“Each of us will die one day –
it doesn’t matter.
More important is to practice living.”
These lines from a poem in my new book – Light Reading: Poems from a Pilgrim Journey – have everything to do with why I feel privileged to join Catalyst for Peace as Senior Partner and Poet-in-Residence.
Why? Because I can’t imagine a better place for me than CFP to practice living. I’m invited to offer my whole self – all I’ve been and done; and all I seek to become – in service to peace, justice and healing in the Earth community, with some of the finest colleagues I can imagine.
In weaving the tapestry of all I’ve been and done, and all I seek to become, I begin by identifying myself as a child of the one Source, made in love and light and called to be love and light, and a citizen of Earth, an identity I believe all humans share. My unique expressions of that common identity include being an Episcopal priest and a citizen of the United States. My vocation is to promote an expanding consciousness of our common identity, and an appreciation and celebration of our uniquenesses as expressions of the fundamental identity we share, in service to peace, justice and healing in the Earth community. Or, to put it another way, my vocation is to cultivate the love and light within me to offer that in service.
For seventeen years, from 1996 – 2013, I lived into this vocation primarily as the founding executive director of the United Religions Initiative (www.uri.org). URI’s purpose is “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, end religiously motivated violence and create culture of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.” In this work, I traveled extensively, being blessed to collaborate with religious, spiritual and other leaders in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Southeast Asia and the Pacific. I became an internationally respected spiritual leader, interfaith activist, speaker and writer, speaking and writing extensively about spiritual growth and interfaith cooperation as tools to build a better world.
Libby Hoffman is one of the leaders I was blessed to meet and work with during my URI years. We shared a transformative 2+ year peacebuilding training process co-led by John Paul Lederach and Herm Weaver. Involving interfaith learning/practitioner teams from the Philippines, India, Ethiopa, Uganda and the US, the process was grounded in URI’s organizational values and structure and animated by John Paul’s moral imagination approach to peacebuilding. Focused on “the art and soul of peacebuilding,” this approach engages the whole self with an emphasis on weaving webs of relationship and cultivating the innate capacity for creativity. Along the way, John Paul invited us to experience the world and peacebuilding as poets, something dear to me as someone who has loved and written poetry my whole life. Herm Weaver led the way by writing original songs that served as inspiring touchstones for our journey.
CFP funded and partnered in developing, implementing, and sharing the stories of this process, including through this short film. Libby was also a full participant, and continued to advise URI on the development of our peacebuilding program for the rest of my tenure as executive director. When I retired from URI, Libby invited me to help create and serve on a Wisdom Council for CFP as it explored a new phase of its life, building on its inspiring co-creative partnership with Fambul Tok. Since CFP’s work with Fambul Tok was among the most grounded and hopeful work I was aware of, and I felt a strong bond of reciprocity and a spirit of mutual affection and respect, it was easy to accept her gracious invitation; especially, when she added that she most wanted me to provide spiritual support for CFP’s exploration and to serve as poet-in-residence. She wanted me to bring my whole self and to serve in ways that matched my always growing/learning edges.
In the two years since I accepted Libby’s invitation, I’ve been privileged to journey with her and exceptional colleagues like John Caulker, Amy Potter Czajkowski, Tammy Mazza and Bryan Martin. I spent a week in Sierra Leone experiencing Fambul Tok’s transformative work in villages across the length and breadth of that country. I became increasingly deeply engaged with CFP’s commitment to practicing and sharing the art and soul of peacebuilding, with a preferential option for valuing the wisdom and integrity of local communities; work I had given my heart and soul to for seventeen years in helping to found URI. So, it was appealing when Libby invited me to become a partner in helping to manifest the promise of CFP’s future. But the invitation moved from appealing to compelling when she made it clear that she wanted me to be a partner who was poet-in-residence. I could only say, yes.
Yes, because being a poet asks that we be in the world in a state of constant wonder, gratitude and inquiry. It asks that we see beyond the obvious possibilities and challenges into the deeper rhythms and possibilities of life. It asks that we dwell in and see and act from the still, spiritual center where we encounter our deepest and truest selves, our interconnection with all that is, and where the greatest possibilities for our individual and collective flourishing are born. Where we find the light to guide us, eyes on the far horizon and boots on the ground, through these desperate times to a better future.
Yes, because this is a journey where I can practice living each moment of each day – giving and receiving; learning and teaching; succeeding and failing; dreaming and doing. And through it all becoming more fully the person I believe I’m here on Earth to become and always in service to the wholeness and good that is within all that is and asks for our help to be manifest.
These are the final lines of the poem whose opening began these reflections:
The Beloved has been waiting
from before time
for our first step,
for our next step.
No matter our age,
our life is new in this moment –
Let us dance.
We have great and urgent work to do together. I look forward to encountering you somewhere along the way in this great dance that is our lives.