In a recent article in the "New York Review of Books" Bill McKibben wrote: "The technology we need most badly is the technology of community — the knowledge about how to cooperate to get things done. Our sense of community is in disrepair."
It is essential, therefore, that sacred activists, while pursuing their individual spiritual paths and embracing their own specific kinds of service, learn to work together and to form empowering and encouraging "networks of grace" — beings of like heart brought together by passion, skill and serendipity to pool energies, triumphs, griefs, hopes and resources of all kinds. When people of like mind and heart gather together, sometimes miraculously powerful synergy can result.
Such networks of grace can only be as transformative as our crisis needs them to be, if those who form them work constantly on the seductions of power, glamour and celebrity, and develop ever-deeper discrimination. Learning to discern the real gold of authentic networks of grace, from the false glitter of networks of power and self-importance, is difficult and demands prayer, humility, patience and shadow-work, and the unglamorous ability to wait on results and not force them before the Mystery has had a chance to form them completely.
Now I want to offer my plan — a plan that is already taking shape — for helping to ground and embody this vision as practically and effectively as possible.
About three months ago, I went to teach sacred activism in a convent in Cleveland Ohio. I had been praying for a long time to understand how best sacred activism could be organized and that night before sleep a vision of what is possible came to me.
I was lying in bed reflecting on the success of Al-Qaeda and certain fundamentalist Christian groups. Fanaticism it seems can always organize itself brilliantly; it is the ordinarily good and concerned who find it hard to cohere and mobilize their efforts. This has to change, and change fast, for the Birth to be effective.
From my study of terrorist and fundamentalist organizations I had learned one essential thing — that the success of their movements relies on cells — small individual cells of between six and twelve people — who encourage, sustain, and inspire each other with sacred reading and meditation and who share each other's victories and defeats in the course of what they believe is sacred action. Such an organization of inter-linked small cells has been the key to the horrible effectiveness of Al-Qaeda and is the key to the reach of the major fundamentalist ministries.
The word "cell" immediately made me think of a revealing conversation I had had with Deepak Chopra the year before. Deepak spoke to me at length of how the process of transformation in and through the "Dark Night" that we are now enduring could be compared to the different stages of a caterpillar's transformation into a butterfly. He described how the caterpillar spins a cocoon around itself and dissolves inside the cocoon into a featureless grey gunge. This grey gunge Deepak compared to the chaos and confusion of the Dark Night, a chaos and confusion that is also pregnant with new possibilities, pregnant in fact, as he said, with the birth of the butterfly, "the new divine human" which is a being as genetically and physically different from the caterpillar "as a bicycle is from a lear jet."
It was how Deepak described this birthing process that struck me. He described how when the grey gunge has liquefied to a certain point, cells which he called "imaginal cells" are genetically awoken in it. These cells feed off the gunge for their growth as they increasingly cluster together creating, through a synergistic alchemy, the body and wings of the future butterfly.
Lying on my bed in the convent in Ohio, the connection between the vision I was getting of sacred activism being organized in inter-linked cells and imaginal cells that could create when clustered together the butterfly of the Divine Human became diamond-clear. I understood that "networks of grace," was to be a network of "imaginal" cells, individual cells of between six to twelve people, praying and meditating together and inspiring each other and acting together on causes or local or international problems of their own choice.
Next day I spoke of my embryonic vision to the nuns of the convent and to the seventy people assembled for the workshop. The first cell of "Networks of Grace" was established later that day. Since then whenever I have spoken of this vision and plan, it has aroused passionate and delighted response; now there are a dozen "Networks of Grace" cells around the country.
It is my prayer that this writing and the vision of sacred activism it embodies will inspire the spread of inter-linked cells of Networks of Grace all over North America and the world. The time has come, in Teilhard de Chardin's words, to "harness the energies of love, and so for the second time in the history of humanity discover fire" — in this case a grassroots movement of the sacred fire of sacred activism organized through Networks of Grace.
As I continued to pray and meditate on this vision of the imaginal cells of Networks of Grace, I began to study how President Obama conducted his campaign largely through the mobilizing of grassroots forces. One of the main secrets of his success was an innovative internet campaign that inter-linked millions of his supporters and gave them hope and inspiration for change. Organizing the imaginal cells of Networks of Grace, or rather inviting people to organize themselves in their local communities and connect with other cells in other communities through the internet became the obvious next step to growing the vision. I now know why I had bought the domain name "Networks of Grace" two years earlier when the initial understanding of the need for them had occurred to me.
I have, as you can see, a big and global vision for Networks of Grace but the truth is that such things best start small and local and intimate.
Let me suggest three ways you might organize these cells — around profession (lawyers politicians doctors therapists etc. all wanting to devote their common skills to a common cause), passion (for animals, art, teaching meditation for free, healing etc) or as I suggested in the Five Forms of Service Heartbreak (animals, environmental degradation). Any of these three foci could provide an admirable way of gathering like-minded hearts around you and pooling your common resources and creativity together to start inspiring each other to, and sustaining each other in action.
Imagine cells of concerned lawyers working together to see that people trapped in foreclosure get proper legal representation; imagine cells of doctors pledging to work together to give free treatment to the millions now in this country and all over the world that cannot afford medical care. Imagine cells of therapists pledging to gift sacred activists with free shadow-work; imagine what cells of concerned politicians could effect in getting through imaginative energy and environmental policies or in addressing with common creativity and passion such causes as gay marriage rights, animal rights and abortion. Imagine what cells of parents and professionals could achieve to help those going through financial crisis, collecting food and clothing, taking children to school, helping people out of work to find a job. The very extent of our growing crisis makes application of the vision of Networks of Grace almost infinite.
Andrew Harvey is an internationally acclaimed poet, novelist, translator, mystical scholar, and spiritual teacher. He is the architect of a modern day spiritual movement known as Sacred Activism. He has publihed over 20 books including Son of Man (Tarcher/Putnam) and The Return of the Mother (North Atlantic Books) . Harvey is the Founder/Director of the Institute for Sacred Activism in Oak Park, Illinois, where he lives. Visit his website here.
©Copyright 2009 Andrew Harvey
Teaser image by aussiegall, courtesy of Creative Commons license.