Reclaiming the Heart of Humanity was the calling statement at the Parliament of the World’s Religions last week. 10, 000 people gathered from over 80 countries and 50 faith groups to re-awaken the revolutionary love at the heart of all spiritualities, in the face of war, poverty, hate, violence and environmental abuse. I was invited to present a workshop performance with InterPlay, a community of spiritual and embodied artists using improvised movement, storytelling and voice to reconnect to our body’s wisdom.
I had no idea what to expect but I knew I had to be there. Ironically, although I grew up in an inter-faith home, with a Muslim father and a Christian mother, and work across diversity, I’m only just beginning to understand the inter-faith movement.
Everywhere I turned I could see people from all over the world in their traditional dress in conversation, in prayer, singing and playing devotional music, dancing sacred dance. Never before had I experienced a gathering that wove together social and ecological justice, art and spirituality in such a meaningful way. I found I could be in the hard, painful realities, when it was balanced with singing, dancing, loving and prayer. There was a deep honouring of our differences, and space for multiple truths to exist, alongside a strong underpinning of unity, solidarity and really working together to resist injustice wherever it resides. There was an embodiment of what is present in many spiritual traditions and what in Islam and Sikhism we call seva – selfless service.
Valarie Kaur, award-winning Sikh filmmaker, civil rights advocate, and founder of two faith-based social justice organizations, Groundswell Movement and Faithful Internet, inspired me with the connection she drew between seva and activism. Kaur utilizes storytelling to shed light on topics including hate crimes against Muslim and Sikhs, racial profiling, immigration detention and more. She reminded us that the kind of seva the world is asking for right now is not safe. It’s the kind of revolutionary love that asks that we be bold, take risks, walk out, speak out, and extend ourselves for the purpose of our collective wellbeing. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can – Martin Luther King Jr.
The heart is a muscle, the more we use it the stronger it gets.
Mohawk elder Diane Longboat, from Six Nations, was unable to attend but was present in prayer and shared a message through a circle of Women of Spirit and Faith. She said that we have begun a 400-year cycle where feminine leadership will rise up. This is a time of utmost importance for women to come together in circle, to listen in, put our questions and prayers in the center and be in the uncertainty, together, supporting one another, standing in our power. Reclaiming our feminine power. As a sister in the circle shared: “The answers are not going to come from science and technology, but when women remember how to do magic.”
In recent years, and especially since becoming a mother, I took a step back from activist organizing in the way I knew it to be. My retreat was not because I didn’t believe in resistance work. In part it was in order to shift focus towards building alternatives, but it was also because I became disenchanted with the way people were working together. I noticed a level of criticality that left little space for seeing the humanity in everyone, a way of seeing the world that reproduced hate and judgment more than love and solidarity… And it didn’t feel right for me anymore.
And then a door swung open and I got to see and feel another way. A way of working from the heart, creatively, non-violently, resisting in solidarity, across difference, acknowledging spirit in our work in the world.
The heart is the size of your fist. Keep loving, keep fighting – Ariel Gore. This quote carried me through my early activist years in University in the anti-war, anti-sweatshop movement. I seemed to know then intuitively that we are fighting this fight so hard because we love so hard.
What I know to be true at this moment about my growing edge as a leader, is owning the spiritual aspect of my leadership.
We performed The Unbelievable Beauty of Being Human, an improvised performance of dance, music and storytelling…but really we were just playing! Cynthia Winton-Henry, co-founder of InterPlay spoke about the connection between moving energy out of our bodies and healing trauma. Experiences, trauma, memory are stored in our bodies and passed down through the generations. Breathing, moving, shaking it out, helps us to move that energy out, freeing space in our bodies and minds for more ease, joy, love, truth.
By the end, with Cynthia’s skillful leadership, the whole room was dancing.
I am deeply inspired and grateful.
I leave you with a few brilliant speakers from the Parliament, captured, (in paraphrase):
We have to love, but we have to name the Gods of metal. We can feed and clothe everyone, but we can’t if we have to feed the greed of military companies. End to war. – Kathy Kelly
We must learn to speak a different language, different from hate. A language of love, compassion, healing, truth. Don’t be afraid to say it! – Allan Boesak
What message does your life give to the world? – Dr. Rami Nashashibi
Where are your wounds? If there were no wounds, was there nothing to fight for? – Medea Benjamin
If we are the most intellectual creatures on the planet, why are we destroying our only home? – Jane Goodall
Why is unity important? For our mother, the Earth – Dr.Rangimarie Turuki Rose Pere
Look for the ones who will bring hope – Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq