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.


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


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.


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.



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.






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.


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.


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

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.


Introducing Gravity’s 2014 Africa Solidarity Pilgrims


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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

there are no dead ends, only a clearly defined path

Walking the Labyrinth

by Kathy Mansfield


 What is the Labyrinth?

The labyrinth is not a maze. The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool—a single path of prayer and meditation leading to a center and returning back. Unlike a maze—there are no dead ends, only a clearly defined path.

Labyrinths are thought to enhance right brain activity. Whereas a maze is constructed to be a left-brain puzzle.

A maze can have more than one entrance and numerous choices along the way. The walls are usually high so as to block one from seeing the way out. Mazes were developed as a source of entertainment. Labyrinths are tools for spiritual renewal.

Walking the labyrinth is a form of contemplative prayer that can bring one closer to God, and to self. Because it utilizes the mind, body and soul, it can help with healing, grief, forgiveness, gratitude, prayer and creativity. 

The labyrinth journey quiets the mind as it removes us from the distractions of daily life. In so doing it allows us to reflect, receive, and be renewed.  The inward and outward turns, symbolize our path through life and our spiritual journey. We appear to reach our destination, only to find that we still have a long way to go

“The labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. …We [people who use and work with labyrinths] are rediscovering a long-forgotten mystical tradition that is insisting to be reborn.” 

-Lauren Artress, Walking the Sacred Path

 Why Walk the Labyrinth?

For some, walking the labyrinth is a way to relax and to meditate, but for others, it is a highly spiritual experience.  For these people, modern day pilgrims, the walk, the journey to the center and back, is a metaphor not only for their journey through life but for their faith journey. On the labyrinth they learn to trust God, to seek His wisdom, and to hear His voice. It is a way to reconnect with our inner Spirit, to go within, to hear the voice of God.

 The world surrounds us. Noise and busyness, abound. Finding time to be still and seek God is becoming harder and harder. The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool that can help us “reconnect” to the Spirit within and to feel God’s presence in the midst of this chaotic world. The labyrinth is truly a gift to us from the past.

What Can the Labyrinth Do for Me?

I once stood in wonder as I observed a young girl who was walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in June 2009.  As I watched her journey into the labyrinth, barefooted, I was amazed at the reverence with which she took each step.  Much to my amazement, when she arrived at the center she started to pray each petal of the center rose.  She got it!

How could such a young girl know how special, how mystical, the Chartres labyrinth is?

I could sense her connection with God, and I could imagine a ray of light illuminating her face; God shining Divine light down from the heavens on her because her prayer was so humble, so intense, so pure, telling her, “My daughter, with you I am well pleased.”  I felt voyeuristic watching this deeply personal and spiritual moment, yet I could not take my eyes off of her until after she had completed her walk.

Later, after I was finished writing in my journal, I saw her with her grandfather at the exit. Had he shared the secrets of walking the labyrinth and praying the center with her?  I do not know.  However, I do know that this image of  “The Girl Praying the Center” is forever etched on my mind.  I will never again walk the labyrinth without thinking of her and her Divine connection. As Thomas Keating once said,

“A single moment of divine union is more valuable than a long period of prayer during which you are constantly in and out of interior silence. It only takes a moment for God to enrich you.”

-Thomas Keating

Don’t you long for this too?  To feel God’s presence in your life once again (or perhaps for the first time)?  The labyrinth, an ancient, spiritual tool, can help you do just that. All it takes is a few minutes of your time.  Are you willing to take the first step?   As St. Augustine said,

“Solvitur Amublando – It is solved by walking.”

Kathy Mansfield is an Advanced, Certified Veriditas Labyrinth Facilitator. She trained under Lauren Artress, the founder of Veriditas.

As a facilitator, Kathy offers monthly walks to the formerly homeless in Charlotte and has seen the impact this type of spiritual practice has on those that have faced difficult situations in their lives. She has seen their transformation of spirit.  Kathy also facilitates walks for her church, women’s conferences, retreats, retirement communities, survivors of domestic violence, and for whomever calls her and asks for her help.  Kathy works with several groups to help them determine what type, size, style of labyrinth to build.

Kathy is also an artist, a photographer that uses her photos to create meditative moments.  She also creates Gratitude Beads that you can carry with you throughout the day. Every time you are feeling grateful for someone or for something you can pull one of the beads forward. At the end of the day, you can look at your Gratitude Beads and be reminded of all of your blessings.

If you would like more information or are interested in Gratitude Beads, email Kathy at

Charlotte Labyrinths, Spiritual Labyrinths | Labyrinths in Charlotte, NC

Reflecting Back Looking Forward

We wanted to make the world a better place. Most people do. But those who give themselves to the hard work of fighting for justice, building peace, and bearing witness to hope find themselves in constant conflict.

After serving 20 year with an international organization fighting human traffickers, caring for children dying from AIDS, and working to disarm child forced to fight as soldiers in civil war, we saw a few consistent symptoms of activist compassion fatigue:

  1. Many practitioners involved in causes, charities, or communities of hope often do a much better job of taking care of those they serve than they do taking care of themselves. There’s an obvious break down in credibility and integrity when we try to heal our own wounds through serving the brokenness in another.
  2. Folks working in difficult communities find it nearly impossible to ground themselves—stability seems like a far-off ideal that activists desperately long for, but seldom embraced.
  3. Often those engaged in the difficult work of justice perpetually teeter on the edge of burnout. Countless young people sign-up for volunteer opportunities, internships, and even careers of service, and while some find ways to sustain and thrive in these callings most are not as fortunate. It’s not uncommon for activists to leave vocations of service disillusioned. Some even walk away from their faith.

We can live better.

We can love better.

We can serve better.

…we can do good better.

And last year was a great start.

It’s hard to believe we’re well into a new year with new possibilities and new opportunities.

Before we get too far away from 2013 we wanted to thank each of you for helping make Gravity’s first year a huge success!

Thank you.

Thank you for believing in the vision. Thank you for getting behind the movement. Thank you for standing with us in solidarity and support.

To capture just a small handful of the highlights from 2013 we:

Thank you for making so much possible. The work of Gravity is shaping the imagination for social engagement of thousands of people—forming people in the contemplative tradition to live thriving lives of justice and peace.

Your support has inspired us to look into a new year with holy ambition and hopefulness for so much more that needs to be done.

Looking back it’s clear that 2012 was a year of transplanting—in many ways an unexpected transition, in many ways a transition that was long overdue. 2013 was a year of rooting—establishing the infrastructure to build the capacity for the future of Gravity. We believe 2014 will be a year of cultivating—launching a series of new programs and initiatives to make the world a better place through contemplative activism.

In addition to our already full speaking schedule, in 2014 we are ready to roll up our sleeves to launch the following programs and initiatives:

We’ll keep you posted on all the great things that come together in this New Year.


Silence nurtures transformation by helping us quiet all the voices that threaten to define us, so that we can hear the One voice, so that we can then know that we are loved to such a degree.

But without silence we too often numb ourselves, or mask over what’s going on in the heart of who we are.

We are afraid of silence because it stirs up some anxiety. That anxiety points to the reality that we don’t know that we are loved, that we don’t know that we are fully accepted.


Film produced by The Work of the People with music from Sleeping at Last


Hearing The Voice Of Love

We must connect to and listen to the voice from which we come, the voice that calls us beloved. In opposition to the many other voices that try to define us, this voice grounds us in a love of self that frees us to love others well. Contemplative practices help bring congruence to our inward and outward practices of love.

Film produced by The Work of the People with music from Sleeping at Last


Cultivating the Contemplative


Why bother? Why cultivate contemplative spirituality in a demanding world with insatiable needs?

To sustain, not just to sustain, but to thrive in difficult vocations of hope we found that we need to nurture a deep spirituality.

We’re all interested in making the world a better place. But it’s not easy. Learning to develop contemplative practices that make room for silence, solitude, and stillness allows our inner life to impact the external world for good.

The world is in desperate need of healing. And we found that to the degree that we are healed, the world will be healed.

We need both. The contemplative and the active have to go hand in hand.

Film produced by The Work of the People with music from Sleeping at Last



Reflecting on Gravity’s One Year

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism.

We have much to celebrate—the press and publicity, the sold out retreats, the tens of thousands of people we spoke with at conferences or on campuses or on book tour, and the nearly quarter of a million dollars we raised this past year.

A year ago, we set out to create.

To create something new.

A year ago, we determined to do something.

To do something different.

And today we want to reflect on what it was we set out to do.

Gravity is fresh.

Gravity is honest.

Gravity is human.

The start-up was quiet and undramatic, but it was, and for that matter still is, very important work.

On a confessional level, starting the Center allowed space to reflect on failures we experienced in our personal lives and in our community—sifting through the ways we used ourselves up personally, spiritually, and emotionally in two decades of demanding social justice work.

If we are honest, if we are completely candid, our motivations in starting this Center for Contemplative Activism were birthed out of our own pains, our deep longings to help people do good better.

We felt compelled to launch the to Center to serve humanitarians, practitioners, and activists who frequently take better care of others than they do themselves—folks who seem to perpetually teeter on the edge of burnout hoping that they can in fact do good better if they can just keep it together.

Ultimately Gravity exists to help the women and children in red-light areas, refugee camps, sewers and slums who deserve better. Who can’t afford another painful loss or sad goodbye. Who don’t need young idealists to show up in their neighborhoods with promises of hope or freedom only to last a couple years before they decide they want to go back to grad school or pour coffee 20 hours a week while figuring out what else they want to do with their privileged freedoms.

Looking back on nearly 20 years in international work among those in poverty has given us an opportunity to reflect deeply and build off of that reflection, creating something new—something beautiful that doesn’t exclude or condemn, but rather affirms and celebrates.

Today there are more people enslaved than any other time in history. Unthinkable numbers of people have no access to clean drinking water. Disparity between rich and poor has never been greater. Wars continue to rage. And our planet is eroding before our eyes.

The way we’ve been living, serving, and giving of ourselves to the world is not working.

We need a new way to live our faith, express our potential, and give of ourselves for the good of the world. The future of our existence in an increasingly pluralized global reality depends on it.

It is time for contemplative activism.

It is time to do good better.

Change stirs up the best and worst of us. A year ago we set out to launch Gravity and the response of friends, family, and supporters was mixed. We knew we were taking a risk. We knew we were laying the entirety of our lives down, in the hopes that new life would emerge.

It didn’t come without resistance. In fact, some of the most hurtful letters we’ve ever gotten in our 20 years of non-profit and mission work, have come since we’ve started the Center.

Many looked on with suspicion.

Some of our supporters—people who had partnered with us for 10, 15, 20 years—quietly slipped away. Some of them were honest enough to tell us why they pulled their donations—blatantly rebuking us, charging us with not being “Christian enough.”

Ironic, because our faith has never been deeper.

Others courageously dared to believe in something more and stayed with us. Daring to believe that there’s a way to live our faith that doesn’t exclude, and a way to heal the world that brings unity.

And then they came.

Those dreaming of a better world came to offer their support and solidarity.

Today, people from all walks of life are beginning to grasp the crucial connection between contemplation and action.

We want to thank the people who’ve gotten behind us this year.

We want to thank the people who took a risk.

We want to thank the people who actually believed in this crazy, audacious vision.

And this is just the beginning.

• On October 2 we will host our 2nd annual fall contemplative retreat—bringing together 50 leaders from all over North American to cultivate sacred silence, solitude, and stillness.
• In December we’ll partner with New Monasticism’s School for Conversion for our 2nd 21st Century Freedom Ride, a pilgrimage of solidarity and hope.
• 2014 we’ll initiate the long-awaited-for Asia and Africa pilgrimages.
• Throughout next year we’ll continue to work with various churches, universities and communities in facilitating contemplative retreats and speaking forums.

A new world awaits us.

A world that includes.

A world that unites.

A world that celebrates everyone.

We can’t realize this dream alone.

We need each other.

We invite you to join us in making the world a better place—not only with our bare hands, but with our consent, with our silence, with our solitude, with our stillness. With a renewed imagination, with a holy ambition.

We’re asking you to join us.

Together we can make this world a better place.

Why the Name “Gravity?”

We often get the question, “So why did you choose the name ‘Gravity’?” It’s a great question. One of our teachers, Thomas Keating, O.S.O.C., helps shed light on the concept.

Keating, a 90 year old Cistercian monk of the strict observance is one of the leading voices illuminating the relevance of Christian faith in the 21st century. He finds himself in the company of other great Western Christian teachers like Richard Rohr, O.F.M. and Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal priest.

The impact of Keating’s teaching on Christian faith today and in centuries to come is and will be of a magnitude that the world has probably not seen for 400 years—since the time of the Reformation.

If you don’t know of Keating, it’s time to pay attention.

A student of Yale University and Fordham and student of psychology and philosophy, Keating helps us understand the implications of theological and scriptural concepts on faith and spiritual practice. Knowledge of psychology and human development theory unavailable 2,000 years ago at the time of Jesus and New Testament writers breaks open for us concepts like, “In Christ you are a new creation;” and “Why is it I do what I don’t want to do…” (Romans 7; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:11 & 15). Drawing on St. Paul’s teaching on the old and new creation and Thomas Merton’s 20th century language “true self” and “false self,” Keating illuminates what human transformation is all about.

In his book, Invitation to Love, Keating explains the formation of psychological programs for happiness is based in infantile biological needs for security and survival, power and control, and affection and esteem.

“As a consequence [of the formation of the false self], our emotional life ceases to grow in relation to the unfolding values of human development and becomes fixated at the level of the perceived deprivation. The emotional fixation fossilizes into a program for happiness. When fully formed it develops into a center of gravity, which attracts to itself more and more of our psychological resources: thoughts, feelings, images, reactions, and behavior. Later experiences and events in life are all sucked into its gravitational field and interpreted as helpful or harmful in terms of our basic drive for happiness. These centers are reinforced by the culture in which we live and the particular group with which we identify, or rather, overidentify.” (Invitation to Love, Keating, p. 27)

“The false self develops in opposition to the true self. It’s center of gravity is the self as separate from God and others, and hence turned in on itself.” (Invitation to Love, Keating, p. 59)

Needs that are fundamental to a child become a problem as we grow into adulthood and one can’t help but overidentify with them. Overidentifying with these programs creates the false self and leads to much of the breakdown of family and community, as well as violence, exploitation, poverty, war and terrorism.

The Christian invitation is to change our behavior that leads to so much destruction of ourselves and others and grow up (Acts 26:20; 1 Cor 3:1-3; 2 Corinthians 7:2 & 9, Ephesians 4; Hebrews 5:11-14; Hebrews 6:1; 2 Peter 3:9).

To use language that speaks to 21st century people, the Christian spiritual journey is an invitation to subvert the center of gravity within us that is controlled by the false self and allow that center to be replaced with the presence of God who holds our true self, unleashing unimaginable goodness in the world (1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 4:5,9).

The name ‘Gravity’ was chosen for our Center to support this transformation in your life. It IS possible to live from the Divine center of gravity within us that orders our chaos and frees us to live the values of the Gospel: freedom, reconciliation, peace and unconditional love. Values that can change the world.

Together we can do good better. Thanks for joining this revolutionary movement.

See also, Greg Richardson’s thoughtful blog post on Gravity.

Out of Blame, Into Becoming

by Kevin Harris


For about 20 years, Chris and Phileena Heuertz directed the organization Word Made Flesh. With communities around the world, they seek to serve Jesus among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. They incarnationaly live among those in difficult situations such as sex slavery, prostitution, and with child soldiers. A commitment to friendship, submission to one another and community are woven into the DNA of their organization, but they found that at times the tragedies and grief that they experienced while doing life with those on the margins slowly wore down some of their staff members to the point of burnout.

Chris and Phileena discovered that nearing burnout was an invitation to go deeper to delve into contemplative spirituality. To be actively engaged in mission and the lives of others with redemptive impact, they found the need to root their work and activism in a spirituality that helped them to rest in God and dismantle their notions of their false selves (the image we have built of ourselves and who we think we are that serves to please, satisfy and protect our ego) to more fully live out of their being beloved. Contemplative spirituality includes disciplines with the purpose of learning to “create space to be still and rest in God beyond words, thoughts and feelings. It is to abide in the love of God, to attend to the inner life, and to simply be with God in solitude, silence and stillness” (Phileena Heuertz in Pilgrimage of a Soul).

After finding that this contemplative spirituality helped to sustain them and fuel their activism within their communities at Word Made Flesh, Chris and Phileena founded Gravity │ a Center for Contemplative Activism to help others engaged in difficult work and ministry to “do good better”….
Read the rest of the post here

The Road Ahead: Connections, Connections

The Road Ahead: Connections, Connections :: by Julian Collette

Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards Through Your Day

“Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards Through Your Day” :: By Dennis Hamm, SJ

About 20 years ago, at breakfast and during the few hours that followed, I had a small revelation. This happened while I was living in a small community of five Jesuits, all graduate students in New Haven, Connecticut. I was alone in the kitchen, with my cereal and the New York Times, when another Jesuit came in and said: “I had the weirdest dream just before I woke up. It was a liturgical dream. The lector had just read the first reading and proceeded to announce, ‘The responsorial refrain today is, If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ Whereupon the entire congregation soberly repeated, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’” We both thought this enormously funny. At first, I wasn’t sure just why this was so humorous. After all, almost everyone would assent to the courageous truth of the maxim, “If at first…” It has to be a cross-cultural truism (“Keep on truckin’!”). Why, then, would these words sound so incongruous in a liturgy?

A little later in the day, I stumbled onto a clue… [read the rest of the article here]

A “Starter Library” for Contemplative Activists :: The Must-Reads on Contemplative Spirituality for People with Active Lives