The Trinity of Transformation
Offered by Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards
Retired Bishop of Nevada
Distress runs deep among those committed to Jesus’ way of love. The violent death of George Floyd was a particularly graphic case of all too common acts of sado-racism rooted in a domination system (Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers) approach to how we live together on this planet. Power plays are the medium; and, as Marshal McLuhan said, “the medium is the message.” Distress runs deep. So people around the world are taking to the streets. The stores and cafes on my street are boarded up in fear.) As a people, we are taking to the streets. It is right that we do so. The street is where we demand that those in power wake up to the harsh realities of violence and injustice.
But how many times have our protests led to little if any change? We go to the streets, express our feelings, then get on with life as usual. The powers that be sit back and wait for us to “get it out of our system,” then go on as before.
Real change starts in the streets where we express feelings – feelings of anger, grief, hope, and courage. But there are two more key elements. Together these elements constitute the Trinity of Transformation: the street, the table, and the cross.
The table is where in-the-flesh change happens. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in the street, but he was also at the White House and in Congress advocating for civil rights legislation. We don’t just protest. We organize. We organize to advocate for change in policing, in education, in foreign and domestic policies of compassion that make a real difference in people’s lives. America withdrawing funding from the World Health Organization during the pandemic is not acceptable. America vetoing the U N Resolution calling for a Global Ceasefire during the pandemic is not acceptable. America “detaining” (incarcerating without trial) immigrants in hot-bed-of-contagion punitive, for-profit prisons is not acceptable. All such violence is part and parcel of one domination system. It’s all connected. We can and must engage that system on multiple fronts. Organizing for effective advocacy begins with building networks of relationship, like the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. That’s why we’re here.
The third element I have called “the cross” because the cross transforms our spirits. We are not moralistic do-gooders displaying our righteousness. We bring something deeper to the street and to the table. We bring the Spirit of Christ.
Bringing the Spirit of Christ comes from our regular hearing of the word and participating in the sacraments, but also through psycho-spiritual disciplines that cultivate in us Jesus’ way of being and living. One such discipline, Loving Kindness Meditation, comes from the Carmelites (who learned it from Theravadan Buddhism). It’s a daily 10-minute exercise. It goes this way:
For one week, we pray matching these words to our breath.
In: May I be filled with loving kindness.
Out: May I be well.
In: May I be peaceful and at ease.
Out: May I be happy.
We pray for ourselves this way for 10 minutes each day for a week. We always start with ourselves because we cannot give what we have not first received. So, the second week, we pray in the same way for 5 minutes. Then for the next 5 minutes, we pray for someone dear to us.
In: May Jim be filled with loving kindness.
Out: May he be well.
In: May he be peaceful and at ease
Out: May he be happy.
In week 3, we start with 5 minutes of prayer for ourselves again. The next five minutes, instead of praying for our friend, we pay for someone we know but who is not significant to us, someone we just see from time to time in daily life but have no strong feelings about.
In week 4, again we pray for ourselves for 5 minutes, then devote the next five minutes to praying – not for our worst enemy, but --- for someone who bothers us, irritates us, makes us angry. Then we repeat the whole process over the next 4 weeks. Albert Einstein said,
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Loving Kindness Meditation is an exercise in “widening our circle of compassion.” Of course, there are other prayers that can change our hearts. But this is a good one. A disciplined life of prayer changes us and that matters for others. Whether we are on the street or at the table, our ability to effect change depends not so much on the cogency of our arguments as the power of our presence. The quality of our presence proceeds from our prayer.
The Trinity of Transformation calls us to the street, to the table, and to the cross. All three are political practices but also spiritual disciplines. The mission field and the crucible of our own transformation are the same place.