The essence of spiritual activism

The essence of spiritual activism

Hope and compassion can be a critical part of political and spiritual resistance for Unitarian Universalists.

Christine Organ
Spray painted graffiti hearts-Stock image

© JotWu/istock

© JotWu/istock


I cried myself to sleep on election night. As I watched the television and hugged my knees to my chest, my husband begged me not to lose hope. He stroked my back and whispered, “We need love more than ever.”

I knew he was right, of course, that the world needs goodness and compassion, but the weight of that task—holding on to and spreading hope—seemed so heavy at the time, so futile, so impossible in the current environment. I wasn’t sure how I could resist the hate and negativity, without falling victim to the negativity I was resisting against. I didn’t know how to harness the love and compassion, much less hold on to it, when the antithesis of love and compassion seemed to have won.

Of course, I was worried about what the new social and political landscape would mean for health care, LGBTQ rights, immigration, and countless other policy-related issues, but what scared me the most—what choked me with sobs—was the fear of a lack of compassion that seemed to be ushered in by the election and its results. The world, I feared, was being consumed by pessimism and hate, and I didn’t feel equipped to counter the force with which fear and bigotry had steamrolled values like justice, understanding, and compassion that I held so dear.

It takes courage to muster up hope and maintain an unwavering love for humanity when the world appears to be collapsing all around you.

Nevertheless, when I awoke the next morning—a ridiculously bright November morning—I knew that there was no other way for me to be. I firmly believe that most people are mostly good most of the time, and I didn’t want to let that faith in humanity be another victim to the culture of hate that had been ushered in. I would be optimistic and open, ready to fight and resilient to fear. Hope and compassion would be my rebellion; love would be my resistance.

It’s been a few months since the election and, in some ways, things are worse than I had feared. Hate crimes fill the headlines, and policy changes threaten the most basic of our human rights. Like many of us, I’ve been fighting. I’m resisting. I marched in Chicago in January, protested the first travel ban at O’Hare with my oldest son, and rallied for transgender rights at a local school board meeting. I’m calling my elected officials and advocating for marginalized groups. In a few short months, I have gotten a crash course in politics and become an activist.

But I don’t necessarily consider myself a political activist; rather, I believe I am a spiritual activist. In addition to the protesting, calling, and advocating, I’ve also left flowers at the door of an area mosque and written notes of support. I’ve organized an interfaith vigil to pray for a more hopeful and love-infused future. My family is working to help a refugee family from Afghanistan resettle here in the U.S. I’m holding on to hope and compassion, even when those things seem to be in short order.

Spiritual activism is a hallmark of the Unitarian Universalist faith, something we UUs understand even if we don’t have a name for it. We recognize that the resistance isn’t just about advocating, protesting, and fighting for our rights and the rights of others; the resistance is also about connecting and tending to our own spirits so that we have the energy to keep fighting for others.

Among our guiding principles is a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all beings and respect for the interconnectedness of us all. This principle infuses everything we do, every interaction we have, every battle we wage—even those with our political adversaries. As Unitarian Universalists we are keenly aware that we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not. It is because of this awareness, this appreciation for the beloved community and our shared togetherness, that our spiritual activism carries an all-important, but sometimes forgotten, ingredient at its core: compassion.

In February, shortly after the first travel ban was signed, my home congregation came together to host an interfaith vigil, inviting speakers and communities from area Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Unitarian Universalist communities to attend. What was anticipated to be an intimate gathering drew hundreds of people, and packed the sanctuary with other compassionate, hopeful, and loving people. We are not alone, beloveds. We are not alone in our quest to rebel with compassion, protest with love, and resist with hope.

Each day I read terrifying headlines, hear about ridiculous tweets, and see more news about legislative actions that make me want to weep. Each day I make the intentional decision to breed love, hope, and generosity, for these are my rebellious acts of protest. Love is easy when love abounds; spreading hope is harder when doubts abound and fears weigh heavy. It takes courage to muster up hope and maintain an unwavering love for humanity when the world appears to be collapsing all around you. It takes strength, resilience, and a faith that, despite all evidence to the contrary, life is good and the world is a beautiful place.

But this is what our faith calls us to do, lest we forget that we have the power to make this world in our vision.