’s interesting how difficult it is to shift from the habit of isolation. I guess we have that habit from generations’ worth of programming, political agendas, military agendas, economic agendas. It seems so much has been geared towards creating division and separation, as if it’s easier to keep these institutions in place when there’s not a communal energy.
CS: Right. Part of the reason I wrote the book is that I wanted people to know that they are part of global movements. I call it second wave spirituality. You could call it sacred activism, love in action, or engaged spirituality. These are all terms to describe the same phenomenon. But people don’t realize that they are part of such a global community, a global coming together of people who are getting involved and who are making a difference. We are bombarded with bad news, but we have very little news about this huge movement that is a developing force and that we are part of that. So people feel isolated, hopeless. They say, “What can I do? What can I do?” Well, a lot is being done. The number of humanitarian nonprofits in the world has multiplied by ten in the last five years. So many nonprofits are being started in the Middle East, in Africa—not only in the western world, but also in other parts of the world—especially by young people, and especially women. We owe so much to women who have really filled the ranks of this movement. And the movement has no leader.
JA: No president, no executive—
CS: —and no organized institution. No dogma. No ideology. And young people and women are playing a huge role in it. Now we are seeing someone like Pope Francis, who has started to say the same thing. He is saying “Get involved.” Stop wondering about these old concerns, sexual sins, and same-sex sins, and so on. Get involved in dealing with poverty, in democracy and the real issues. We are seeing the results of that movement everywhere. As people become part of it, they grow excited, want to continue connecting in deeper and meaningful ways, but if they think they are isolated, they have a sense of falling into the old depths of isolation.
JA: Despair. Despair definitely breeds in isolation.
CS: Yes, despair breeds in isolation.
JA: Tell me a little about your background. Obviously your life has led you on a path to where you are now, but tell us a little about your story, what has contributed to your ideas, to the making of this book, to the work that you are doing.
CS: As you know, I was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Christian family. Lebanon at that time was half Christian, half Muslim. Very early on, at the age of thirteen, I joined a small Christian peace-building movement. It was a group of young people who wanted to help in refugee camps, that wanted to work in ghettoes, wanted clean rivers, that wanted to assist the villages south of Lebanon that were stuck in the fight between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The peasants were cut off and were dying. I was very active in that movement and took on a role of leadership in the movement. I did that for about seven years before the war started in Lebanon. Then, when I was about twenty or twenty-one, the war broke out in Lebanon, very similar to what is happening now in Syria. Israel invaded Lebanon, and Lebanon invaded Israel, and there were radicals all over the Arab world coming to Lebanon to try to deconstruct democracy. It lasted sixteen years. So I started working in the Christian peace group when I was thirteen and continued working with different peace groups for about seven years while I was in Lebanon. Altogether I was involved in peace-building activities for about fourteen years, helping with providing education, with negotiations, anything I could do to help at that time. I experienced the devastation of the war. We lost everything. My family had agricultural land; we lost that, we lost our buildings. We lost the supermarket. We lost everything and became refugees in our own country.
Then I left. I went to Paris, then came here to the States, and rebuilt my life. But that is a part of my life that impacted me immensely, because at a very young age I was deeply touched by the message of Jesus coming from Christian tradition, of Jesus and love in action. I experienced that, and experienced what a difference it makes: how bridges are built between Christians and Muslims and Jews when we get involved in love in action— the power of love in action. When you pick up a child who was wounded by a mortar, it doesn’t matter if that child is Muslim, Christian, Jew, or atheist. It doesn’t matter if the person helping you to pick up that child is from your group or from the other group. There is something about love in action that absolves hatreds and absorbs all identities.
JA: Well said.
CS: It’s more powerful than anything I have seen in my life. That’s an experience that really stayed with me and impacted me. The second experience, and you know about that intimately, was the formation of the group here that we call the ILC, the Intentional Institute for Life Leadership and Coaching (theilc.org).
As you know, we came together as a circle, a group of about 15-20 people, and we wanted so much to study the issue of authenticity, of respecting diversity, and having social consciousness. Seeing the power of that, being able to sit with fifteen-twenty people who are very diverse—diverse in their psychological makeup, diverse in their belief systems, diverse in their spiritual traditions, yet all committed to two basic principles, if you want to summarize it: to authenticity, respecting the freedom of the other to be who he or she is, and making a difference in the world.
That impacted me immensely, because I saw how community can be built around that. As my work in Lebanon in the peace group showed me how love in action can be a powerful bridge, the work with the ILC showed me how love in action, paired with respect for authenticity, which is key, helps to both build and nourish a community. So these two experiences have really shaped me and marked my thinking, and influenced a lot in that book.
JA: In the ILC, we did so much work around essence and form. Part of that was the authenticity in terms of essence, and also respect for authenticity as essence in somebody else. If your essence translates or manifests in the form of this belief or that belief, that’s fine. It may differ from mine or may not. But I can still have respect for your essential essence, energy, and presence as a human being.
CS: Yes, as human beings. Now we are seeing it again with the very tragic shooting that has happened recently in Chapel Hill with three beautiful young people. I mean, they are still studying all the causes and so on, but something was said on TV that was very touching. Someone mentioned the issue of otherness. When a person expresses herself diversely—a woman wearing a scarf, for example—she immediately becomes the other.
This issue of Otherness is huge, not only when it comes to religion or particular beliefs, but more broadly, we are others to everybody else, because we are each unique. We are one in our Essence; however, our essence manifests differently, and unless we can come to the point where we can understand the importance of freedom and respect for the authenticity of others, we are not dismantling the old structures of oppression that led us to the crisis we are now facing. That’s why I say in the book, it’s not enough to be socially engaged. It is very important to be socially engaged while practicing and respecting the idea of diversity and freedom of authenticity, and that connection of essences where the forms are not absolutized.
JA: While we are talking about that, in the book you mentioned six crucial ideas that you regard as foundational. I’d like to talk about each one, but I’ll just mention them. In Chapter 6, the six crucial ideas that converge into the global awakening of second wave spirituality. One is authenticity; two, freedom of the heart; three, unification of paradoxes; four, inclusion; five, spiritual oneness, understood as global solidarity; and six, love as the pursuit of justice. I wonder if you could talk a bit about each of these.
CS: As I was studying this movement, I was very intrigued by what I saw as thought patterns, an idealism that allowed this global movement to develop. As you said about forms, people are different. We have socially engaged Buddhists such asThich Nhat Hanh and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma—they might look different from humanists who are engaged in France, who do not believe in God, perhaps; or Christians involved in Latin America. However, there is a similarity of ideation at the level of essence. I was very intrigued by the ideas that have birthed this movement, because, as we know, any movement in history originates with certain ideas. Ideas start circulating, and then those ideas become something that is socially recognizable.
What I found from my research is that there were at least six major ideas that coalesced. You can see these individual ideas present in our spiritual traditions for thousands of years. But the ideas remained separate. You have to go to one tradition to find one idea, to another tradition for another, and so on, but now the six are being brought together and creating a huge shift of consciousness.
The first idea, which I believe is foundational, is one which we are beginning to understand, the freedom of authenticity. We are beginning to understand that every individual is unique. Every individual has a personality design, so to speak, that is unique to him or her. Just as you cannot find eyes that are the same, or a thumbprint that is the same, there is no way that we can find one personality design that is repeated in another person. For the first time in our modern history, and I speak of history since the agricultural revolution, and the development of Empire, which has a lot to do with oppression, but for the first time in these 7,000 years, we are coming to realize how important authenticity is, and how important it is to respect that unique design of every individual. Out of that design can flow the ability to love, to be passionate, and to create. If we violate that design, we end up with depression and violence, violence against the self, which then translates to violence against the world. It’s essential that we understand the sacredness of each person’s freedom. There are different ways to approach that analysis; we can talk about archetypes, the Enneagram. There are numerous ways to approach these personality studies, but the important point is that every individual is unique. Out of that uniqueness come a passion and ability to stand for justice and love. That has to be respected. We cannot have any spiritual, religious, or political authority mandating individuals to act in a certain way or believe a certain dogma.
There is a rebellion occurring against the authoritarian systems that lead us to oppression, whether religious, political, or economic. This is leading us towards an in-depth democracy, really, that whenever two people are together—you and I sitting here—they are already establishing a mini-democratic process; for example, in the idea of people saying, “What can I do, what can I do for the world?” we are starting to reply, “You’ve got to discover what is calling you.” That might be working for peace and justice, perhaps protecting the rain forest, but that is an individual calling. It cannot be assigned anymore. It has to come from within—
JA: Rather than being prescribed.
CS: Exactly. This calling arises from one’s own individual history, individual wounds, one’s great joys, one’s personality design, what one’s unique DNA has prepared him or her to do in the world.
JA: Which, again, seems very natural to me. At the same time, given our history, this is actually, and unfortunately, radical.
JA: It’s interesting when the natural becomes radical.
CS: It’s kind of comic, in a sense, sadly comic.
CS: Nature screams to us about diversity. Talk about trees. There are so many kinds of trees. And you cannot make one like the other. You’d have to destroy it to do that. Animals are so diverse, even within a species. For those of us who love dogs, we can’t say all dogs are alike. Everything in the natural world speaks to us of diversity. Empires have distorted this. Empires cannot survive without conformity. Once the idea of freedom reaches a certain saturation point, there will not be enough soldiers to control large populations of people. Empires understood from the very beginning that they had to enforce conformity, because then they could control the people. The principle of freedom is very threatening to any empire, and most religions coalesced with empires to keep the status quo. Religious structures were designed to create conformity, to homogenize belief systems. Spirituality is beginning to break out of that. We are still at the beginning, because even spirituality, that has become more open and liberal, more understanding and loving, has been impacted by the history of empire, of “this is how we do it.”
CS: You read this book, or that book, and it will tell you how to—
JA: Still power structures, mandates.
CS: But now we are realizing that we have to get back to freedom, to build a truly democratic world, that freedom has to start with the freedom of the self. That’s the second idea mentioned in the book.
CS: The freedom of the self is the freedom of authenticity. That comes with the freedom of the heart, to allow people to experience their desires, to experience their feelings, their passion, that these are not bad or dangerous. This is how Light, or the Divine, moves through us. For a long time, we have considered that emotions and desires were somehow pariahs. They were considered to be egoic, or bad, or contrasted with statements such as “we have to see the will of God.” Then you have a poet like Rilke who comes and says, “God moves through me.” I experience that as a strong emotion. I fall on my knees in tears, or in awe and admiration, and he says—I’m paraphrasing Rilke here—“I know that I am in the presence of the Holy.” That is an unbelievable change in the way we relate to our psyche, a segue from seeing it as the enemy, which has been frequently prescribed by religion; in turn, a lot of psychology pathologized the psyche as well. What we are seeing with second wave spirituality is a rebellion of the heart. The heart is coming back alive. People are led to stand for democracy, to stand for gay rights, to stand for the rights of immigrants, for the rights of children.
The fullness of the heart. The feelings of the heart. The movement of the heart. The desires of the heart. That’s very different. It’s very potent and very powerful. We are seeing more and more the word “heart” being used in how people speak and write. And you know. You are a writer, and you know that once the word enters our linguistic interchanges—
JA: Yes, which I think takes us to the third idea; again, natural, but somehow, given our history, quite radical: this idea of unifying paradoxes.
CS: You know, many mystics taught about paradox for a long time, but it didn’t germinate fully: the idea that we are made of paradoxes, I mean day and night, female and male, and so forth. When we split the paradoxes of our lives, we eviscerate ourselves. Today we are starting to see that one of the very important paradoxes is grief and joy—also, peace and outrage. For a long time, grief and outrage were seen as bad, as sinful. A lot of spiritual traditions looked at them as negative. You don’t want to be outraged. If you are enlightened, you are only peaceful. If you are enlightened, you are only joyful. You don’t carry grief. You’re not sad about anything, because all is well, and so forth and so on. Now we are realizing that if you are enlightened, you will be happier and more peaceful, but you will also be sadder and more outraged. We are realizing that if you are living spiritually, you will have victories but also defeats. A lot of spiritual people were afraid to get involved, supporting Martin Luther King Jr, or Gandhi, or others like Mother Teresa, because they felt like there would be a lot of defeats. Gandhi achieved a great deal, but there was a lot Gandhi was not able to achieve. The fear of defeat, the fear of the grief of defeat, the bitterness of defeat, results in a withdrawal of passion.
JA: It keeps us from engaging. In the end, engagement is what is affirmative. Life is affirmed through engagement, not necessarily through results, though of course we want or hope for certain results, but ultimately they seem to be incidental to a consistent practice of engaging. For the most part, brooding over results is not particularly empowering. But engagement is—that’s where I find life.
CS: I love your words “the practice of engagement.” Of course, every action will end up producing some result. Every action will end up with some victories. We have done a lot, historically. We have stopped child labor, we have brought a lot of democratic rights for women, which were long due. There is still more to be done. But we have achieved a lot of things—we have outlawed slavery. There is still slavery in the world, but we have outlawed it, at least. There will be defeats. There will be setbacks. Once we understand the paradox of love, we understand they are both sacred, that both our victories and defeats are sacred.
Of course, one of the great paradoxes is spirituality, the transcendent part of spirituality, where we are spiritual but bigger than life, in a sense. We become bigger than life and death. We become connected to something cosmic. There is the transcendent side, but there is also the imminent side. The other side is, “I am here, right there with you. I’m flesh and blood, you are flesh and blood.” When I see a child suffering, that is not an illusion. If I only attend to the transcendent side, I can look at all the suffering of the world almost with indifference. You know, when you’re flying high, everything looks small and fine, but when you land, you realize that everything matters.
Paradoxical thinking enables me to embrace the mystical or highly transcendent moments where I am one with the Divine, with the cosmos, beyond any fear and anguish and concern. I can also claim my imminence and realize that I am anguished for the world, that anguish is sacred, that every child who is left hungry matters and is not an illusion. We bring the transcendent function of spirituality together with the imminent function, and then we have the resolution of the paradox.
JA: Beautiful. When I think of the fourth point, inclusion, given what you just said, it’s obviously inclusion of all things within the Self: grief, joy, outrage, peace—that’s inclusion, and then of course inclusion of others too.
CS: They’re so connected, aren’t they? If we start practicing inclusion within ourselves, then the inclusion of others becomes natural. It’s a natural outgrowth of that. You know, one more paradox is the body and the spirit. We’ve seen a rejection of the body for a long time. We’re now realizing that the spirit is sacred, the mind is sacred, the heart is sacred, and the body is sacred too. As you are saying, it translates to, “I need every part of my humanity.” It’s a reclaiming, reevaluation, affirmation of our humanity. As I reclaim every part, I realize that every part of me—the sexual part, the mental part, the body, the spirit, the mind, grief, joy—is an essential part of the genius of being human. I realize that straight and gay, black and white and yellow and so forth, Muslim and Jew and Palestinian and Israeli, they are all an important part of the genius of our humanity. Our thinking shifts and we start to understand that we don’t need to split anymore. We need everybody at the table. As you said, we are different forms, and that’s fine. We like forms, we like to develop forms that are different. But we can find bridges around our diversity where our essences come together. I really believe that inner inclusion leads to genius thinking. Genius is not limited to some people. I think the thing most genius people have is that they bring the most parts of themselves together. It’s like an equation: the more parts of you that you include, the more clarity in your mind you have, the more passion you have. The same thing is true at a global level. Our genius as a humanity is reflected in what happened in France recently. The Je Suis Charlie, when we saw millions of people walking in Paris. We saw Mahmoud Abbas from Palestine. We saw Netanyahu there with Francois Hollande. We saw the King of Jordan, who is a descendant of the Prophet, and we saw people from all over. We saw Muslims, writing not only Je Suis Charlie but Je Suis Juif, “I am a Jew.” I don’t know if you had a chance to see it, but the CNN commentators and the various journalists there, you could see how emotional they were. They were trying to stay objective as best they could, but they were overwhelmed with emotion. They kept saying they had never seen anything like that. What were we seeing? We were seeing diversity coming together, a moment of amazing inclusion—and the power of that, on the social level, but also on our consciousness.
JA: I think we’re all touched when we see things that don’t fit the “normal,” historical paradigm. Again, these are very natural occurrences, or at least you’d think that they could be, but given the structures we’ve inherited, that we’ve lived into for generations, these deviations are enough to bring us to tears.
CS: Yes, because we’ve seen the sacred, the breakthrough of the sacred, a breakthrough of beauty. Oppressive systems teach conformity, but also separation. There’s a line between straight and gay, between women and men, there’s a line—a rigid line—between religions. That’s how the oppressive system governs. And when we see a breakthrough out of that, when we see people coming together in freedom, conformity being pushed aside, we are watching, the closest we can, to God being present, or beauty exploding among us.
JA: We experience that when we have a real connection with somebody day to day too. It’s life-affirming. You leave, having had a connection with someone, and in a way your life is changed, realigned.
CS: That’s what happens when two people talk from the heart, we all know it. It doesn’t matter how intellectual we are. We fall in love with the experience of that moment. There is no substitute for hearts working with each other and touching each other. Thank God, this new development of second wave spirituality is highlighting authenticity and bringing back the heart to the primacy place, which then allows inclusion, because, for example, when the heart of an Israeli connects with the heart of a Palestinian, at the end of the day they both end up in tears, embracing, not because they had a change of ideology or historical perspective, but because the heart was present, integral.
JA: The heart was there. You’re touching on this fifth point, spiritual oneness, understood as global solidarity. Do you want to say anything more specific about that?
CS: I would love to. One of the great gifts of first wave spirituality was that it emphasized that we’re all one. It was a mantra of sorts, we’re all one. We’re all one. This idea was relatively new, as many religions did not say that. So there was that spiritual renaissance that happened in the 1970s, that inserted into the culture, “We’re All One.” However, the notion stayed ethereal, because there was no imminent part of it. It was more transcendent: yeah, we’re all one, but it’s kind of poetic, ethereal; we’re all one but it didn’t translate into anything. In the shift to second wave spirituality, we’re saying, if I am one with that child who is hungry, if I’m one with the young girls who are denied education, or are treated as sex slaves… if I’m really one with them, how can I not be in active solidarity with them? I can’t be one in my meditation and at the same time know that there are young women being sold as sex slaves, and not feel that my connection needs to translate into action. If your child, let’s say, has a stomachache, you don’t just go and meditate. Meditation is part of it, but you don’t just do that. You naturally help him or her, make hot tea, give medicine, hold him or her in your arms. Today, what we know is that many children of the world are hurt children: so many deprived of their rights, every animal that is being tortured. These children, these animals, they’re all part of our family. That means the sense of Oneness today is translating in terms of global solidarity.
We cannot work for every cause in the world. It’s impossible. But we can embrace every cause. We can embrace them with our heart. Then we can act when we are called to act, which is limited. But the heart is not limited. I can embrace all these causes, be in prayer with them, be in meditation with them, care about them. Be a voice for the voiceless. Oneness becomes global solidarity, becomes love in action.
JA: Then to the sixth point.
CS: The sixth point: Love is the pursuit of justice. Our theology, John, is shifting all over the world. We are starting to realize, how can I love without wanting justice for those who are treated unjustly and oppressed? If I love them, of course I want justice for them. Ultimately, love is a philosophical direction. We cannot live in a world where those who are treated unjustly and those who are oppressed, especially children and animals, are forgotten, because that world will not work. We are seeing it today. More and more of the oppressed are starting to become quite violent.
So, on a practical level, if love is not the pursuit of justice, the world will not work. It will implode. On a spiritual and ethical level, if we love, we will seek justice. That’s why we are seeing millions and millions of people all over the world getting involved in organizations that seek justice for immigrants, that seek justice for children, that emphasize justice for animals, justice for the aborigines, and so forth, because they are prepared.
So as we consider these six ideas, let’s imagine them coming together in a constructive vortex, and realize the power behind that. Our minds are being refueled, taking an amazing evolutionary leap—nothing short of that. The ideas are there, in the consciousness.
JA: Thank you for speaking in such depth. I wanted to quickly mention the section of quotes, which I found so interesting. It’s a substantial portion of the book. The quotes contribute very much to the book, are very complementary. I thought having a section like this almost served to illustrate what you were discussing in the book. You have, in a sense, created a dimension of community by including so many quotes. You have included so many voices here; you’ve illustrated that you’re not operating in isolation. There is a philosophic and historic community, past and current, that you are part of. I thought that was an amazing metaphor, to have a section like that in the book. I have not seen that before.
CS: Thank you. It’s exactly what I wanted to show. I worked about ten years, bringing these quotes together, and getting permissions; you’re right, it’s about 40% of the book, I think, the whole second section. I wanted first to feel for myself that I am part of a community. I also wanted the reader to sense that these ideas represent a cultural or collective voice—a global voice. I wanted to lead the reader through the quotes from women, from men, people from various traditions, speaking about engaged spirituality, so they could see that they are part of an historic community, a movement that is universal.
Dorothee Söelle,who was coming from the Christian tradition and was the leader of the peace movement in Germany, did a lot of work around bringing Christian theology to towards embracing the idea of social activism; there’s Matthew Fox, who was thrown out of the Catholic church because he stressed the idea of the cosmic Christ and the importance of social engagement, speaking for justice, and so on; you have people in Latin America, Sufis from the Muslim world, Buddhists who are speaking out, Hindus, Jewish thinkers who are speaking out.
JA: You see all that reflected in the quotes. It’s very compelling. These quotes so help to illustrate so much of what you’re talking about. It’s “A Section in Action.” I mean, this is your book, your voice, but it’s also a gathering of voices, the voice of a global community. As we move towards closing here, maybe you could mention a little about what else you have going on? What are you up to these days? What sort of things are you engaged with now, in terms of writing, or activism, projects that you’re involved with?
CS: Thank you for asking. I’m very much involved in supporting The Respite (http://therespite.org), the organization that Mandy Eppley and others are involved with. It’s an amazing place, a Grief and Hope Center. They are very much trying to teach people to respect their grief and find a vision of passionate service out of their grief. As far as writing, I have written a book of engaged prayers. These are prayers that are about the earth, animals, poverty, social justice. I wanted to compile a collection of these prayers so that people can have them as a resource and use them for meditation. Andrew Harvey was tremendously supportive of that. In the beginning I thought this was something more personal, but I was very blessed to have a publication house, Tayen Lane, express interest in the project, and this book has just been released. It’s called Prayers for Peace and Justice. I’m also working on another book that Tayen Lane wants to publish soon, and that project is a collaboration with Dana Ensley, a fantastic artist who does mandalas, so half the book will be her gorgeous artwork; the other half will be meditations on the engaged journey, so people can read a short paragraph and meditate on the spirit of love in action, the spirit of authenticity, the spirit of celebrating life, the spirit of love in the pursuit of justice, these six ideas in the form of meditations and inspiring artwork.
JA: And you’ve recently moved to the west coast? You had an enormous amount of things going on in Charlotte for years.
CS: Yes, that’s big in my life, but before that, let me mention one more book that will be coming out. It’s with Mandy Eppley around the hope and grief model. I think the title is going to be Your Tears Are the Source of Your Passion. Mandy and I are doing a book that explores the connections between grief, passion, and social activism.
And yes, my wife and I have moved to San Diego. My wife still comes to NC quite frequently, so she’s still a resident. But we bought a house there, and I love San Diego. To be surrounded by so much beauty—the sea, the mountains, the hills all coming together. I am blessed at this time in my life to be surrounded by so much physical beauty and to be able to write in such an environment. On the other hand, it’s breaking my heart as well as pleasuring my heart, because I’m so deeply involved with the ILC and the Olive Branch Center (www.theolivebranchcenter.net), and there are friendships that are irreplaceable and priceless. It’s something when you have journeyed with people for twenty years and shared so much. We cried together, we laughed together, we disagreed, we agreed, we conversed through the night. To leave a community like that is heartbreaking. I have my grandchildren, and my stepson and his wife in Asheville, and to leave them is also heartbreaking. But again, John, we talked of the paradox, right? Great joy and great grief are wed, and I have to learn to love both.
JA: Thank you so much for your conversation, for your oral contributions as well as your written ones. You have certainly impacted my life deeply, and I know that you have impacted so many others as well.
CS: Thank you, John. Your work with The Pedestal has been such a contribution to so many. I feel honored to be interviewed for this journal, honored, and very touched by your concern for all we’ve discussed.