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