spiritual practices and social justice

Four Spiritual Practices That Help Social Justice Stay Grounded in Love

As individual human beings, the scope of the brokenness in our society is impossible to comprehend, much less to address. It is easy to get overwhelmed. Without an abundance of love, the work of social justice and healing is exhausting and can lead to despair or cynicism. Spiritual practices can connect us to the source of abundant, eternal, overflowing love and grace that equip and empower us to receive love and then offer that same love to others without becoming depleted ourselves. 

In my conversation with Marlena Graves, author of “The Way Up Is Down,” we talk about spiritual practices and social justice, about how spiritual practices can root and ground us in the love of God so that contemplation leads to action. Calling upon our own reserves of grace and love does not get us very far, but the boundless love of God can comfort us and send us out in love that does not run out. Here are four ways to receive and offer that love:

1. Practice receiving the love of God.

I’ve written another post about five ways to receive God’s love, so all I will say here is that daily time contemplating or experiencing Love is foundational for any attempt to share that love with others.

2. Practice lamenting and confessing.

Throughout their histories, both Jewish and Christian communities have offered prayers of lament in which they express their sorrow and anger about the state of the world. The book of Lamentations provides one example of this type of prayer, as do many of the Psalms. Lament gives us permission to name the despair and hopelessness many of us feel in the face of widespread suffering. Lament does not “solve” the problem. It does allow us to entrust the brokenness to God. (Soong-Chan Rah has a book about the practice of lament if you want to learn more: “Prophetic Lament.”)

Confession is another longstanding spiritual practice of admitting our own complicity—through action and inaction—in a world of division and injustice. This practice depends upon the love and grace of God to take our sin and give us healing and forgiveness and opportunities to move forward in love in exchange.

3. Practice fasting.

As I write about in “White Picket Fences,” I had an opportunity to fast for one meal once a week as a reminder to pray about social divisions and injustice. A friend of mine recently commented that fasting is like putting an exclamation mark on our prayers. For me, that weekly commitment to go hungry for a short period of time was an invitation into a deeper reckoning with the pain of our world, my participation in that pain, my longing for change, and my continued dependence upon God to guide me in my own small part.

4. Practice studying justice.

The Jewish and Christian Scriptures are filled with references to God as a God of justice for the oppressed, marginalized, poor, and vulnerable people in society. As Tim Keller points out in his book, “Generous Justice,” God introduces himself as a “defender of widows” and one who cares for the orphans. Jesus so identifies with the poor, the imprisoned, and the sick that he says caring for a person in such a vulnerable position is the same as caring for him. As Dominique Gilliard explains in his book, “Rethinking Incarceration,” God’s justice is a restorative, community-healing justice in which everyone experiences healing. We need a broader understanding of the healing and restorative aspects of justice in order to offer a vision and work towards justice in our broken world.

Spiritual Practices and Social Justice

If you are a person of faith who wants to participate in healing action in the world, you will need to be rooted and grounded in spiritual practices in order to sustain that healing action. You will need to be filled up so that your life overflows with love, grace, courage, peace, and hope. And you will need a place where you can return to rest, to restore, and to remember the love that holds us all together.

To go further with Amy Julia:

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