The Outer Reality
Looking at the darker side of western culture, it is easy to identify many destructive realities including war, income inequality, gun violence, unexamined American Exceptionalism, ecological breakdown, unchecked capitalism, and the commodification of everything. American journalist Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, spoke of “a society moving away from compassion toward hierarchy, punishment, and inequality.”
This outer reality is categorically different from the four pillars—Community, Spirituality, Global Vision, and Action—that inform and guide our Maryknoll Affiliate movement.
The Inner Reality
Many “inner realities” in people’s lives contribute to and may account for much of the suffering in the outer world. Some examples are:
- Thoreau’s insight that, “The mass of men (sic) lead lives of quiet desperation.”
- That some people move through their days as if they are unconscious, walking about half anesthetized and with little self-grounding.
- For too many, the mediators of meaning in their lives are money and the media.
- Otto Scharmer, developer of U Theory, pointed out that the three principle enemies of a more productive and caring world are:
– the voice of doubt and judgment,
– cynicism (shutting down an open mind), and
– fear (shutting down an open heart).
- Finally, sometimes religion is warped to become a love affair with small and comfortable traditions in which the focus is otherworldly, on private salvation. For many, religion has become, as Brian McLaren phrased it, “an evacuation plan for the next world,”—and just for their group.
Redeeming the Inner Reality
Thankfully, many voices have spoken to us of an integrated and meaningful way to live that can lead us to profound social and personal change.
Franciscan Richard Rohr spoke of the stages of learning that move from simple information (data, facts and formulas) through knowledge, analytical intelligence, to intuitive intelligence, understanding, wisdom, and, ultimately to transformation, in which consciousness takes on a new form, as was the case with many saints. As we move toward deeper levels of knowing, we surely impact the world positively.
The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann compared the progression in the Hebrew Scriptures to the stages of one’s life: The early books (Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy) emphasize rules, laws and rituals, and issues of control and ego development. Many people don’t move beyond this stage. The Prophetic literature of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, etc., corresponds to the upstream people who fight for injustices. Wisdom literature—the Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Wisdom, and the Song of Songs—corresponds to movement towards transformation. Ego issues and dualistic thinking move to the side, and we see from a deeper place, living in a contemplative presence.
A third voice is that of MIT professor Otto Scharmer. He takes a very broad, historic look at our world and points out that throughout history a gigantic blind spot has kept us from genuinely meaningful success. That blind spot is a lack of a grounded spirituality, which can be called consciousness.
These voices speaking to the inner reality are saying something very similar: for real societal and personal change to happen, we must be truly conscious and grounded in a genuine spirituality that moves us towards transformation. If we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it.
The four pillars that guide Affiliates confront those outer and inner realities head-on with meaningful and compassionate contrast.
- Community contrasts with the individualism, greed, and “me-first” mantra, while also connecting to the earth—the home of all creatures, all life.
- Spirituality contrasts with unconsciousness, disconnection, desperation, and hopelessness.
- Global Vision, the prophetic pillar that often separates Maryknollers from other groups, contrasts with purely domestic agendas and unexamined American Exceptionalism. It is always inclined to listen for the muted voices of the poor and marginalized throughout the world.
- Action contrasts with a comfortable life style that seldom does anything to address the needs around us. It joins with Walter Brueggemann to ask the wonderfully disturbing question: “Do you hear your sister crying?”
In the end, we can say, as did Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK and Nuns on the Bus, “…[what] I have come to realize is that, for me, this journey is about continuing to walk willingly towards the hope, the vision, the perspective, the opportunities that are given…”