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Creating a Spiritual Voice for Transformation

by Rabia Povich

November 18, 2008

Beatrice Long, Visitor Holy Dance, Ogala Lakota. Photo: Cathleen Falsani

Over 150 spiritual leaders and practitioners gathered in Aspen, Colorado from November 6th to 9th to explore ways to develop a collective voice for compassion, inclusion and peace in our nation and in the world. The gathering was organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women, and was motivated by a desire to come together to find: “universal principles that can guide the development of a new consciousness and new way of living, in harmony with our planet’s resources and needs, and in harmony with our fellow human beings.”

GPIW planned this four day reflection to tap a collective spiritual wisdom and explore ways to respond to the crises in our times, with an emphasis on engaging the feminine principles of interdependence, receptivity, connection, inclusion and compassion. The gathering was organized under the direction and guidance of a group of American women of spiritual vision and commitment.

Hope, harmony and cohesion marked the tone of the gathering. We flowed from moments of silence and contemplation and prayer to presentation and dialogue. Perspectives based in diverse religious traditions were offered on ways to bridge the spiritual and political. A space was created where we could explore how a contemplative approach can lead to action and address the challenges of the day. Thirty four proposals emerged from this gathering which ranged from convening a small, diverse group for monthly phone calls that explore the awakening of the feminine, to creating a green global economy based on the principles of restorative development that is equitable, socially just, and respectful of spiritual and cultural diversity. Motivated individuals and groups will need to take the lead to move these proposals forward.

As chair of the Board of Trustees of Seven Pillars, I had the honor of representing and introducing our wisdom school to new people, making connections and identifying synergies for future collaborations. While it is impossible to share the full richness of this event, I offer a few of the thoughts and experiences that have stayed with me:

A picture of Rabbi Zalman speaking at the conferenceRabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi Photo: Cathleen Falsani

  • Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, co-chair of GPIW and an organizer of the event, identified three American theologies which need to be changed: the theology of superiority, the theology of success, and the theology of separation.
  • Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault, founder of the Aspen Wisdom School, identified three functions of contemplatives which contribute to addressing today’s challenges: speaking as a prophet; teaching the development of the will and intention; and holding what is; i.e., being present to the current conditions. She acknowledged the role contemplatives have in awakening the heart (the true GPS - G-d Positioning System) which, when opened, sees duty and responsibility as part of the human role.
  • Orland Bishop, founder of Shade Tree Multicultural Foundation, noted that we live the unfinished lives of our ancestors, moving to overcome the boundaries of self-interest. He identified the American social contract as asking: How do I have to be for you to be free? Orland noted that an economy of compassion is not cash-based. He called for the development of a compassionate and conscious economy, based on a currency that is based on reality and connected to spiritual values.
  • Kevin Townley, a student of Western Mysteries/Ageless Wisdom and teacher of alchemy through Seven Pillars, noted that the 12th stage of alchemical transformation transmutes one substance into another by the addition of a life form. He said we can be the leavening for the communities around us that will bring about a transformed culture. He cautioned that we can not do this by our will, but we are each given an assignment, we have accepted it and we will see the perfection of it with our hearts.

A panel of people from other countries offered reflections on the impact America’s leadership has had on the international community. Their messages affirmed the need for transformation:

  • Abu Sufian, a young leader for peace from Darfur shared the advice that he had been given when he told friends he was coming to America. They said: “Don’t bring the Koran, don’t tell people that you are Muslim and don’t say your prayers in a public place.” His mother asked that he not let the bright light of America take him away from his culture and values.
  • Sakeena Yacoobi, founder and director of the Afghan Institute of Learning, noted that poverty in Afghanistan is wide-spread and all children have experienced trauma. She affirmed that what Afghans want from America is not the American life but jobs, justice, education, housing and health care. Thus far, she noted, the American military has not been helpful.

A picture of the assembled group at the Aspen event.Photo: Cathleen Falsani

The divine feminine and feminine principles have a transformative function, giving life and healing energies. The participants acknowledged the peaceful and fierce emanations of the divine feminine from different religious traditions. The divine feminine is accessible to both women and men. Rabbis Rami Shapiro and Shefa Gold led us in a chant invoking the divine feminine, allowing us to experience the very qualities needed for the future: Imma Hari Mah; Imma Sophia; Imma Sheckinah; Em Chochma Em.

The closing multi-faith zikr, led by Kabir and Camille Helminski, included Hindu, Muslim and Christian chants ending with repeating choruses of Amazing Grace. This gathering was an amazing opportunity to be in community of like-hearted aspirants who are committed to the transformation of the Nation and the world. May these seeds sprout!

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