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i am because we are

Marriage is a mysterious journey of learning how to consent to God in order to learn how to say “yes” to one’s spouse.  It is a delicate interdependence of honoring both the I and the we in this journey towards marital togetherness.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu provides a powerful framework called Ubuntu that encapsulates how the individual and the community cannot be divorced.  In short, Ubuntu is “I am because we are.” 

The difficulty of marriage cannot be underestimated.  The first years of our marriage forced us to examine painful and ugly parts of ourselves.  We decided that one thing we would always strive for is to be honest with ourselves first prior to compromising on a given issue. Ten years in, we are still figuring out how to live into that.  We have learned that when we begin to feel anger or resentment towards each other, it is a sign that our individual voices have already been muted.  We have to spend time hearing our own voice before we can offer it to anyone else.  That is our individual responsibility; no one can do this for us.  I am learning that there is room for the Ubuntu phrase to also become inverted, We are only if I am.

How can we honor the I in we?  Contemplative Christian practices offer us a model.  These practices (centering prayer, breath prayer, lectio divina) teach us to listen instead of talk.  Prayer becomes communion, rather than just one-way communication.  Submitting ourselves to this Divine presence requires us to show up and to consent to God’s movement.  I am not in charge.  I am not in control.  I am not the one changing or illuminating.  Although a limited analogy, it is as if I am a cell phone showing up to be connected to the power source.  I am doing the work of showing up to prayer, but I relinquish the power and control to the one who is doing the charging.  I am showing up to wait on the Lord to illuminate and change me.

When we wait on the Lord to show up to us, we encounter a God that has always offered this remarkable story of Love.  Contemplative prayer allows us to cultivate the tools through silence, solitude and stillness to tune into the Divine. This invitation has always been extended, we are just learning to accept the invitation.  This invitation is not new, it’s just newly available to us because we are learning to finally listen.  Learning to listen to God’s voice is, in fact, learning how to listen to our own voice.  And listening to our own voice is learning to listen to God’s voice.  I am because we are.  We are because I am.  When our vertical relationship with God is strengthened, our horizontal relationship in marriage is equally strengthened.

Contemplative practices are offering me a model for communion with God that first allows me to find my own voice in this Divine story of Love.  I cannot know my voice apart from God’s.  Our job is to show up.  God’s job is to do the rest. Then, only then, can we truly show up to our marriage with our voice that is now grounded in the I and the Divine we.  We have expanded the circle of love into three way communion.

I am because we are.  We are because I am.  Marriage is a mysterious journey of consenting to the Divine first, which in turn fuels the “yes” to our marital union. Marriage is a painful and amazing process of learning to expand our internal and external circles of love.  Expand the circle from I to we.  We were never meant to do this life alone.  It teaches us about the fullness of what love can be.  The circle is much bigger than we can imagine.


 fb_img_1486760090966-187x300Elisabeth Barahona considers herself rich because she has the privilege of sharing her life with her amazing husband and three children. Professionally, she is a Licensed clinical social worker at Maple City Health Care Center in Goshen, IN. She is an artist, beauty-seeker, life-learner, justice-pursuer and ever on a quest for her soul.

 

 

This piece originally appeared on Menno Snapshots, the official blog for Mennonite Church USA

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Active Contemplation in Response to Socio-political Upheaval

by Phileena Heuertz

Our recent presidential election has exposed and emphasized a great rift in the people who make up our nation. Political, economic, social, and religious ideologies may not have ever been more at odds with one another.

Our new millennia has brought with it so much change. It’s as if our world has been advancing at a faster rate than ever before, and it’s hard for us all to keep up. So some of us are nostalgic, looking backward to bygone days when America seemed simpler and safer. While others are dreaming, look forward to what America can be. What’s critical is that we examine what America is, right here, right now.

That’s what the current socio-political climate is giving us a chance to do. And it’s clear that we as a people are severely divided in our experiences and our perspectives. But I gather when it comes to our values, we all hold a lot more in common than it appears; values that our Declaration of Independence upholds as inalienable rights:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And so rather than demonize one political party or another, or one person or group of people or another, let us find ways to see and hear how one another desires these rights, as a people, as a society, as an American family.

We belong to one another. Let us find ways to see our self in the other. For ultimately we are not battling each other, but illusory ideologies that threaten our common humanity.

Many of us have felt very overwhelmed by the president’s first thirteen days in office and the upheaval his executive orders have caused. Being overwhelmed can lead to apathy and disempowerment. So let us resist such paralytic responses by taking a big deep breath. Then, in addition to fortifying a daily contemplative practice, consider the following commitments related to constructive ACTION that you can take:

Be (A)lert.

These times require we not sit idly by. Recognize that if you feel relatively unthreatened by the current administration that that is a luxury for you. Recognize the populations of people who are genuinely afraid (women, LGBTQIA persons, blue collar workers, the disabled, immigrants and refugees) and stay accurately informed about how Trump’s executive orders and administration may impact their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Imagine what you would hope from others if it were your life that felt threatened.

Be (C)ourageous.

Be willing to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable members of our society regardless of political party, race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Be (T)houghtful.

Before you react to the socio-political climate, practice a little restraint and think. Let thoughtful observation of your own biases and compulsions inform the way you interact with others.

Be (I)nquisitive.

Stay curious. It’s easy to dehumanize the “other” when we don’t personally know her or him. Get to know people who look different, think different, and behave differently from you.

Be (O)pen.

When we feel threatened, our basic physiological reflex is to self-protect. But we are more than our physiology. We have consciousness and inherent power to transcend our impulses. Rather than close up and withdraw or close up and attack, let’s dare to remain open, knowing that the greatest threat we face is betraying our highest potential to love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us, and co-create a peaceable society.

Be (N)ourishing.

During trying times on a personal or collective scale, men and women committed to contemplative activism will practice restraint from their impulses to fight or flight and choose the more challenging way of nourishing that which is hurting. Our society is hurting. Our neighbors are hurting. Members of our family are tired and afraid. Consider what you can do to nourish the people around you and the spheres of influence you inhabit.

And if these commitments are difficult for you, as they surely will be at one time or another, remember that contemplative practice makes such embodied commitments possible. Now more than ever perhaps, we must adopt regular contemplative practice. For spiritual practice like contemplative prayer and meditation open the mind and the heart, releasing our best selves to co-create Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness for all.


*header photo credit: Christian Battaglia

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The Contemplative Way as a Practice in Death

by Drew Jackson

In William Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure, it was Claudio who said, “Death is a fearful thing.” These words resonate with each of us in one way or another. We all have fears associated with death. Like the child who is afraid of the dark, we fear what we cannot see. We fear that which we cannot know for certain. Fear of the unknown causes us to have great anxiety at the thought of death.

Will the process be painful? Is there any life after death? How will I be remembered when I’m gone, if I’m even remembered at all? These are just a few of the questions that race through our minds when we are confronted with the thought of our own death.

Not only do we have fear of the unknown when it comes to death, but we also fear the loss of control. Death is the ultimate surrendering of control. It is the final act of letting go. This, however, is what causes us to fear because we like to grip tightly to life. We fear death because we don’t want to lose life. Yet it was Jesus who said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

This is the great paradox: that life best lived is lived as a series of losses, a series of deaths. Death is not meant to be a one time event at the end of life but, rather, a daily experience by which by which we learn to continually embrace the unknown, step into mystery, and release the need to control. The last words that Jesus breathed out as he hung on the cross were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” However, we know that this committing or surrendering of the will to God, this death, was not just a one time act but, it was a moment by moment practice throughout the life of Jesus.

The practices of contemplative spirituality, such as silence, solitude, and stillness, make space for us to learn this type of surrender in the midst of our daily lives. Thus, the contemplative way is a practice in “death.” If you have ever witnessed the moment of death you know that death is ultimately silent, still, and alone. The practices of contemplative spirituality prepare us for this. The contemplative way thrusts us into the beautiful struggle of embracing the unknown and losing the need to control.

In silence and solitude we confront our fear of the unknown because we are forced to come face to face with ourselves. We fear what we cannot see or discern, and most of us live without being able to see what lies beneath the surface of our own lives.

We often drown ourselves in noise and busy ourselves with activity because we don’t know what we will discover if we are left to our own selves and our own thoughts. Yet it is when we come to see ourselves that we learn what must metaphorically, die. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31, “I die every day.” The death he was referring to was the death of what he often called the flesh, or what the mystics call the false self or the shadow self. When we adopt contemplative practices as regular parts of our lives, we are taught how to welcome death to our false self, instead of resist it.

Both Scripture and nature teach us that death is the pathway to life.

Jesus said in John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Without death there can be no life. Learning to practice death through contemplation teaches us what it looks like to live, and live fruitfully. The fruit that results from death to the false self is rarely, if ever, for us, but it is for others to experience life. The Apostle Paul speaks to this when he says in 2 Corinthians 4:12, “death is at work in us, but life in you.” This is the story of the Christian gospel, that death for Jesus meant life for the world. When the gospel becomes a lived reality in our lives, we practice death so that others can experience life.

To some, pondering death seems morbid, but Scripture teaches us that in doing so there is wisdom to be found. This is because pondering and practicing death teaches us how to live. Death shows all of us that we are finite and have limitations. When we learn to practice death through contemplative practice we develop the ability to see our manifold limitations. The practices of silence, stillness, and solitude help us learn that we cannot control everything, and they invite us to practice death by embracing our limitations.

William Shakespeare famously said in his play Julius Caesar, “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.” In making comment on this quote in his book A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway says: 

(The man who first said that) was probably a coward…. He knew a great deal about cowards but nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he’s intelligent.

I stand in agreement with Hemingway in saying that wisdom is found in learning to die many deaths. Contemplative spirituality invites us to be those who can say, “every day I die a thousand deaths.” This is wisdom. This, indeed, is life.

Death and resurrection are not reserved for the end of life. Both realities are meant to be experienced every moment. The practices of contemplative spirituality are given to us as gifts that lead us into dying a thousand deaths each day.

As we learn to practice death by way of contemplation, death at the end of life is no longer a fear, but is received as the next logical step. Death is no longer an unknown for us because we already know that life comes through the process of death. We will have lived that reality each day.

At the end of life we will no longer fear the loss of control because we know that the loss of control leads to true rest in God. As we learn death through contemplative practice, we experience afresh what life is like connected to the Source. Contemplation teaches us to die to the desire to go our own way, and to embrace the continual invitation to return to God.

All that death is, finally, is a return to the Source, our final return to God.


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Drew Jackson serves as the Associate Pastor at GraceWay Community Church. He is also a part of the Lausanne Movement. He lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with his wife Genay, and their two beautiful daughters Zora and Suhaila. 

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Questions > Answers.

By George Mekhail 

 

I have changed a lot over the past 18 months. I’ve deconstructed much of my worldview and consider the journey as just getting started. I am a heretic, a pirate and a mystic. I used to see things very differently than I see them today, and I hope that this process of change, growth and evolution only continues. I cannot deny that what I’ve experienced has been healthy.

I often ask myself how I got here, why I’m here and if it’s a good thing that I’m here. I talk to myself more and more these days. I ask: what factors lead to my spiritual curiosity, what moments shaped my trajectory and what common thread has been there throughout? Do I like me more or less? Do I allow others to define me or do I find my value and worth in Eternal things?

I’m learning that asking questions is far more important than answering questions. This is one of the most valuable lessons that contemplation has taught me on my journey.

Let’s be honest: on the surface, answering questions is way more fun than asking questions. If I am answering a question, I am the center of attention. I am on the conclusive side of the discussion. I am in control. But, if I am asking a question, I am deflecting attention. I am teeing up the discussion, for better or worse. I am releasing control. Asking a question opens things up and possibilities abound. Answering a question shuts things down, declaring alternative possibilities irrelevant.

Now there is obviously a time to answer questions, I’m not anti-answers. But I would describe this pivot towards more question asking and less question answering as the largest contributor to this current season of peace in my life. A paradoxically difficult season, filled with extremely challenging days, betrayals, insecurity and instability. But despite the external factors that might be perceived as negative, contemplative practice helps me count them as blessings.

A few weeks back, after some time in reflection, I started to realize that I was feeling misunderstood. I’m not sure if that’s common or not, but this came to light in a recent session with Phileena, my spiritual director. She proceeded like she often does, by asking me to “withhold judgement, consider how it feels to be misunderstood.”

If you’re like me, that is a difficult question. I’m generally unaware of my feelings, often preferring solutions to stillness. So if I feel misunderstood, my next step is typically to ramp up efforts to deliver clarity so I can be understood. Boom. Problem solved, question answered. No feelings necessary.

Except when it doesn’t go down that way. Which is more often the case. It starts a fruitless cycle of frustration which does not satisfy the soul. Even if I successfully deliver clarity, I never actually dealt with the ramifications of feeling misunderstood.

That’s why I love the phrase “without judgement.” Phileena always emphasizes this part of the process, and it took me a while to see its real value. But in my desire to explore why I’m feeling misunderstood, the temptation is to offer simplistic answers which carry unhelpful judgements like “because ‘Nikole’ just doesn’t get it” or “because I haven’t spent enough time explaining my idea to ‘Nikole’.”

In my case, feeling misunderstood requires me to actually FEEL misunderstood.

That’s a huge step. To feel our feelings instead of merely talking about them.

 

Then a deep breath.

 

Man. I feel really misunderstood.

 

Now, without judgement. {I’m not mad, upset, disappointed, proud of myself/others for this feeling. This feeling simply is my experience.}

I am now aware of this feeling. I acknowledge it, I welcome it, I learn to integrate it – without judgement – into my present circumstance.

How does this feeling of being misunderstood relate to my ego? What other questions does this reveal and how do they reveal the unconscious patterns I operate out of daily?

 

Another deep breath.

 

I don’t want to oversimplify a contemplative process that actually requires a lot of hard work. Adopting a contemplative stance in life is like working out, studying for an exam or investing in a relationship. It requires focus and commitment. But the fruit is incredible. Instead of reacting to life, we learn to respond. Reacting generates a lot of contraction. Responding generates expansiveness.

Instead of relentlessly pursuing to deliver answers, I’m learning to reach out and claim the gift of more questions–which have turned out to be critical to my growth. Questions develop our awareness. Furthermore, questions acknowledge that no matter how much “Nikole” doesn’t get it, her experience is also her experience and it carries its own validity.

Contemplation is teaching me that questions are greater than answers, because questions lead to more meaningful connection to myself, to God and to others.

 


GM_blogpic2George Mekhail has been serving as the Executive Pastor at EastLake Community Church since July 2011. He is also the Chair of the Board for Gravtity, a Center for Contemplative Activism. He lives in Bothell, Washington with his wife Danielle, and their two beautiful children, Kingston and Saxyn. He has a deep set love for his family and makes it a goal in life to show up for them. 

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Gravity’s Contemplative Activist in Residence

September 15, 2016 – February 15, 2017 

From September 15, 2016 –February 15, 2017 Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism welcomes Chiraphone Khamphouvong as our Contemplative Activist (not) in Residence (CAIR).

The CAIR program supports leading, innovative activists who desire a sabbatical for personal, professional, and spiritual development. CAIR is for bold and courageous leaders who have forfeited the American dream to actively dream of a better world for all people.

For Chiraphone, the CAIR fellowship includes a series of retreats, spiritual directions sessions, enneagram sessions, and mentorship meetings to support her evolving vocation.

As a child, Chiraphone escaped a civil war in Laos, became a refugee in Thailand, and eventually immigrated to the United States. Her familiarity with crisis and hardship led Chiraphone to a life of service in more than 35 countries. Her service work has focused on dignifying and sustainable community development in the private and public sectors of society.

Chiraphone began her service in the Peace Corps in South Africa’s post-Apartheid, where she CK Angkor Window_BWvolunteered as an Education Resource Worker training 600 educators in 28 schools. Most recently, she served as World Relief Cambodia’s Director for Partnerships and Resource Development—the very organization that originally helped Chiraphone and her family find refuge in the United States.

Now at an unexpected crossroad, Chiraphone desires space to process her years of tireless service to discern the next step in her vocation. Chiraphone is making sabbatical specifically around the themes to remain, reflect, and reimagine.

Chiraphone hopes for a better world for all people and, therefore, values Gravity’s emphasis on integrating contemplation and action to help realize that better world. She’s grateful for the opportunity to find restoration through CAIR’s programs and services.


 

 

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Integrating Contemplation and Action: An Aid Worker’s Reflection from the Refugee Crisis in Morocco

Recently, Chris and Phileena visited our team in Ifrane, Morocco. I’m one of about 40 university and post-graduate students offering emergency aid to the thousands of refugees and immigrants desperately making their way through Morocco.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the retreat which was focused on integrating contemplation and action—something which was rather new for most of us.

Whenever we are presented with new ways of doing things, there’s naturally some level of skepticism that arises. Contemplative prayer practices were very new for us. At first it was somewhat awkward. But it didn’t take long before I started to appreciate the practices.

As Chris rightly pointed out in one of his remarks, it’s advised that one tries out a new prayer practice for at least six months before deciding whether they like it or not. I have personally realized that I don’t even need to wait for six months in this case, because based on the various exercises we tried, I’ve already detected the positive impact.

As we spent time together during the retreat, it came into focus that we are living in a seemingly chaotic and fast moving world: the current global migrant crisis, economic uncertainties, the constant flow of information (both good and bad, relevant and not so relevant), terrorism, and lots of distractions here and there etc.

This tense reality makes a lot of people ever more anxious, afraid, and depressed. Many, people on our team included, feel like we’re drowning in the sea of noise and need.

Being able to find stillness, calmness, and focus in the midst of our stormy reality (needs of refugees, information saturation, problems, anxieties, chaos, noise etc.) has become more important now than ever before.

Furthermore, the need for discernment to be able to navigate through it all, to determine how to respond to the dire needs of our neighbors as well as our own families, cannot be underestimated.

This is why contemplative prayer practices are so very important. These exercises for our soul help restore inner peace, equilibrium, and focus, which in turn help acquire and develop the discernment needed to effectively manage and resolve the various issues we face daily in our personal lives as well as with the unrelenting demands of the immigrant and refugee crisis.

Just like Jesus, who always elevated the discussion when confronted with questions and issues, we also do not necessarily have to have answers to all the questions and problems we face. We only need to ensure we’ve got the central focus right. When this central aspect which consists of inner peace, stillness, calmness, oneness, inner equilibrium and discernment are firmly in place, then we can be able to face any challenges that come our way and effectively navigate through all that life throws at us. Contemplative practice helps us realize such centeredness.


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Theophilus Balorbey, an Aachen Peace Prize laureate (2015), is a student volunteer with the International Aid Committee (Comité d’Entraide International-CEI) in service to migrants & refugees in Morocco. He is passionate about contributing his bit towards making our world a better place for all humanity.

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Contemplative Prayer Fosters Solidarity

by Kent Annan

 

When writing my new book, Slow Kingdom Coming, my attention kept getting drawn to themes of contemplative activism and of doing good better—that is, to very Gravity-like themes!

My work with Haiti Partners over the years has given me a deep appreciation for values like solidarity with people in poverty, justice for the oppressed, and loving our neighbors with respect. I share these values with Phileena and Chris and admire their thoughtful approach to integrating spirituality with building a better world.

Some of the spiritual practices they teach at Gravity, like lectio divina (divine reading), have helped shape me and my relationships with people on the margins of society.

The practice of group lectio divina with my friends and partners in Haiti has been an incredible experience for integrating contemplation with action and learning to do good better in relationship with people in poverty.

One of the predominant themes that has emerged in relationship with my Haitian friends is that of respect. How can people of different socioeconomic status, race, and gender genuinely respect one another, essentially affirming the value of the other and our need for one another?

I’ve learned that living into respect of one another requires just a few critical commitments: listening, imagining, and promoting rights. And the practice of shared lectio divina has helped us grow into and live into these commitments in our interactions with one another in daily life. 

During the first year I working in Haiti I had the opportunity to introduce lectio divina to my Haitian and American colleagues. One morning, thirty very different kinds of people sat in a circle listening to Scripture. Because not everyone spoke English, the text was translated to Creole to make sure everyone could participate. The Scripture text was read several times with a prayerful pause between readings when the group was invited to reflect audibly on what they were hearing.

Afterward, a Haitian school principal told me we should do this again. So we did. Since then we’ve shared the contemplative practice of lectio divina with thousands of people.  Remarkably, group lectio divina has a natural way of affirming our commitments to respect through the values of listening, imagining, and promoting rights. 

Listening. In a country where about half of the people are illiterate, listening to sacred text together makes room for everyone. One doesn’t have to have the ability to read to participate. As we practice listening to the Scripture and listening to one another’s response to the Scripture, we deepen our capacity for listening to one another in daily life.  Likewise, listening guides us in the ways our community practices justice and mercy.  

Imagining. As we collectively and prayerfully listen to Scripture, each of our imaginations are naturally activated. As our hearts open more to the wisdom teaching of the text we imagine more clearly the reign of God and how we can each take part. Over time our activated imaginations move us more deeply into respectful ways to practice justice and mercy.

Promoting rights. Whether someone in the lectio divina group is an illiterate subsistence farmer or holds a theological degree, is a man or a woman, is sitting in a cathedral or on a rickety church bench over a dirt floor, everyone shares common ground and is on equal footing. Each is able to share about their experience of God and life, and is naturally respected for doing so. Our practice of respect for one another in shared lectio, forms us to walk more humbly and respectfully with our neighbors as we attempt to exercise justice and mercy.

For eighteen years now lectio divina has helped shape me and my understanding about the importance of respect in the work of justice. The people I’m with usually hear God much better than I do, and I’m grateful they let me sit in the circle with them.

Shared contemplative practice, like lectio divina, creates a safe place where there is no high or low, everyone comes to the circle as an equal, one to be respected, and to learn from. And as we deepen contemplative prayer, we are formed and transformed, becoming the people we long to be, building the world we all want to live in.

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*Adapted from Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Annan, copyright @2016. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.

 


Kent AnnanKent Annan is author of Slow Kingdom Coming (May 2016), After Shock(2011) and of Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle (2009). He is co-director of Haiti Partners, a nonprofit focused on education in Haiti. He’s on the board of directors of Equitas Group, a philanthropic foundation focused on ending child exploitation in Haiti and Southeast Asia.

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When Life is Like a Jar of Mekong River Water

by Craig Greenfield


The Mekong is a broad brown river that runs through Cambodia and Vietnam. Craig Greenfield, a veteran of Cambodian slums and inner city ministry explains in his new book, Subversive Jesus, how a jar of Mekong River water helped him find the balance between activism and contemplation. This is an excerpt…


At first the water in the jar looked murky and muddy. But when I placed the jar on a table, the silt in the water gradually sank to the bottom of the jar.

As soon as I picked it up, everything churned up again, but the longer I left it in stillness, the clearer the water became.

In the same way, I sensed God calling me to rest in him and his peace. I heard his gentle whisper, “Be still and know that I am God.” In silence and solitude with God, I knew that my heart, mind and soul would settle and clear.

As Phileena Heuertz has said, “Through activism we confront toxicity in our world, through contemplation we confront it in ourselves.”

For years, I had pursued the heart of God through activism in the slums of the world. The subversive Jesus I had come to know and love had placed a youthful passion in my heart for justice and the poor. But I had come close to burning myself out by pursuing his Upside-Down Kingdom in my own strength.

Now, God was subverting my drivenness and destabilizing my arrogance by calling me back to the very things that would give me the power to continue for the long haul. In this complex dance between contemplation and action, I had been out of step too many times to mention, each foot tripping over the other. But it was a dance that I needed to stumble my way through.

Mother Teresa, who probably knew better than most what it meant to be a contemplative activist, said, “We need to find God, and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

This is not about external silence, which Mother Teresa would not have found in Kolkata, but rather an internal slowing down in order to become aware of God’s presence.

Evenings at our community home in the Downtown Eastside can feel overwhelming and out of control. Some of our homeless friends smell of the streets and unwashed socks. Many who are consumed by their addictions or mental illness have lost interest in personal hygiene. Some do not know what it means to talk quietly, including my own children—and my wife Nay says they get it from me.

But regardless of what might have happened during our often chaotic house during the evening—whether a spontaneous jam session on the guitars, or the painful detoxing of someone withdrawing from crack—at nine o’clock, everyone knows that it is our community’s time to gather for listening prayer.

Drawing on the rich prayer tradition of St. Ignatius, we seek silence in the cloister within our hearts. Through Ignatius, we have learned that we don’t have to retreat to a monastery to find space for prayer, but can be in silence together and become aware of God’s presence right in the midst of our chaotic inner city neighbourhood.

And in that place of inner silence, we invite God to shine light on our day.

The churned up water of our hearts slowly clears.


 

CraigCraig Greenfield is the author of Subversive Jesus: an adventure in justice, mercy and faithfulness in a broken world.

Craig is the founder and director of Alongsiders International, a grassroots movement working in a number of Asian and African countries, equipping young people to walk alongside those who walk alone – vulnerable children in their own communities.

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Contemplative Life and Parenting

by Mindy Durias

 

The alarm rings. It’s 5:00am.

I drag myself out of bed, prepare my favorite French pressed coffee, grab my stack of books and settle on the loveseat for the hour or so I have before the rest of the house begins to stir. I read words of wisdom and hope from a Jewish Rabbi, a Buddhist monk, and a Franciscan priest. The words sooth like a healing balm for my longing heart. In the silence, they ring clear and true, resounding in my soul.

Gradually, little ones enter my quiet revelry. I kiss them and send them back to their beds for just a few minutes more, while I read and enjoy the last few sips of coffee.

Ten minutes later, I place my friends back on the book shelf and call the kids out of their rooms. The next hour rushes by like a raging river at flood level. By 7:15am, 3 of the 5 kids are fed, my husband has left the house for a meeting, most morning chores are complete and it’s time for prayer. The 3 youngest kids and I settle in the living room for a 10 minute time of silent reflection. It’s the season of advent, so we focus our thoughts on the Christ light that shines in our darkness. Then they leave to play, while I set out my candle and mat for a 20 minute centering prayer sit alone before the rest of the day’s demands consume my attention. I light my little candle and settle in. Grounded, upright, peaceful. I’m still, silent and alone in the living room.

A w h o l e m i n u t e , m a y b e t w o p a s s b e f o r e t h e y c o m e . The distractions.

I hear the kids and their realistic sounding light sabers re­enacting scenes from Star Wars downstairs. One is yelling, “Action!” Another is whining that they don’t want to be Darth Vader again.

DuriasKids

I inhale deep and exhale, feeling the rising annoyance in my heart, quickly forcing its way to my tightening throat.

Next the family dog trots into the living room, walks towards me, sniffs my face, passes gas, and exits­leaving a stench that rivals any honey bucket. Trying to remain centered, I breath deeply again, but the lingering smell is overwhelming so instead I hold my breath.

The kids continue their filming downstairs, planes are taking off and landing at the nearby airport. A train rumbles by 300 yards from our house and the wave like sounds of the freeway intensify as rush hour hits.

My teenage son exits his room and lumbers past me to the kitchen to see what’s left from breakfast and the dog returns standing at the sliding door four feet from me, whimpering to be let out.

Inhale, exhale….Inhale. And. Exhale.

My soul calmly says, Yes.

My heart questions, What good does this do?

While my mind screams, Why the hell can’t everything and everyone be quiet for just 20 minutes!

This is reality.

Why do I do this to myself? Wouldn’t it make more sense to practice centering prayer at 5:00am, when not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse? Before people, planes and pets can hijack my attention.

Sometimes I do just that. And it’s wonderful! True bliss. It’s a precious gift to sit in complete silence, stillness and solitude. I know that my heart has emptied and expanded in those undisturbed times. I’ve come to embrace more fully who I am and who I am not. I’ve found a place of unshakeable belonging in the the heart of God through blessed hours spent in complete silence.

But if I’m being honest, sometimes after a quiet and undisturbed prayer sit, instead of gratitude flowing freely, I enter the rest of the day with a discontent that challenging to admit and even harder to shake.

Too often, I’ve left a time of uninterrupted prayer wishing that it would never end­wanting that same silence and stillness to last all day long, so that I can feel calm and near to God. But, that desire is itself an illusion, unless I were to abandon my life and become a hermit. My true colors, in these moments, are completely exposed when I enter back into the usual business of daily life as wife, stay at home mom and teacher and struggle to remain calm and present with life taking place all around me. I struggle so to see God within myself and all things and say yes to what is happening through the challenges presenting themselves moment by moment.

This is my life. Noisy, fast paced, ever changing, demanding and relentless. Full of people to love, serve, care for, and listen to. Work to be done and not enough hours in the day to do it all. Does this sound familiar?

I’m sure that my lot is not that unique. In this day and age, what I’ve described is probably seen as just normal­the way things are. So I wonder then, how are we to cultivate silence, stillness and solitude when these very things are so counter cultural?

It’s not too difficult to see the appeal of the desert mothers and fathers, who left all normal way of living to find God. While I’m certain even their lives presented obstacles of their own in the search for union with God, I imagine it being at least a little simpler being.

Embracing and entering fully the blessed life I’ve been given by God, I’m beginning to see that the deep work of transformation within is being greatly assisted in praying with and through the many distractions of life. Why fight them or try and escape them? They will always be there in one form or another. The needs of partners, children, friends and neighbors. Deadlines and obligations of work. The hustle and bustle of a world that never slows down, not even for a single moment of the day.

I am experiencing in the acceptance of distractions that true silence, stillness and solitude is only cultivated within and not at all dependent upon the environment surrounding me. In fact, the distractions serve as a beautifully poignant contrast to the non reactive, gracious and peace-giving presence of God within. They help me to more clearly see the mystery of the divine Presence of God right here, within the mundane and ordinary stuff of life.

Isn’t this what I long for most in silence, stillness and solitude after all? To be present to God in all the moments of my life? To see divine light as it pierces the darkness and hardness of my own soul and the world around me?

Distractions. I can either view them as obstacles that obstruct my view of God within. Or I can choose to see them as the very things that usher me into the presence of God! For Christ, pure heavenly light itself, always shines brightest through chaos and darkness. If only I show up and wait for this light to dawn through the shadows of the blessed distractions in my life.


 

 

Mindy Durias

Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

AshtonandKids

Finding Our Divine Center: A Father’s Reflection

by Ashton Gustafson

It was one of those days where I had simply just had enough. My inbox was overflowing with other people’s agendas, my voicemail was full, the list of to-dos grew every time I looked at it, and the smallest inconveniences were creating an unrecoverable derailment of my peace and purpose for this day.

I’m sure this sounds dramatic, but we have all been there haven’t we?  We take on more and more, we overcommit, we say a half-hearted ‘yes’ to avoid a full-hearted ‘no’, and then something small and insignificant causes a boil that our cup’s brim cannot contain.  This “happens gradually, then suddenly” as Hemingway said.

I drove home, pulled into the garage, and then closed the garage door closed behind my taillights. That was the first shield I had felt from the war zone of the day and I paused in my car for about a minute and still could not shake the overwhelming emotions that brewed from an assault of email grenades and Mr. Fix It voicemails.

Before I walked into our home to greet my wife and daughters I knew that I had to go sit, be still, and center myself before I was going to be in the right mind to be with them for the evening. “Hey Brynn, I’m going to take the girls into the back room to do some centering prayer.” “You’re going to do what?”, she said. “We’ll be back”, I said.

The girls ran up to me with their homecoming hug routine and immediately I gave them the marching orders. “Girls follow me! We need to center.” “Ok Daddy!” My orders were fulfilled like it was something we had done a number of times before. But we hadn’t ever done this and I honestly didn’t know what I was about to do.

I closed the door and we sat in a circle with our legs crossed. Sterling’s right hand was in my left hand, Story’s left hand was in my right hand, and they completed our circle with their available fingers that together weren’t even eight years old.

I asked them to close their eyes. They giggled. And then I began. “Ok, hold my hands….”

Click to hear this moment as it was recorded.

There it was. In the stillness we made room for a moment to interact with the Divine and every bit of angst, resentment, and frustration that I brought into the house with me melted away. I was centered, we were centered, my little cognitive universe was centered, my heart found its rhythm again, and all was well with my soul and the little souls I was holding hands with.

In that moment, joy entered the room as wide as the sky and an ocean of love poured back into my being. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel that same energy move through the little hands of my three and five year old daughters. I left that room ready to BE with the ones I love and was gently reminded of someone once telling us that we have to become like the little ones to get it.


 

Ashton Gustafson

Ashton Gustafson is a highly sought after public speaker, nationally recognized Realtor, artist, musician, poet, amateur cosmologist, and currently in pursuit of more things to become. He writes about the art of living, finding beauty in the hidden places, and making music with your life, relationships, and business. In addition to his writing and speaking, Ashton is currently a partner at Bishop Realtor Group, Meadowlake Management, and Muse Capital in Wichita Falls, TX as well as A.G. Real Estate & Associates in Waco, TX.    

girl in woods by lanecia rouse

centering prayer & the process of transformation

by Mindy Durias

 

I often think about these words from Jesus,

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

What was so special to Jesus about children, that he would gift them the kingdom of God?

I’ve been raising children of my own for 16 years now. And there are a few things I’ve picked up along this journey that give me some insight as to what Jesus might have deemed so special about children.

For starters, children, especially those 2 or 3 and under, are intrinsically trusting. Whatever you tell them, they believe it. When they are told by someone, I love you, they don’t question it. They don’t ask for proof, demand to know why, doubt whether it is earnest, or deny that they deserve it. They simply receive it as fact. They are loved. They belong.

Little children not only don’t struggle with being loved, they also don’t hesitate to give that love away. They don’t ration out their love only to those they deem worthy or withhold love from those who hurt them until they receive apology. Very little children extend boundless grace. They love without judgement, prejudice, selfishness, or hesitation. They forgive effortlessly. They hold no memory of wrongs done to them. They love others for the pure joy of it. Much like God does.

However the most enlightening thing I’ve seen time and again, is that little children, without trying, know God. They know God in a way that we adults are almost incapable of. Unconditional love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, kindness and generosity are no mystery to children. They live in harmony with God in these attributes. I might even say, children live in union with God. Not just my own children, but all children.

Then what happens? Obviously, most children do not remain in this state of union with God. Some may do so longer than others. But all of us, through lifes many experiences, eventually leave the God we know and mirror so well as children. Some so early in life, that they don’t even remember having ever known God at all.

This was the case with me. I can’t remember a time in my childhood when I knew God. And so it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I even began searching. For years, I looked for God outside of myself. And while those years taught me a lot, I wouldn’t say that I ever felt near to God necessarily. And I didn’t feel like I was living a transformed life for sure. Any difference in me was of my own making. Not something I would attribute to God, when I was honest. In fact, looking for God outside of myself brought me to a place where I didn’t think I wanted to go on searching anymore. If God was out there, he certainly wasn’t near and I was weary of turning over stone after stone only to find myself still alone.

Then I was introduced to Centering prayer. All of a sudden, God went from being something that I was unsuccessfully looking for outside myself, to something I was curiously looking for within myself!

And what a treacherous journey it has been. The child in me that once was in union with God, has grown up and created layer upon layer of massive concrete walls between herself and God. Turning inward and realizing this has been incredibly sobering. There are days when all I can do is sit in silence, staring at the walls within myself, and weep and wonder how these walls will ever be broken through? How will I ever make my way to God within? Especially when it seems like this demolition is going to proceed brick by brick. Oh how I wish that God would bring in an iron wrecking ball and lay waste to the walls I’ve built between us. But that’s never happened.

Yet, I’m learning to see this as grace. For even the removal of a single brick can at times be so excruciating that I can barely breath. But with the tearing down of each old brick, cracks are forming. I’ve begun to see light through the cracks that show me small glimpses into the rich garden of my soul where my truest self lives in union with God. She looks like a small child, dancing and singing a simple song of love and joy.

And her name is Enough.

As of late, God has brought me to the biggest wall I’ve encountered yet. A wall that I began building at a very young age, judging by its size. It’s not only massive, but seems to also be fortified with extra protection. Like barbed wire put up to keep trespassers out. I’ve learned that all I can do is sit and wait before a wall such as this. Wait for God to do what I cannot do for myself. Slowly and gently, in silence and stillness the wire has been removed, allowing me to approach the wall and touch it. And as soon as I touch it, I know what this wall is.

It actually has a name too. Mother.

I created this wall with every painful memory I’ve ever had in relationship to my mother.

For months, all I could do was sit before this wall named Mother and weep. Because she was not the mother I wanted her to be, the mother I felt I needed. I grieved this, until I felt empty and numb. And yet the wall remained. Seemingly un-effected, ever pressing in on me and weighing me down.

Day after day, I would come and sit. Then one morning recently, as I prayed a thought came. Usually, I lay my thoughts down and come back to them later, after prayer. But this one would not let me go. It was this:

I accept who I am and who I am not.

I accept who I am and who I am not.

Over and over again, like a skipping record these words played. This was big! I am notoriously hard on myself. As the words repeated, they resonated more and more deeply. Filling my entire being with acceptance of all that I am and all that I am not.

What happened in the moments that followed are nearly impossible to express in concrete language, but I’ll try.

With one deep exhale it was like a mighty damn broke open. The wall of hostility and pain came crumbling down and tears started to fall uncontrollable. It was acutely painful and at the same time filled me with intense joy! In that moment it was like I knew the work of forgiving was done and that I was in a new place of being able to truly love and accept who my mother is and who she is not.

On the next inhale, it was as though the door to a giant empty ballroom had been flung open as I took in a breath so deep that it seemed as though my lungs would expand forever. And with that breath that enormous, empty space was flooded with peace. Such sweet peace! I knew then and there that God had done what I was completely unable to do for myself; breaking down the wall of hostility and hurt I held towards my mother. And the heaviness of that wall pressing in on my soul was simple gone.

Through Centering prayer, God has shown me the light and free child that I truly am, by breaking through the walls of shame, vanity, selfishness, perfectionism, distrust, passivity and much more that I erected. Graciously teaching me to love who I am and forgive what I am not. And God has enabled me to do what I doubted was ever possible. Extend that same grace to my mother.

As I enter into solitude, silence and stillness I’m reminded of the child that lives within the-still-to-be demolished walls of my soul. I see her twirling and laughing with God. I hear Jesus beckon,

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

And I wait.

For God to remove all that’s left keeping me from reuniting with my true self–a little girl called Enough.


 

Mindy Durias
Mindy Durias
 lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

Durias Family

Coming Home to God: A Family’s Experience with Centering Prayer

by Mindy Durias

Our world is moving forward at an unprecedented pace.  The ability to be so easily connected to one another has made this planet very small indeed.  Endless information and people around the world are literally a touch away. Yet, it is quite possible that we have never been more disconnected from our true selves and to God.  The moments of our lives are filled with the buzz of technological noise that never sleeps.

As a mother of five children, in this age of concrete technological advances and scientific breakthroughs, I wrestle with how to communicate the abstract, mysterious, and intangible relationship we are created to share with the Divine.

In the past three years, I have been practicing contemplative prayer as a way to connect more intimately with God. This has included introducing my children to Lectio Divina as a way to listen to the Spirit of God speaking uniquely to their individual hearts. They have been very open and receptive to this practice, and consequently have grown in their day-to-day awareness of God speaking into the moments of their lives.

Lectio Divina is a very accessible contemplative prayer practice.  Especially in the sense that it allows for verbal response.  This makes it one of the easier practices to introduce to anyone unfamiliar with contemplative prayer, and to children in particular.

But what of the apophatic (non-verbal) prayer practice Centering Prayer? This prayer has been transformative in my life.  I’ve found abundant grace in the silence, stillness and solitude of this practice.  It has helped me to disconnect from the noise and activity of life and find myself in God’s embrace.  And more profoundly, Centering Prayer has created a deeper awareness of who I truly am in God.  In the practice, I’ve come home to myself and God.

In the fall of 2014, I decided to experiment with my children and see if they would have a similarly positive experience with Centering Prayer.  At first, the struggle was to find language to communicate the practice to children ranging in ages from five to sixteen.  It became clear right away, that while she could understand what Centering Prayer was, my five year old was not ready to sit in silence, stillness and solitude for any amount of time!

My other four children ages nine, twelve, thirteen and sixteen also quickly grasped the concept of the practice, so we began trying it out.  We started with three minute sits.  Gradually, we lengthened the time to five minutes, then eight, ten and so on-until we reached the twenty minute mark.  That is where we are now.  Our intent is to practice everyday after breakfast and before we begin the rest of the day.

It has not been perfect.   In fact, some days it feels like a complete waste of time.  Wiggling limbs, wrestling in chairs, bodily noises, rough starts to the day, the irritation of relational conflict, you name it.  We have experienced it.

Yet, I keep reminding myself, that this is a practice.  A perfect experience should never be the goal.  For no such experience truly exists.  The fruit of the practice itself, is seen in the rest of life.  My hope is that we are becoming more aware of God in everything.

So, we continue to practice.  To open our hearts together to the presence and action of God within us.  We enter with the invitation of Psalm 46:10 which says, “Be still, and know that I am God”.

Little changes have been made along the way to accommodate the needs and development of each child.  Currently, most days my husband, sixteen and thirteen year old and I sit for twenty minutes together.  Then, my twelve and nine year old and I sit for ten minutes together.  Our five year old talks about joining us when she is bigger.  For now, she is learning Breath Prayer and the beauty of God being as near to her as every breath she breathes.  It is perfect for where she is at right now.

In Centering Prayer we are all learning to come just as we are, and to find our true home in God who continues to affirm that we all belong.  

In this place of belonging, it is my hope that each of us will choose to embrace one another in love and help bring healing to this world in search for peace with God and humankind.


 

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Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

 

Are You Living a “Normal” Life?

by Damien Faughnan

 

Last November, my acupuncturist bluntly stated, “The way you are living is not normal.” It stung, and not just because he was sticking needles in me at the time! The truth is, I spent last year in a fog of being “too busy.”

 

Since then, I’ve been immersed in a conversation with myself about what constitutes a “normal” life. I’ve been asking myself: Why? Why do I do this to myself? Why have I succumbed to living as a human “doing” when I really want to be a human being?

 

I know I’m not alone. I hear it from my clients and from my brothers in Illuman. In our so-called “advanced” world, we have created a way of living where we are all too busy. Too busy for sitting and listening. Too busy to create and nourish community. Too busy to just be.

 

And this appears to be worse if you have kids! I hear my friends who have kids tell me that they are run ragged trying to manage their kids’ schedules. It would appear that we are raising really busy kids too.

 

We’ve not been helped by technology. What is supposed to make our lives easier and simpler is, in fact, demanding more and more of our attention. Emails, social media, breaking news; they all battle for our attention. And we now have a new condition for those who can’t disconnect: FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out).

 

People experience anxiety because they are afraid of missing something, and thus they constantly have to check their digital device. Who isn’t overwhelmed with a daily avalanche of email? I have clients who come home from work, have dinner, and then go back to work, fighting a never-ending battle with the ever-filling inbox.

 

The unexamined life is not worth living, or so they say. With all of this “busyness,” how do we stay grounded and connected?

 

I know that lots of us crave a different relationship with technology, our work, our families, and our community. We want to be connected and grounded. This is precisely why we need a spiritual practice.

At a very basic level, it challenges us to “show up” and be fully awake. It challenges us to both live differently and engage in a different way of “knowing.” I know it challenges me to be centered, grounded, and genuinely connected.

 

I’m a work in progress. That’s what the spiritual journey is all about. I’ve made some significant changes in order to better manage my commitments, my travel, my use of technology, and my engagement with the world. I am also choosing to continue to grapple with the question: “Are you living a normal life?”

 


Faughnan,Damien_mini Damien Faughnan is an executive coach who works with senior executives seeking to become more effective leaders. He serves as Chair of the Board for Illuman, a non-profit that supports men who desire to deepen their spiritual lives. Damien is happily married and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. Illuman is an organization for men dedicated to safe-guarding and expanding Fr. Richard Rohr’s transformative men’s work. 

Restored image by Laencia Rouse

Joining the Anti-Human Trafficking Movement

As Shandra Woworuntu and Chris Heuertz speak at Gravity’s anti-human trafficking Vocare Speakers Series, many of those attending may ask what can be done.

Shandra and Chris have put together this list of first steps to get involved in the fight for freedom for today’s modern victims of human slavery.

Ways to Respond

Educate yourself, your family, your friends, and your community about the reality of human trafficking.

Raise Awareness in your community and congregation.

Stay Informed by following these survivors on Twitter: Minh Dang, Rani HongIma Matul, Holly Smith, Shandra Woworuntu, and others.

Support and Collaborate with local organizations working against modern slavery by volunteering or making financial investments in the work they’re doing.

Thoughtful Consumption, be aware of what you’re purchasing and the potential trail of forced labor used in manufacturing products.

Use Your Talents to Join the Movement, not everyone needs to start a new organization, but everyone has something they can offer.

Report Suspicious Activity by calling the National Human Trafficking hotline: 888-837-7888.

Lobby your local Congress(wo)men and Senators to implement stronger laws to prevent trafficking as well as legislation to support survivors of human trafficking.

Pray daily for freedom for those enslaved in modern-day slavery.

Donate a scholarship for a human trafficking survivor to attend a Gravity sponsored retreat.

Books

Walking Prey: How America’s Youth Are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery, by Holly Austin Smith

The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, by Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter

Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It, by David Batstone

Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia, by Louise Brown

Sexually Exploited Children: Working to Protect and Heal, edited by Phyllis Kilbourn and Marjorie McDermid

Refuse to do Nothing: Finding Your Power to Abolish Modern-Day Slavery, by Shayne Moore and Kimberly McOwen Kim

Organizations

Freedom for All partners with on the ground organizations that create long-term, systemic change to end slavery in the countries where they work and to save lives by freeing people who are held in slavery.

Mentari is a survivors network working to mentor and train persons who have been victimized by human traffickers, enabling survivors to lead stable lives (an organization founded by Shandra Woworuntu, coming soon).

National Survivors Network brings together communities of survivors of human trafficking by creating a platform for survivor-led advocacy, peer-to-peer mentorship, and empowerment that embraces all survivors, regardless of gender, age, nationality, or type of trafficking experience.

Nomi Network is a nonprofit that creates economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking.

Polaris is grounded in a set of values and organizational beliefs that provide a foundation for all their programs and activities. Polaris strives to embody and model these values within the Polaris community and within the anti-human trafficking movement: Service, Reality and Impact-Centered, Empowerment, Non-Violence and Respect, Transformative Innovation, and Holistic Approach.

Restore exists for every survivor, the promise of a new life. For our nation, the end of modern-day slavery.

Sari Bari offers freedom to women trapped in the sex trade and provides opportunity to women who are vulnerable to trafficking. Sari Bari does this by providing employment in a safe, loving environment, where women are trained as artisans. Women create beautiful, sustainable, handmade products, while making their lives new.

Two Wings used education, mentoring, and life coaching to empower at-risk youth and survivors of sex trafficking in achieving their dreams in the greater Southern California region.

How to Make Time Stand Still

by Kelly Pigott

 

Take a look at these two pictures.

dinosaur vally 1  dinosaur valley 2 

My wife snapped them at the same spot in Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas about six years apart.  Aside from the obvious size differences in my children, you’ll notice the baby fat on my son’s arms has disappeared, replaced with lean muscles from playing mega hours of tennis.  My daughter’s cherubic figure has been replaced with that of a young girl.  And my hair looks decidedly, um, lighter.

Moments like these remind me of the relentless motion of time. And the constant battle I have to wage against our modern era’s unhealthy view that time is a commodity.  That it’s the enemy.  Or that it must be strictly managed in order that we can be more productive.

These notions lead us to the same mistake that some of the ancient Jews made with the concept of the Sabbath during the fleeting days of Jesus.   They spent an inordinate amount of time arguing about Sabbath laws: how much weight one can carry, how far one can travel, or whether or not starting a fire was technically “work.”  But by failing to practice the “spirit” of the Sabbath—to stop and be still—they blinded themselves to the fact that the Lord of the Sabbath was standing right in front of them.

Contemplatives have long pondered the notion of time, and in particular, our unhealthy obsession with either the past or the future.  One of them was a 14th century anonymous monk in England who wrote the Cloud of Unknowing.  Just about every book written on contemplative spirituality since owes a great debt to this sage, for his wisdom has been passed on from one generation to the next through such stalwarts as John of the Cross, Ignatius, and Teresa of Avila, to name a few.

It’s important to note, too, that this monk lived in England during a time when life was not good.  His nation was in the middle of a bitter campaign against France known as the Hundred Years’ War.  And plagues swept through the region in giant waves, completely decimating entire towns.

And yet, he had the presence of mind to guide his young novitiates through the disease, violence, and chaos of his age with wisdom like this, “Time is made for us; we’re not made for time.”  He goes on to explain, “God, the giver of time, never gives us two moments simultaneously; instead, he gives them to us one after another.  We never get the future.  We only get the present moment.”

My guess is that this was a tough lesson for the new monks.  It must have been hard to relish the moment while you were hauling diseased bodies to the massive open graves.  And yet, somehow this 14th century monk learned to do it.

Our world is much different than it was in the 14th century.  Or even the first.  And yet, in some ways it is the same.  We may not argue about Sabbath laws anymore, but my guess is that if Jesus appeared in front of us today, we might miss him because we were gazing at yet another cat picture on Instagram.

And we may not be haunted by plagues, but the memories of mistakes we’ve made can still conjure guilt and shame and remorse.  Or a trauma from our past can still bring to the surface the hurt and the anger and the feeling of injustice we experienced.  Consequently, we walk around for the rest of the day feeling sick.

“Time is made for us,” the author of the Cloud of Unknowing admonishes.  Sounds good.  But how do we put that into practice?

One way is to recover the ancient Christian practice of living in the now. Or as I like to put it, to make time stand still.  Because what’s all around you at this very moment is simple, beautiful, and profound.  But you have to make the effort to notice it.

You have to stop.

Breathe deeply.

And become aware.

Allow the drive to always be elsewhere pass you by.

Answer the voices in your head that call to you from the past or the future with, “What I have is this moment, and this moment is good.”

And give your brain permission to stop filtering out the mundane, and instead, to give priority to it.

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but as my son and daughter snuggled next to me at the state park I pondered how quickly they had grown.  It seems just a little while ago I was rocking them to sleep at night.

My son interrupted my thoughts.  “Can we go now?”

“Not yet. Give me a moment,” I said.  I inhaled deeply.  Juniper.  I sensed my children jiggling next to me.  Impatient.  I saw a vulture floating effortlessly on wind currents scanning for food.  I heard the steady trickle from the Paluxy River in front of me, and the shutter clicks from my wife’s camera from behind.  My son studied a flat rock and placed it in his pocket, probably to skip across the water later in the day.  A breeze pushed my daughter’s hair back, and caused branches to sway back and forth to some ancient rhythm that still echoed in this canyon.

And…time…stood….


Kelly Pigott is the University Chaplain and Associate Professor of Church History at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, where in addition to church history, he teaches courses in ministry and spiritual formation.  He has written numerous journal articles and serves on the editorial boards of two academic history societies.  He has twenty years of experience as a pastor.  Most recently, he contributed a chapter to the book, “Phyllis Tickle: Evangelist of the Future”(Paraclete Press) edited by Tony Jones.

He has a weakness for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cheeseburgers.   He likes to take long hikes in the mountains, roast marshmallows over a fire, skip stones across a lake, and camp in his trailer with his children Nathaniel and Eliana.  He feels most like a kid when he rides his bike around the park.  He is very much in love with his wife, Susan, who teaches Old Testament and Hebrew.  And he wishes that Mark Twain had written one of the gospels. 

Follow Kelly on twitter at @kellypigott

 

One Day Only :: Support Gravity through Giving Challenge

One Day Only :: Support Gravity on May 21st!

Omaha Community Foundation Charitable Challenge

It’s that time of year!

Time for “Omaha Gives,” a once-a-year charitable challenge that people from all over the world can participate in.

Gravity is developing the contemplative consciousness of people like you, to make the world a better place. And we need your support.

Donate any amount during the 24 hours of May 21 to help us qualify for matching funds. (Minimum $10 donation qualifies.) Learn about matching funds here.

 

Who Can Give:    Anyone can give from anywhere in the world!

When:                   Wednesday, May 21, 2014, between 1:00am and 11:59pm.

How Much:           At least $10. The more the better!

Where:                  Use this link.

 

The more gifts given in a single hour to Gravity qualify us for an added bonus gift of $1,000. So if you’d like to give more than $10, you can make multiple $10 gifts to help us get the bonus. The hours between 1:00am and 6:00am are prime time for this challenge.

 

Join us as we dare to build a better world.

 

Gravitas

An article by Leo Adam Biga in Metro Magazine

 

1After serving the poorest of the poor, an Omaha couple now helps heal fellow healers. Grounded in faith, spirituality and social justice, Chris and Phileena Heuertz are anchoring this healing vision in the heart of Omaha, at Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism.

“We want to offer these little glimpses of hope and tools of nourishment for the activist soul to keep going, to keep fighting for a better world and not give up.”  Read full article here.

 

 

Couple’s New Omaha Center Hopes to Keep Humanitarians Healthy

An article by Casey Logan in the Omaha World Herald

 

2In the age of noise and distraction, it is an invitation to silence and solitude. For the spiritual person, it is an exercise to deepen a relationship with God. To Phileena and Chris Heuertz, it is the core component of the Gravity Center, an organization aimed at fueling a new activism and helping others “do good better.”

It is a way to share the practices that sustained them in the face of unimaginable suffering and a failed humanity. It is the merging of their two worlds. It might be the bravest thing they’ve ever done.  Read full article here.

 

Unity in Silence

An article by Chris Heuertz at Duke Divinity’s Faith and Leadership Blog

 

prayer sit

 

It’s always an eclectic group that gathers — an occasional Buddhist, versions of Christians, sometimes a Hindu, even quite a few nonreligious people show up. All of them care deeply about their spirituality. All of them value the mysteries only discovered in silence.

 

Read full article here.

 

 

 

 

 

Folded Hands in Chennai image by Nikole Lim

Following my Children to God’s Heart

by Mindy Durias

I am pretty new to contemplative prayer, but not new to faith.  I have spent more than half of my life seeking God and learning about Him. But two years ago I was introduced to contemplative prayer.

To be honest, I struggled with it at first.

I found that there were obstacles in my own heart and mind that got in the way of me embracing solitude, silence, and stillness before God.

  • Fear that I wasn’t doing enough, a wrong perception of what I was doing;
  • Doubt that there would be any benefit, anxiety wondering what might be stirred up.
  • And most of all doubt that with my busy life raising five kids I could make room for this way of spending time with God.

However, I was so intrigued by the idea of it that I continued thinking and reading about it, even sporadically trying out a few different prayer practices.

I did not realize it at the time but I was saying “yes” to God.  Even with the inconsistent time I spent in contemplative prayer, God was clearing away all my fears, doubts, wrong perceptions and anxieties.  God was introducing Godself to me in a new, very personal way.

After the first year of getting my feet wet, I began considering how I might share this with my children.

I have five children, ranging in ages from four-fourteen years old. I had just begun to recognize the treasure that contemplative prayer was becoming in my own heart and was curious if this way of praying would be possible for my children to engage in.

From the very beginning, I was apprehensive. This was unlike anything I had done with them before. We had sought to understand scripture together, prayed, memorized scripture, talked about God and created opportunities to serve Him.  But this was to be totally different.  I realized that contemplative prayer would not be teaching them more about God, but it would be introducing them to God.

Lectio Divina, meaning “divine reading” or “sacred reading” is an ancient practice of praying the Scriptures. This was the first contemplative prayer practice that I taught them.

Day after day, I was amazed by how quickly they were able to enter in.  It dawned on me that they did not have the heavy burden of anxiety, fear, and doubt that I carried coming into contemplative prayer.  Nor did they feel compelled, as I so often do, to interpret the text they were hearing.  Their hearts were ready to receive God just as God is.  

In truth, as I led them in Lectio Divina and heard them respond to the living Word of God spoken to them, I was humbled.  They would say things like, “I hear God saying I love you, I am with you, don’t fear, you are mine, you belong, rest in me, you do not have to try harder…”  My own heart was healing as they affirmed these things which, as it turned out, I really needed to hear.

They were enjoying Lectio Divina so much that I decided to teach them Breath Prayer. Known as the “Jesus Prayer” or “Prayer of the Heart,” early practitioners would repeat to the rhythm of their breath the phrase, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” In time, the prayer was shortened to, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy” or simply, “Jesus, mercy.” These words, or other similar words of your choosing, are repeated silently within.

Being a completely non-verbal way of praying, I was curious how they would do.  Once again, they jumped right in!  Yes, they had things that would distract them from time to time, mostly things in their physical bodies-the pulsing energy of a child that I wish I still possessed.  But much less so than I would have thought.  I realized that as children they don’t have the on-going to-do list in their head shouting at them to be productive.  During Breath Prayer, they were not  wrestling in their minds with the demands of life.  This, too, served as a teaching tool for me.

For several months, we would do Lectio Divina followed by Breath Prayer.  To be truthful, it was not always great.  Not because of them, however.  In hindsight, I can see that  the days when it was particularly difficult for us to enter into contemplative prayer usually were the result of where I was at.  I was setting a negative, rushed, closed, tone to our time.  If they were struggling to engage in the prayer practice that day, it was because they were following my lead. Such is the mirror of parenting.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to teach them Centering Prayer. This prayer practice is grounded in a relationship with God, through Christ, and is a practice to nurture that relationship. It facilitates resting in God. Centering Prayer offers a way to grow in intimacy with God, moving beyond conversation to communion.

I thought this to be a challenging step to take, simply because I had heard that it can be the most difficult of contemplative prayer practices. It requires a letting go of yourself that I was not certain children could appreciate or understand.  However, I felt that we were all ready to give it a try.

We had practiced listening to God through His word and responding in faith with Lectio Divina.  We had quieted ourselves and connected with God’s constant presence and grace towards us in Breath Prayer. It seemed we were ready to at least attempt to be still and sit for an extended time with the divine presence that dwells in each of our very hearts.

I spent a few days introducing Centering Prayer to them, allowing them time to think about it and to ask questions.  We began slowly.  First sitting for five minutes, then eight, then ten.  Currently we sit for eighteen minutes.  When we debrief after our prayer times, I regularly hear words like, “Centering Prayer is my favorite,” or  “Was that really fifteen minutes?  It seemed like two!”

What I am realizing is that children have no trouble at all resting in God’s presence.  They have no preconceived notions of what God should be like or expectation for God to speak.  They are comfortable with God’s silence and just love the chance to curl up in God’s lap and be held.  They are comfortable with the lack of need to do anything or say anything in these contemplative prayer practices; because they feel no need to perform for God or say anything to please God or others.  They do not have any deep wounds that they are concealing from God or fear that God will not love them just as they are.

Oh!  If I only I could be more like my children!  Isn’t this precisely what Jesus taught?  That we should become like little children–who are neither afraid of God nor doubt God’s all encompassing love and acceptance. I am certainly seeing with fresh eyes that to become like a child is not a digresson. It is a progression toward intimacy and union with God.


IMG_2626

Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

 

Pop Can Mary image by Lanecia Rouse

Ashes, Tattoos, the Sign of the Cross, and My Friend Connie

by Kelly Pigott

 

I was in first grade the first time I participated in an Ash Wednesday service. I attended a parochial school, and our teacher, a very stern nun, paraded us into the chapel where we all knelt and were told to be still and quiet, an impossibility for six-year-olds. But we tried our best. The priest walked in, dressed in a formal robe, and he approached each of us, spoke soft words, and placed an ashen cross on our foreheads. I had no idea at the time what this meant. I knew it was important, and sad, and it identified me as a Christian, but that was about all my little grade-schooler brain could comprehend.

I do, however, remember that it made me feel special—because this pastel-grey mark identified me with my classmates, and my faith.

The tradition of marking the forehead with the sign of the cross goes all the way back to the first couple of centuries of Christianity.  Tertullian (b. 160 CE) mentions it as a motion (much like we do today when we clasp our hands or raise them in prayer) that Christians utilized to set apart or bless routine events, beginning with the rise of each morning. It was a way of saying, “this belongs to God” and to encourage a life of purity.

At first, it was done by simply marking an invisible cross on the forehead with a thumb.  Many centuries later, it will become a more explicit motion that tapped the forehead, chest, and then left and right shoulder if you lived in the West, but right to left shoulder if you lived in the East, providing yet another annoying little disagreement for the Latin and Greek Christians to argue about.

But during the infancy of Christianity, the sign of the cross unified the church as an expression of solidarity in a hostile world.

It soon expanded to many other aspects of the church.  When the persecutions escalated, Christians used the sign of the cross to clandestinely identify themselves as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It was also incorporated in the baptismal service as oil was placed on the forehead of the still dripping candidate during the blessing. And even exorcists used oil on the forehead as an aid to driving out demons.

There was also a brief and curious practice that emerged in the 4th century after Constantine lifted the status of Christians and halted the persecutions. Augustine remarks how it became in vogue among believers to have a tattoo of a cross indelibly marked on their forehead.  I can only imagine the kind of conversations that took place between Roman parents and their teenagers about that one.

Eventually, the sign of the cross became incorporated in the season of Lent, where the bishop used ash to make the sign of the cross.  Ash, as you know, was often used in the Bible as a sign of repentance.  And indeed, on the first day of Lent, many Christians from various traditions will walk around as I did with a sign that not only identifies them with Christ who saw himself as the man of sorrows mentioned in Isaiah, but also with all the broken in the world. It is a way of mourning with those who mourn, and weeping with those weep. This is not a pity party, or a “let’s get together and get depressed” occasion.

It is a journey of healing.  And one that we all need to take.

One spring I attended a funeral for a friend who was way too young and who had left two daughters and a son behind.  At the graveside there were so many people gathered that I was a good distance from the casket and could barely hear the pastor. A woman named Connie stood next to me while we waited for the service to conclude. Her head barely reached my shoulder, and she had a round face with straight, brunette hair that always looked a little disheveled; ironically, she owned a local beauty shop and had cut my hair for me when I lived in the area. We chatted for a little and got caught up on things. Connie had been battling cancer for years and had lived far longer than the doctors expected.  She didn’t like to talk about her own cancer much, except to boast about how God was confounding her oncologist.

Connie refused to be depressed or sad about her condition. Instead, she dealt with her anxiety by doing everything she could to stare down death in a contest to make him blink first. She had a contagious, independent spirit. She refused to miss work even when she was feeling wretched. She reached out to other cancer patients in the area. Numerous times I saw her driving someone to the doctor’s office for chemo therapy or visiting acquaintances at the hospital—even people she barely knew.

She volunteered at the funeral home, styling the hair of the deceased before they were presented at a funeral. Until I had met Connie, I never even thought about somebody needing to do this. But she relished the job, and had some bizarre stories to tell about the things she learned the hard way about fixing the hair of dead people. And somehow, this melancholic ministry gave Connie humor and strength to make it one more day.

She is one of those rare individuals I have met who I would nominate for sainthood.

Eventually we ran out of things to say and the crowd settled down. A reverent silence fell on the hillside, except for the birds. The pastor was bringing his remarks to a close, and as he did Connie reached out and grabbed my hand.

I have to admit I was a little embarrassed at first. Here I was without my wife, and Connie was without her husband, and we were both surrounded by a mob of people, some of whom were my former church members, and we were holding hands.

What would people think?

I felt awkward.

But after the initial shock wore off, I was able to think a little more clearly about what was going on.  I turned and looked at Connie, who was crying just a little, her eyes fixated on the casket. And I don’t think it was just because of sadness. She was scared. And then it dawned on me what must be frightening her.

She was staring at her own near future.

How dumb could I be? Here I was, afraid of what others might think when all the while Connie was giving me a precious gift—a chance to share her pain. I stepped a little closer to her, and she rested her head on my upper arm as we watched the casket descend into the grave

Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”


 

Kelly Pigott is the University Chaplain and Associate Professor of Church History at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, where in addition to church history, he teaches courses in ministry and spiritual formation.  He has written numerous journal articles and serves on the editorial boards of two academic history societies.  He has twenty years of experience as a pastor.  Most recently, he contributed a chapter to the book, “Phyllis Tickle: Evangelist of the Future” (Paraclete Press) edited by Tony Jones.

He has a weakness for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cheeseburgers.   He likes to take long hikes in the mountains, roast marshmallows over a fire, skip stones across a lake, and camp in his trailer with his children Nathaniel and Eliana.  He feels most like a kid when he rides his bike around the park.  He is very much in love with his wife, Susan, who teaches Old Testament and Hebrew.  And he wishes that Mark Twain had written one of the gospels. 

Follow Kelly on twitter at @kellypigott

Nikole Blog Post

Introducing Gravity’s First Contemplative Activist in Residence

February 28 – April 17, 2014 

From February 28-April 17, 2014 Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism welcomes Nikole Lim as our first Contemplative Activist in Residence, a visiting practitioner sabbatical.

The CAIR program supports leading, innovative activists who desire a sabbatical for renewal and personal, professional and spiritual development. CAIR is for bold and courageous leaders who have forfeited the American dream to actively dream of a better world for all of the earth’s citizens.

The CAIR fellowship includes participation on the Africa Solidarity Pilgrimage, spiritual direction sessions, weekly contemplative prayer sits, weekly mentorship meetings, participation at Gravity’s first spring Grounding Retreat, and housing provided by Gravity.

From documenting a widow with leprosy in the jungles of Vietnam, to providing scholarships for survivors of rape in Zambia, furthering social justice through the arts has been a vital part of Nikole’s international vocation. By providing the platform for voices to be heard, Nikole strives to shift paradigms by fighting against stigmas of oppression.

Nikole is the co-founder and executive director of Freely in Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring dignity to survivors of sexual violence by providing educational opportunities and platforms for women to fulfill their dreams. Operating in sub-Saharan Africa, Freely in Hope provides psychological counseling, health care, entrepreneurial courses and high school and university educational scholarships for young women who are survivors of or vulnerable to sexual violence in slum communities. Nikole graduated with a degree in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University and resides in the Bay Area. Her heart beats for young women whose voices are silenced by oppression and desires to see every heart restored.


 

Joyland-phedits

Introducing Gravity’s 2014 Africa Solidarity Pilgrims

ritah

Ritah Buguzi

In her local Ugandan language, Ritah Buguzi means “owner of good things.” She’s an active member of Refreshing Assembly Church, a worshipping community within the Pentecostal tradition. Her parents are committed Christians who deeply love their family, and as the first daughter in a family of 8 children, Ritah knows she’s beloved. Currently Ritah is in her first year as a student at Uganda Christian University in Mukono working on her Bachelors in Business Computing. When she’s not in class she works part-time as a sales executive at a stationary shop in Kireka, supporting a local family business she believes in. Dynamic and adventurous, Ritah’s passions include singing, dancing, working with the youth at her church, and traveling—just this past year she was able to make trips to Rwanda and Tanzania.

chris

Chris Heuertz

Chris has spent his life bearing witness to the possibility of hope among a world that has legitimate reasons to question God’s goodness. Chris studied at Asbury University in Kentucky before moving to India where he was mentored by Mother Teresa for three years. While living in India, he helped launch South Asia’s first pediatric AIDS care home. A forerunner in the New Friar movement, Chris and Phileena served with the Word Made Flesh community for nearly 20 years, working for women and children victimized by human traffickers in the commercial sex industry. In 2012 Chris co-founded Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism. Named one of Outreach magazine’s “30 Emerging Influencers Reshaping Leadership,” Chris is a curator of unlikely friendships, an instigator for good, a champion of collaboration, and a witness to hope, Chris fights for a renewal of contemplative activism. Chris is a frequent contributor or frequently highlighted in such publications as Christianity Today, Duke’s “Faith & Leadership,” Q Ideas, Relevant Magazine, The Work of the People and the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section. He is known for his provocative storytelling, and has written 3 books. Follow Chris on Twitter here.

phileena

Phileena Heuertz

Author, spiritual director, yoga instructor, public speaker, and retreat guide, Phileena is passionate about spirituality and making the world a better place. With a rare gift for communicating the dynamics of the inner life, Phileena gracefully guides others toward interior growth and bringing harmony to their outer life. In 2012 she co-founded Gravity to support the development of Christian consciousness in the 21st century, by making contemplative practice accessible to individuals, communities, and organizations who engage the challenging social justice perils of our time. Phileena’s primary work is public speaking, teaching, and writing on contemplative spirituality, facilitation of contemplative retreats, and spiritual direction. Named “Outstanding Alumni” by Asbury University and one of Outreach magazine’s “30 Emerging Influencers Reshaping Leadership,” Phileena believes that contemplative spirituality is crucial to authentic, creative, liberating social change. Phileena is a member of the Red Letter Christians, is featured on Q Ideas, The Work of the People and Darkwood Brew and known for her provocative theological narrative, Pilgrimage of a Soul (IVP 2010). Follow Phileena on Twitter here.

gloria

Gloria Katsuiime

Whether studying at a MorningStar University, a missions training institute in South Carolina or the years she spent serving in Nepal or representing a new generation of social entrepreneurs in South Africa at the Lausanne Movement’s conference in Cape Town, Gloria’s willingness to respond to God’s call on her life is inspiring. Originally from Uganda, Gloria makes her home in Kampala where she’s taken her innovative imagination to open Endiro Coffee. Endiro’s restorative spirit is captured in its very location—a corner property that was formerly a garbage dump is now home to one of the city’s most beautiful cafés. As a successful small business owner, Gloria’s motivation has always been for the youth—Endiro Coffee exists to support organizations that work with child- headed households and families impacted by the global AIDS pandemic.

nikole

Nikole Lim

From documenting a widow with leprosy in the jungles of Vietnam, to providing scholarships for survivors of rape in Zambia, furthering social justice through the arts has been a vital part of Nikole’s international vocation. By providing the platform for voices to be heard, Nikole strives to shift paradigms by fighting against stigmas of oppression. Nikole is the co-founder and executive director of Freely in Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring dignity to survivors of sexual violence by providing educational opportunities and platforms for women to fulfill their dreams. Operating in sub-Saharan Africa, Freely in Hope provides psychological counseling, health care, entrepreneurial courses and high school and university educational scholarships for young women who are survivors of or vulnerable to sexual violence in slum communities. Nikole graduated with a degree in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University and resides in the Bay Area. Her heart beats for young women whose voices are silenced by oppression and desires to see every heart restored. Follow Nikole on Twitter here.

janai

Janai Marshall

Janai M. Marshall is a native of Washington, DC. Growing up, she struggled with low self-esteem, often feeling isolated from peers.  These feelings led her to start actively searching for God around age 11, during a time that she was being made to attend her grandmother’s aging, traditional Episcopal church. During this time, after several months of fruitlessly muddling through agnosticism and Islam, she began a relationship with Jesus Christ. But even so, the next 5 years to follow were marked with great self-loathing, broken & self-medicating relationships, and depression. However, it was during her experience as an undergraduate student at Hampton University that she met God in a way that spurred her to start a deeply loving, committed, and brand new walk. She later served as a leader for the Student Christian Association, led a women’s campus Bible Study for two years, and helped coordinate community service and outreach events. After graduation in 2008, she returned to DC to serve in local ministries, and worked as a residential counselor to high-risk traumatized adolescent girls. It was doing this work that prepared her to enroll in graduate school in 2009 to earn her Masters of Science in Mental Health Counseling.  She is now completing her degree, focusing research on sexually traumatized females, and is employed as a Case Manager serving families living in DC Public Housing to help them become self-sufficient.  She loves helping people to more clearly see the beauty and purpose of whom God created them to be.

joseph

Joseph Rurangwa

Joseph Rurangwa is a Democracy and Governance specialist at the US Agency for International Development. His work and interests revolve around political reforms, reconciliation, and peace building in post conflict societies. He is married to Nathalie Uwishimwe with whom he has three girls: Angel, Heaven, and Michela. Since the late 90’s, he has been involved in negotiations and peace initiatives within and outside Rwanda. He then joined Rwanda’s Ministry of Local Government where he worked on several governance reforms that included coordinating the drafting of new laws, and coordinating the implementation of Rwanda’s good governance program. In 2010, he joined the United States Mission where he advises the US Government on governance trends in Rwanda, in addition managing projects in the areas of peace building, media development, police strengthening, civil society strengthening and human and institutional capacity development. Joseph is the chairman of the US Mission local staff community. Joseph works tirelessly within the Rwandan political structure, building consensus and fighting for reform.

aaron

Aaron Strumpel

Aaron Strumpel grew up in a hundred year old house surrounded by corn in Iowa, where he began collecting sounds and textures, ratty and sublime, including a trumpet his parents bought him in fifth grade. Since then he’s lived faithfully into this vocation as a songwriter based in Boulder, Colorado. A collaborator by nature, he’s partnered with Restoration Village, Enter the Worship Circle, Agents of Future, and others to help in making art that speaks to the heart of God for the oppressed. Aaron won the Bandspotting competition at the 2009 Festival of Faith and Music at Calvin College for his album “Elephants,” and since then his work has been featured in Christianity Today, Relevant Magazine, and Paste Magazine. He spent the fall semester of 2012 as the Artist Practitioner in Residence in partnership with the Peace and Justice Institute at George Fox University. Currently he is writing for another worship project called “Bright Star.” Follow Aaron on Twitter here.

rebekah

Rebekah Witzke

A college drop out with a circuitous vocational path, Rebekah Witzke is hard to pin down. In the last five years she has worked in Admissions at a Classical Christian School in Manhattan and then served as Director of Partnerships for Q– a Christian Non-Profit that exists to advance the common good in all spheres of society. At Q her eyes were opened to social good and the role Christians can play in the restoration of our culture. Currently, she is co-proprietor of a lifestyle boutique in Queens – a neighborhood in which she is actively involved and where she makes a home with her husband and three children-two of whom are teaching her to play the ukulele at the moment. Also a trained actor, she is consistently auditioning and just finished a commercial shoot; this spring she will be writing and producing a comedic web series. In all her varied work, Rebekah longs to hear people’s stories, discover her own, and see people come to an authentic understanding of God’s grace which covers us all. Follow Rebekah on Twitter here.