Sacred Activism and the Freedom to Love: The relationship between science, spirituality and sustainability

On 4 October, another regional Spirit of Humanity Forum event in collaboration with The Schumacher Institute took place in Bristol, UK, on the initiative of Tom Stedall with the support of Jenneth Parker. They are both from the Schumacher Institute and have attended the SoH Forum in Reykjavík. It turned out to be a very warm, friendly, stimulating, meaningful and thought-provoking meeting.

Several of the 20 participants had attended Spirit of Humanity Forums in Reykjavík, and others were new to the Forum.

A rich vegan climate-conscious lunch was prepared by Tom and his girlfriend, and served under the sun in the garden outside our window. It was a gloriously warm day.

It was hosted by the Central Quaker Meeting House, which serves the community in extraordinary ways, even offering shelter to house the homeless at nights whilst upholding the four Quaker values: peace, truth, simplicity, equality. It was an honour to meet there.

Catherine Allinson, who took the initiative in organising our first Regional SoH Forum last year in London, welcomed everyone, underlining her purpose of being involved in the work of the Forum: When we transform ourselves we can make change in the wider society.

A different kind of love

Ursula King Emeritus Professor of Theology and Religious Studies and Senior Research Fellow at
the University for Advanced Studies, University of Bristol.

Ursula said that the carrier of spirit in us isideas; ideas that have extraordinary transformative powers; ideas that can transform our thinking and action. We all need love, we all need warmth, protection, community, collaboration – all that which we associate with love, but our ideas of love have become weak. We need an approach to love in a new way. Ursula said we must nurture a different kind of love.

The ideas of love today are too small. Love is not just a feeling, but a great power. The roots of love are cosmic, the whole unfolding of the universe is energised by love, but we have restricted it to family and friends where we feel safe. We have to break this narrow circle so it goes out to the whole world. We must nurture love.

She referred to two 20th century thinkers who have pursued this question with extraordinary
singlemindedness: the French Jesuit scientist-mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) and the Russian-American sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889-1968). Unknown to each other, they both developed a most inspiring vision of the energies of love and their immense potential for the transformation of the whole of humanity.Ursula also referred to Anne Hillman’s book Awakening the Energies of Love – Discovering Fire for the Second Time. Fire has this extraordinary power to transform. There has to be an awakening of the power of love so it runs through society like a fire. There are possibilities waiting for us that we have not even heard of. The day will come when we will energise the energy of love for God. Then we will discover fire again. We must come away from the competition that makes me ‘in’ and you ‘out’, that creates separation. Connectedness is necessary. We need a new story of the Universe, and the fire, passion, dedication and energy to build a new and different world.

The meaning of ‘spirituality’ and ‘activism’

Tom Stedall Research Fellow, The Schumacher Institute

Tom explored the meanings of ‘spirituality’ and ‘activism’, and how as callings these can be understood in relation to each other. Spirituality is both 1) an ongoing work of inner and outer development, and 2) a sense that there is something more to what we see. Activism is about raising consciousness and compassion, and includes not only those campaigning but for example nurses and teachers facing cuts. In the face of unprecedented ecological crisis and social injustice, he drew on ideas from the evolution of consciousness. We need a lot more than electric cars now. The situation we are facing will require a shift of great proportions. We must overcome deep and persistence wounds of separation to break the cycles of oppression.

Referring to a book Soil and Soul and its discussion of Libration Theology, Tom talked about liberation in terms of overcoming inner and outer oppression and that this may be understood as a spiritual and activist task, that can create not only freedom from oppression, but freedom to love. Tom said that the western society has created a wound of separation and that there is a link between duality and oppression. From a spiritual viewpoint a wound can be a gift, a motivantion for and power to change. Our wounds are our gifts, and our pain. Oppressive dynamics are quickly established when we internalise and project pain. Terrorism is a violent projection of the insecurity of our culture. As activists we challenge oppression.

Power is understood as power over something, but we also have power within and power between us, i.e. what we can do to transform ourselves and help each other, the power of inner work and the power of community. To change the dynamics of oppression we need compassion for the oppressor. Love the dragon rather than slaying it. This can change the world. To overcome the urge to oppress we have to re-claim true power, and this in essence is spirituality and is activism.  If the revolution of the Axial Age was the individual connection to the Divine and not through gods, the revolution now would be a connection with each other to the totality of life (called the Divine in earlier ages).  Tom’s website:

How Purpose is key to our motivation

Clive Wilson Author of Designing the Purposeful World – the Sustainable Development Goals as a Blueprint for Humanity.

Clive talked about the power of purpose and used the analogy of how stem cells respond to the environment, how microcosm reflects in macrocosm. He shared his experience of witnessing people connecting to a sense of purpose and connectedness in their life, and his own experiemce. He called it awakening and loves the expression, Dzukani’ which means ”Wake up!” in the language of the Malawian people. We can look at ourselves, as one consciousness, one singularity in flow who are already in connection with each other, just having to wake up to the realisation.

Duality gets in the way of our natural abiding in the energy of love. If we change the life form or change our context, we will massively impact our sense of purpose and we can impact the world. We can focus on what is wrong with us or we can focus on what is right with us, but focussing on what is right with us gives us hope, and in a world of hope we are more likely to act. Then, with the help of just a couple of simple questions, he invited us all to explore this further by a sharing exercise in pairs, watching to see where there is love in our respone. Who are you? Tell me about you. What’s happening? How are you feeling? In what way are you inspired? What commitment would you wish to make, if any?

Clive Wilsons book, Designing a Purposeful World on Amazon.

Sacred activism

Four Arrows aka Don Trent Jacobs Faculty member in the School of Educational Leadership for Change at Fielding Graduate University.

Four Arrows shared Indigenous perspectives on what he refers to as ‘sacred activism’, that includes an understanding and a practice of empathy, compassion, courage, complementarity and, ultimately, fearless engagement. He shared his ideas on why this understanding and practice are vital for achieving the kinds of transformation needed in the world today. Four Arrows said that, without knowing the history of a person – walking in another person’s moccasins, it is hard to find empathy. Even if I disagree with someone, I can still have empathy, if I know their background.

I don’t have that angst that urges me to take sides and react. Once I co-authored a book with someone with whom I profoundly disagreed. We became friends and found a place where we could argue co-operatively, without violence. The respect was reflected in the book and even the comments from the readers, both from left wingers or right wingers, were very respectful. Knowing the background was an essential part in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa when Mandela came to power. It is an unbelievable effort for someone to confess and then for the relatives to forgive them. This is only possible when you know something about their history.

I am writing a book for UNESCO about diversity and inclusion programmes in higher education and business. It goes deeper into story-telling as it has to be in the fabric of our work in education. Character education is one day a week in US schools. In the indigenous way, character is primary, before learning a skill. To learn the skill to create a bow, I first need to understand the generous gift the skill would achieve by killing a deer for the tribe and the gratiude they would feel, as this gives me motivation to learn to create a bow with great care and skill. Generosity is the foundation for learning the skill to make a good bow. If we can make virtue a core concept of everything we do (job, play etc.), we would do better. Until we can address a natural resource as a relative (a member of our own family), we will continue to suffer mass extinctions, so the idea of understanding that we are an intrinsic part of the fabric of life is vital.

There is a natural guilt and a religious guilt. A mouse crosses the path of a lion after it has just had big meal and is not hungry, but the lion is tempted and eats the mouse unnecessarily. If the lion suffers from religious guilt, the guilt remains life-long. If it has natural guilt, it learns, moves on and next time it lets the mouse go.

What keeps us from practising the things that we know and give great reference to? The reason we keep having problems in being empathetic is because we do not understand trance-based learning. Our ancestors understood nature from watching nature. During times of fear, all creatures become hyper-suggestive to the communication of a perceived trusted authority. The more we see the leaders of the world creating fear, we see how suggestible we are. We need an inner attitude that allows us to create the dynamics of a better world.

Fear is a catalyst for practising a virtue. We have to move away from fear by recognising its source, then have the courage to change it, to stand up and do what is right. Then it has to change into fearlessness and trusting the universe; I make a commitment, I let the fear go, I jump and enjoy the ride.

Four Arrows referred to “Fearlessa Engagement by Four Arrows” by Dr Fisher, who does extensive work on the subject of Fearology. On Amazon


On the surface my spirit doth rage
In my depth there is stillness
Profound stillness
Knowing that this has been the way
Since eternity

The rage is a reminder of the why
Of a need to set the compass
Not to go to war
Rather to explore
The depth
The stillness
The bliss

To delight in the hope
The calm in the eye of the storm
The light in the darkness
No matter how faint
I will follow

Clear white light of hope
I calmly follow
And as I do
As I walk this lonely path
I notice others
Treading the same way

Joy of the shared path
Of co-creation

Joy of the company of other travellers

Celebration of our power
Celebration of the difference we all make

Peace after the celebration
Rest until tomorrow.

Painting and poem by Clive Wilson

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