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Human Trafficking2048873899_1365622940


 “I am a human being…

and I have been sold. 


I make the cell phones we use…

I clean the neighbor’s house…

I pick the tomatoes we eat…


I’m on the Internet…in the local motel…on the street corner…

But no one really sees me.


People often say this is my “choice”

I am called “illegal” …“prostitute” …“alien”… and worse.


So few know or care to know my story…


They don’t know…

that I came to America with the same hopes as their ancestors

to provide my family with a better life, to receive an education, to pay my child’s medical bills.


They don’t know…

…that I’m just a teenager that goes to school with their kids

…who ran away from home because of abuse

…who met someone who listened to me and told me that he loved me


I have been deceived.” 1


This reflection was shared recently at a gala to raise funds for ministries that support persons who are homeless or are vulnerable to becoming so—the poor elderly, youth aging out of foster care, single women with children in need of transitional housing, returning veterans, and those who are being trafficked.


The words capture some of the reality of human trafficking—the second largest criminal enterprise and the fastest-growing crime in the world.  This complex, hidden reality affects women, children and men, foreign-born and US citizens, and includes commercial sex and labor trafficking in epidemic proportions in virtually every nation and, as a friend and survivor says, “in every zip code” in the US.


The crime of human trafficking thrives in a culture that has become desensitized to sexuality and is always in search of the next bargain.  In most areas, the criminal aspect of human trafficking often goes unchallenged and the trauma suffered by victims goes unnoticed.  Literally, countless individuals are held in bondage through force, fraud or coercion, treated as property, as objects to be used and tossed aside for someone else’s economic gain or pleasure, and made to “work” as slaves. 


Victims are often labeled as “illegal,” as a “prostitute,” as “just a drug addict,” who are deemed unworthy by many because they “asked for it.”  Their abuse is hardly noticed, even by those in helping professions.  These victims rarely self-report.  They may not know that what has happened to them is a crime, may think that they are getting what they deserve, might be too frightened, or might even think that the trafficker is really their friend. 


How do we as society, as church, as members of the human family respond to such an evil reality in a manner that upholds the dignity of each person, the dignity of work and the common good?  What can we do?  Surely we can all become more aware.  We can see with new eyes those we encounter each day and ask more questions about their reality.  We can engage others in learning about the crime of today’s slavery.  We can use our energy and resources to partner with those who serve the survivors and treat their trauma.  We can petition our government officials to enforce and strengthen human trafficking statutes on the federal and state levels, as well as in almost every country in the world.  We can deepen our awareness of how we are all touched by human trafficking through the myriad of products we purchase, the food we enjoy, the services we receive on a daily basis, not thinking about the source or conditions under which those supplying our needs may be forced to work. 


We can hold all of these “least ones,” these most marginalized, in prayer each day, sending the energy of the Spirit in us to connect with the Spirit within each of them to support and comfort and heal and free them.  In these ways we can hope to convey a message of hope as reflected in the lyrics of a song entitled “Walk Each Other Home” by Billy Walsh:


“Don’t be afraid,

no need to hide.

I know your pain,

the tears you’ve cried.

Come take my hand,

you’re not alone.

We’re all here to walk each other home.” 2


  1. Reflection by Jackie Komos, Research and Communication Specialist, Collaborative to End Human Trafficking
  2. Words by Billy Walsh, musician


Anne Victory, HM

The Human Face of Globalization

In approaching the topic of globalization, I had to think about Teilhard de Chardin and his articulation of the concept of the “noosphere”. His prayer and thought brought him to understand that all of creation is evolving/developing and that we humans have come to know that we know. We know that we are evolving together and we appreciate that we are connected in that knowing. In this evolving and developing we have coglobalizationme to a knowledge and connection with the rest of creation and in particular the rest of the world that we did not have 50 or 100 years ago – our life experience has become more globalized..

In this process we move ahead with our own experiences and come to live out of those experiences. Thus this process of becoming has taken on different meanings for different people. In thinking about globalization we see that for some it is a great opportunity to enhance the bottom line of a corporate finance report, for others it is a way to exercise power over a people militarily or financially, for others it brings home the oppression and violence of trafficking and slave labor, for others it is an opportunity to connect with other cultures, an opportunity to learn from the traditions of brothers and sisters around the world, for others it is an opportunity to share resources, creativity, and passion for making the world a better place for all of us.

For our purpose here it is not necessary list the incredible gifts that globalization has given us nor to enumerate the statistics of oppression and destruction brought about by globalization. Rather it is important to focus on the human face of globalization to take us to another place. That place is one of joy, hope, pain, sorrow, and despair, touching our hearts rather than our minds and providing a different lens for our moving forward in this evolutionary journey.

There is John, a 20-something young man from Minneapolis, holding an orphan in Mother Theresa’s orphanage in Port-aux- Prince. The look of love on his face is incredible. The poverty of the child is also incredible – a malnourished infant living in a crib among 40 other malnourished infants in cribs in a room with perhaps 3 caretakers, changing diapers, bathing, feeding their innocent charges. Who has the time to play with, cuddle, talk to, sing to these incredibly unique children? The other human faces are those in government office who negotiated (forced) a trade agreement which brought the rice farmers in Haiti to their knees because now the US can sell its rice for less than the farmers can grow their own. And the face extends to the worker in the agribusiness corporation who is working to provide food, shelter, clothing, and education for his/her family by processing that rice for Haiti.

There is the family in Gaza welcoming two visitors from the US into their home. The family survives on one meal a day. The visitors were received with unforgettable hospitality and generosity¬–served a Thanksgiving Dinner including chicken. All of the members of the family were not able to enjoy the chicken because there was not enough to go around. The next morning we were served a breakfast including eggs…the only meal for the family for that day. The other face of that situation is the oppression and genocide of the Palestinian people on their own land. It is the face of a fearful soldier carrying out the orders of his commander even as he knows he is killing a fellow human being, one who has the right to his home and land that may be the very place where the soldier is living. The oppression and genocide is supported with US taxpayer dollars through the policies of legislators who know that their job depends on standing in solidarity with the Israeli government.

There are the faces of hundreds of people from around the globe who came together at the Hague Appeal for Peace a number of years ago. People from developing countries with very few financial resources to make the trip to the Netherlands, people of political power like Queen Noor of Jordan, people with great talent and influence like Judy Collins, ordinary people with a passion for bringing peace to this planet. We all gathered to bring hope that this evolution of mind and heart would bring us to a better reality as we move ahead on our journey of globalization and coming to a new oneness.
Also in the mix are the faces of leaders and workers at Department of Defense corporations who truly believe that they are making the world a safer place by making weapons for the US military to use.

You, too, have many examples of the human face of globalization.

How do we take the faces into our contemplative practice and being? How do we take our gifts mind and heart, of community, of struggle and pain to the next place of being as Barbara Marx Hubbard invites us to in her description of evolutionary consciousness as we live with our humanity and with the gift of creation?

Written by: Mary Ellen Gondeck, CSJ

© 2012 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
Reprint with permission


As I began to prepare this reflection I read various articles on the immigration issue in the United States – the unjust laws in Arizona and Alabama and other states now making their way through the judicial system, even to the Supreme Court. Realizing that immigration is a global issue I extended my information-seeking beyond our borders. I could easily become mired in all the ugly facts. How to make all this manageable, I wondered, in the context of ‘exercising contemplative power.’

The response came to me as I recalled this excerpt from the poems of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), a Bengali artist who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

In this poem from Gitanjali (Song Offerings) Tagore called for a country, a world:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls …

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.

His dream expressed so long ago seems relevant today.

It is only too obvious how fragmented our world, our nation, our local communities have become and immigration ‘reform’ laws seem designed to splinter us further as human beings become ‘aliens’ and ‘illegals’ and even ‘undocumented.’ To the rest of the world we tout our concern for law and human rights while we give police forces the right to question the legal status of individuals pulled over for alleged traffic violations. The immigrants among us are robbed of their humanity and dignity by the labels we assign them and the suspicions we impose on them. With the Alabama legislation every passenger in a vehicle stopped by police becomes a suspect. A recent editorial in The Washington Post noted that since “few undocumented immigrants lived in Alabama in the first place” – “Alabama has devised a solution in search of a problem.”

That Post editorial is entitled “Alabama, fortress of intolerance” – certainly a description of the “narrow domestic walls” that now enclose us as a people. For have we not literally built a wall along the US-Mexico border to keep people out so ‘we’ alone can inhabit “the dreary desert sand of dead habit” that our country – this nation of immigrants – has become?

Sometimes it is the desert, sometimes the treacherous wall of the sea that thousands of Africans are driven to cross in desperate efforts seeking refuge, asylum, and survival. The ‘fortunate’ ones make it to Europe’s Mediterranean islands; few are welcomed; most are deported to their homeland. In spite of the challenges the human spirit continues to hope with “Illicit Passion” as the Ghanaian poet Abena Busia, herself an exile, expresses.

All our dreams are possible

that is the dream

the desert yields

to an impossible bloom

straining for rain through the scarred earth

hiding abandoned lives.

In our reflection on exercising contemplative power we have said that contemplative power is compassionate, “centered in our knowing that we are all one, that we are all connected.” The immigrants in our midst and those in far off places demand our attention and action on their behalf and our own – to make the fragments whole. We come together because we believe that contemplative power – individual and communal – can heal the world – transform the narrow walls into wide open doorways. We believe that as we let ourselves be in this deep space things will realign in us and in the world.


On the morning after I wrote this reflection I was playing Holly Near’s cd Show Up. Listening to “Gandhi/Buddha” I was amused by what I thought of as a ‘backdoor’ love song, the kind that says I must have done something good to deserve the other’s love. But the lyrics took me deeper and I wondered how transformative it might be if we as a society greeted those seeking refuge among us with something like the recognition expressed in the refrain:

I must’ve been Gandhi or Buddha or someone like that

I must’ve saved lives by the hundreds everywhere I went

I must’ve brought rest to the restless and fed the hungry too

I must’ve done something great to get to have you.


Changing the I to WE as in WELCOME.

Written by: Mary Jo Klick

© 2012 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
Reprint with Permission

For further reading:

Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali. Austin, TX: Empire Press, 2012.
The book is in the public domain and free in Amazon Kindle version.

Abena Busia, in New African Poetry: An Anthology. Tanure Ojaida & Tijan Sallah, editors. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 2000.


In 1946 Herman Hesse won the Nobel Peace Prize for literature for The Glass Bead Game (sometimes called Magister Ludi). The book is a fascinating tale of the complexity of modern day life. Projected into the 25th century it deals with recurring philosophical conflicts and tries to arrive at a synthesis and harmony between the opposites. It presents a paradoxical clash between preserving institutions and searching for meaning. In the story, in the attempts to preserve the structure of the game, the point of the game was lost.

Thinking of the state of the 21st century Church, somehow on some deeper level I’m taken back to the book though I read it so long ago. The parallel is apparent if not blatant. The role of any institution is to preserve itself. The essence of Catholicism is dynamic transformation. The two together place those of us who care in a paradoxical situation.

At every turn wchurch (3)e are reminded that we are living in an age of radical transformation where the traditional ways are not sufficient and new ways are not clear. One author calls this an apocalyptic time, a time of great rifts. Such a time gives rise to doubt, dissatisfaction, uncertainty, even violence.

In present day Church issues and actions the dichotomy between the practices within the institution and the core teachings of the faith is what rings out, no matter the particular issue or action. Headlines are filled with the issues of sexual abuse, embezzlement, silencing, treatment of women, judgment of gays, visitations that seemed in reality closer to inquisitions, the contradictory dictate of self-excommunication, healthcare stances that beg for integrity, and on and on.

Everyone, clergy, church members, and those to whom we witness, are caught in the chaos. Like so much of the other forms of violence in the world we are sucked in. Do we stand in judgment of each other and try to fix the problem? Or does it call out in us a willingness to risk a stance of integrity which could lead to becoming a modern day living martyr? How many of us are among what the church calls “self-excommunicated?” How many have been in a position of being judged for our actions?

As Eckhart helps us to understand, the reality of God is paradoxical, and can only be grasped within the tension and clash of opposites. Such clashes between the institutional church and those trying to pay attention to the new that is being born are occurring daily. The major clash, showing itself in so many different issues, can be seen as between a duality approach and an evolving unitive consciousness.

There are so many ways of interpreting what is occurring: power struggles, ideological differences, male superiority, pressure from financially influential groups and organizations, etc. But those can be said to be surface issues. Each side (institutional church, membership) is caught up in chaos and hopefully is seeking the underlying order that is explicit in chaos theory.

So how do we approach the rift from a contemplative stance? To quote from the Occasional Papers of LCWR and turn it into a question, how do we “take in new information and create an openness for seeing ‘the new’ which God is doing(?) What does it take to live in a world (a church) where much of what seemed certain and secure is no longer such, and where divisions in ways of thinking and perceiving seem to be separating us?”

Ilia Delio tells us “the church continues to function as a medieval construct, marginal to a global, complex world.” Such an insight is reiterated by so many contemporary thinkers and writers. Many of us would say that’s a statement of the obvious. But what isn’t obvious is how to be present in the resulting chaos.

How do we bring our evolving understandings of Church and church together?

The role of the institution is to preserve itself, as was stated earlier. But what of the institution should be preserved? Is it the structure that remains patriarchal in model? Or is it the message and spirit which elicits dynamic transformation?

And what is the role of the individual, of the church community, who experience and recognize the movement of the Spirit as being in and among us. How do we reframe our experiences of Church? Can we understand and fully grasp our identity, as Ilia states, as “cooperative co-creators” in this Church and in this world?

Chaos theory tells us,

the flapping of a single butterfly’s wing today produces
a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period
of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from
what it would have done.

Is our role, those of us who care, to be the butterflies in the Church and spur the evolution? Can we be satisfied with that? Is that how we understand exercising contemplative power?

Written by: Arlene Ashack, IBVM

© 2012 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
Reprint with permission

For further reading:

Illia Delio, The Emergent Christ, Orbis, 2011; Christ in Evolution, Orbis, 2008.

Global Climate Change

One morning I arrived at my office early. Pat, the woman who cleans for us was busily at work. She commented on the mild New England winter we were experiencing. I responded in a dubious non-committal way sharing my own personal love for “winter in winter.” She looked somewhat shocked. “God knows what he is doing,” she retorted. Pensively I responded—more to myself than to her–even as the words came out of my mouth, “It is not God I am worried about.” She responded, “Oh sister, don’t tell me you are one of those—where’s your faith?”

“Oh no, what is happening here?” I thought to myself. It was still early in the morning and without even willing it I found the climate change predictions moving through my mind like a slide presentation: increasing heat waves, floods, storms, fire and droughts, causing death and displacement for hundreds of millions of people; between 200 and 600 million people will experience extreme hunger; by 2080 between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people will face water shortages; flood waters could make life difficult for between 2 and 7 million people in New York and Tokyo alone; a 1 to 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature could see the extinction of one third of the species of the world.

All the warning bells went off: “Stop this conversation now! A recitation of these predictions is not going to help. In fact it may make things worse.” Two other people came into the room and we were both taken away from the conversation into other matters of the day. I breathed a sigh of relief—“Thank you God—saved by the bell!”

Where do we go with these conversations? Do we try the “Precautionary Principle,” acknowledging the skepticism about global climate change, but suggesting it would be at least prudent to respond now to such dire predictions? Do we make ourselves really vulnerable and share (as in my own case) the horror and fright of seeing photos of cherry blossoms blooming on February 2nd? Do we appeal to a universally shared sense of compassion for those human and other-than human beings suffering from the effects of severe climate events such as drought and flooding? Perhaps we try the words of more credible authorities such as the Holy Father and the Bishops. Might these be examples of exercising contemplative power?

Let’s try a completely different option: this skepticism in the face of undisputed facts must be born of fear and powerlessness on the one hand; on the other hand it may be born of a genuine belief in the Providence of God. How to hold and acknowledge this fear, or faith, without dismissing what has been called by many the most serious moral issue of our day. Might this be an example of exercising contemplative power?

How about yet another approach: go for the common ground. It could sound like this: “Wow we both share a deep faith in God’s care for creation—and besides who doesn’t like pleasant weather? We both want to see future generations living on a flourishing planet Earth where there is adequate food and water for all. How can we work cooperatively to build personal and communal lifestyles which ensure this will be the reality into the long term future?”

Maybe with all the issues we are considering (Immigration, Political Climate, the Middle East) it is in the intersection of the differences between individuals holding diverse values and beliefs that the power of contemplation is more readily seen. It is, after all, through contemplation that rough edges are smoothed, universal compassion for the suffering of all beings deepened, and a divine alchemy transforms individuals and nations to a place of flourishing beyond and even in spite of all our differences. As Bede Griffiths suggested:

All mediation should lead into the world of non-duality, when all the differences—conflicts—in this world are transcended—not that they are simply annulled, but that they are taken up into a deeper unity of being in which all conflicts are resolved—rather like colors being absorbed into pure white light, which contains all the colors, but resolves their differences.

On second thought, I’d like another opportunity for that conversation about global climate change with Pat.

Written by: Margaret Galiardi, OP

© 2012 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue

Political Climatepolitics

When I exercise at the gym in the morning I’ve taken to watching the MSNBC program Morning Joe. Joe Scarborough, former Republican US Congressperson, and Mika Brzezinski, television journalist and author, are the co-hosts. Their commentary is more centrist than my own views; however, their guests and their regular commentators represent the broad spectrum of political positions. As I listen I find myself wondering if exercising contemplative power within the political arena may mean “letting go” of some of my preconceived beliefs about an issue.

For example, recently Joe was talking with a Democratic Congressperson from South Carolina about education noting that the US spends more money on education than any other country and yet we have a dismal record in terms of success. Joe raised the issue: where does the money go? It doesn’t go to the students, nor to the teachers – so often it goes for unnecessary administrative expenses. He then went on to bring in the role of the teacher unions which he sees as blocking many new innovations. I found myself thinking there is some truth there. And I startled myself for although I can be critical of organized labor I do it from the position of a strong supporter.

I found myself wondering – what if we really looked at the problem facing us in terms of the education of our future generations and released ourselves from all the categories and assumptions that form the “debate”? Would we be able to address the problem with fresh eyes? Would we be able to be in a space to see the new? Is that a way of exercising contemplative power—to ask the question differently? To diffuse the usual “hooks” that keep us entrenched in our usual position?

Obviously this or any other significant issue would be a monumental task during a Presidential election year. I find the rhetoric that surrounds the Republican primary and its multiple debates excruciating. It has felt as if each person was competing for the bottom of the barrel in terms of the most aggressive, least compassionate, most ethnocentric, and least concerned for the common good. Few voices have been raised in counterpoint to this prevailing chorus. Of course they are speaking to the Republican base but the airwaves carry their message everywhere. And if you hear something often enough, long enough, it begins to seep into your subconscious and may take hold. And this kind of political climate will not lessen once the nomination is determined. The visceral hatred for President Obama by some will make the general election even more polarizing and mean-spirited.

How do I, do you, do we, approach our deteriorating political discourse in our everyday lives? I used to scream at the TV during the debates or make cynical remarks because of the mentality that they seem to be operating out of – yet I find myself not doing that so much anymore. Does that mean I have lost my passion? My convictions? In the past, it seemed my strong belief in my position fueled my response. Friends, colleagues, expected a strong critical reaction. If you are not that clear about the “winning” side can you be strong in how you express your position? How do I, we, give voice to what we believe is untrue or certainly slanted? How do I express my truth in the midst of this climate? How does coming from a consciousness shaped by contemplation find expression within the political arena?

I’m reminded of the ICCD invitation to “A Coffee and Tea Contemplation Party” two years ago. Perhaps that invitation needs to be reissued where we invite friends, neighbors, co-workers whose positions span the political spectrum to share at a different level. It could help create a safe space to grapple with the complexity of what is facing us as a nation, as an Earth community. Such an effort contributes to the various initiatives regarding the need for civil conversations, for civility in the political arena. It helps to grow the field of a different consciousness.

Perhaps approaching all of this from a contemplative perspective frees us to be more direct, clearer and less judgmental. But I’m feeling exercising contemplative power in this arena is asking of me to change some very well developed muscles of political activism and to strengthen some new muscle groups. I’m glad I have the gym, Morning Joe and you to accompany me on this new exercise program.

Written by: Nancy Sylvester, IHM

© 2012 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue

Reprint with permission

 Middle East Situation

The state of affairs between Israel and Palestine strikes me as one of the most tragic in our world today. I see in it our own personal “human conditions” writ large – with disastrous results. Good people (for the most part?) on both si who are terribly caught. On the other hand, I feel that there is a legitimate point where I have to say that one side is more responsible than the other. That’s not to say that both sides are not responsible. However the intransigence and the “in-your-face” offensive behavior on the part of Israel just takes my breath away. As I say this, I’m aware of what we said of “contemplative power”— that it is a capacity to observe and interpret with new eyes, with new ears and to see what is my/our egoistic selves, and what is my/our God-selves that are trying to emerge. The God-self trying to emerge has great compassion for both sides – because they are caught; the ego-self places blame for failed peace negotiations squarely on Israel and on the US as well. On the other hand, is this really the ego? Or is this simply acknowledging what is?

I recently read a book entitled, Fatal Embrace. It was written by a US Jew who has spent time in Gaza and the West Bank. He speaks of both Israeli and US “exceptionalism” as the tie that binds the two countries together – dysfunctionally. Israel can do no wrong in our eyes; and on some level, we, the US, can do no wrong, either—we are “the city built on a hill….”…the leader of the free world. And it seems that we are so convinced of this, that we can’t see our own duplicity. Our President says that Israel should cease settlement building – and we turn a blind eye when Israel continues building with impunity; bulldozing Arab homes, gardens and olive trees to do so. Yet, when Palestine appeals for recognition at the UN, we say it jeopardizes the peace process, and threaten to cut off US funding to any UN agency that supports the Palestinian request. Recently, we cut off significant aid to UNESCO – because it gave membership to Palestine. Is it possible to be compassionate, and outraged, at the same time? Does exercising our contemplative power together create safe space for this, without becoming unduly judgmental?

It seems that Israel sees itself as “special…chosen…”; with a Biblical right to the land that other people have lived on for thousands of years. Israel also sees itself as a persecuted people who must preserve its security at all costs. Israel has created the facts-on-the-ground, and lives out of them. The objective facts, on the other hand, from UNRWA (the UN agency mandated to care for the Palestinian refugees); from Christian Peacekeeping Teams, and all sorts of other witnesses mean nothing. Anything said contrary to Israel’s own narrative is interpreted as threatening its existence, and anti-Semitic. How do you begin to even consider dialogue with a partner like this? They are a people who have etched in their psyche a “collective fear of annihilation.” They live out of a sense of “victimhood.” But how long can anyone legitimately plead this? After a while, though, I wonder if it has become nothing more than a cynical strategy for them to get exactly what they want – more land and the elimination of any significant non-Jewish presence in Palestine.

I don’t know what it’s like to belong to a group of people who endured the Holocaust. Even my worst experience of rejection pales by comparison. But there’s such a danger here – I could end up feeling that because nothing like this ever happened to me, I have to defer to Israel, because that is its experience. Then, I become caught. How does our contemplative power help us to honor experience, and move beyond it?

Of course Palestine is not perfect. There are terrorist elements that do, indeed, want to destroy Israel. But I don’t believe that the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs feel this way. But it seems that no matter what the Palestinians do; no matter what they have done to create legitimate structures for statehood it is never enough. At the end of the day, it always seems that “it’s Israel’s way or the highway….” And the US supports it. What do we do? How do we speak about this from a deep, contemplative center? How does God see this?

The book The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East does a great job in giving the conflict a terribly human face. One of its reviews describes it as “the story of two people trying to get beyond denial, and closer to a truth they can both live with….Their natures…intellectual, questing, passionate and committed – may represent the best hope of resolving one of the most intractable disputes in human history.” One of the best lines from the book: “Our enemy is the only partner we have.” That’s so true. Only in honestly dealing with the “other,” can we come to deeper truth. But how does this play out between nations?

I keep remembering the words of Thich Nhat Hanh “we need to defuse the bombs within ourselves.” I guess at its best, exercising our contemplative power together helps us to do this.

Written by: Margaret Mayce, OP

© 2012 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue

Reprint with permission

For further reading:

Tolan, Sandy. The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East. NY: Bloomsbury USA, 2006

Braverman, Mark. Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land. Austin, TX: Synergy Books, 2010

How do we exercise contemplative power in the face of inequality?

As I was preparing to write this reflection I was struck with how many different ways one could address the issue of inequality and how these different ways really are connected, each serving as a unique lens to illuminate the problem. I decided to reflect on a few of these lenses and then ask ourselves some questions as we ponder the exercise of contemplative power in the face of inequality.

I recently saw Robert Reich’s film, Inequality for All. It is an excellent presentation of the inequality we all face. One visual that has stayed with me is a map of the United States. On one half of the country are stick figures representing the 400 richest Americans. The other half represents the bottom 150 million Americans. The 400 richest folks have more wealth than close to half the population of the United States.

On PBS’s Bill Moyers Journal, Paul Krugman discussed the book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist Thomas Piketty. In it the author makes the case that modern capitalism has put society on the road to not only an unequal society but to a society of an oligarchy or inherited wealth. Considered to have been a strong influence in shaping the 1% analysis, Piketty went further to show how the great disparities of income and wealth are becoming entrenched in our society. These inequalities are increasingly being transferred through generations. By 2030 it is projected that the richest people will simply inherit their wealth, removing all pretense of working or earning their livelihood.

Krugman couples this with the implications for a society of super wealthy and the regular working people. “When you have a few people who are so wealthy that they can effectively buy the political system, the political system is going to tend to serve their interests.”

At the recent spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, three reports were published about the world-wide increase in the gap between the rich and poor. The reports called for a change in their respective lending and advisory policies including the implementation of measures of eradicating global tax evasion and creating tax code reform that would benefit the poor over the rich. The issue was raised but there is no movement to change the basic orientation of the IMF/World Bank. Their economic policies tend to impose austerity on the poorest countries, disbursing loans in exchange for major cuts in health, education, pensions, as well as increased consumer prices for basic necessities. This leaves the poorest countries with an inordinate debt burden.

Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank, spoke out about the combined crises of global climate change and growing inequality. In our highly interconnected world he warned there will be widespread upheaval as the world’s poor rise up and clash over access to clean water and affordable food resulting in increased violence and political conflict.

Frank Butler, a leader in Catholic philanthropy, wrote an article for the National Catholic Reporter in March of this year in which he reported that almost 2 million U.S. households are now living on cash incomes of less than $2.00 per person a day—a level associated with developing nations.

He also reported on Harry Binswanger who wrote an article in Forbes suggesting that America’s rich deserve more veneration than officially canonized saints.

Bringing inequality closer to home I live in Detroit in an area of the city that has been able to maintain a residential community. This means that Within the area immediately adjacent to Marygrove College, which my congregation sponsors, there are 79 abandoned homes. This is in an area which measures a half-mile long by about 6 city blocks wide. The houses are brick buildings, many Tudor style, and they stand next to each other—some occupied and well-maintained while others are abandoned but still salvageable.

What do we do with these realities? How can we exercise our contemplative power?

Knowing we are all one, are we able to identify with the haves and the have-nots wherever they are—in urban cities, throughout the US, in developing countries, in the financial institutions and the IMF/World Bank? Can we cultivate enough compassion that when we speak out we can be heard?

How do we talk with our family and friends who might believe that the rich “deserve the wealth because they earned it?” How do we explain the structures and policies that manipulate the playing field? How do we change the perception that if only one worked harder they would get out of poverty?

Or what do we do with the very subtle but powerful assumption that people are paid what they are worth. How often do we hear that and how much do we believe it? That belief blinds us to power and the interconnection between economics and politics. Do we really believe that CEO’s of major corporations whose salaries and benefits are 300 times more than the average worker, are really that much more worthy? Or that those who received the $26.7 billion in bonuses paid out by the Wall Street banks last year are that much more worthy than the 1.9 million full-time minimum wage workers who if they received that money would have doubled their pay?

In keeping with that thought of who deserves what, how do we feel about cities that are predominately persons of color and low income? Does that somehow rationalize the abandoned houses and decaying neighborhoods and make those situations less worthy of our empathy or action?

Pope Francis has strengthened the church’s critique of modern capitalism calling it unjust to the world’s neediest. In Joy in the Gospel he is unequivocal in calling for the need to reject the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and to attack the structural causes of inequality.

I find In Pope Francis a contemplative spirit. Perhaps his remarks can deepen our own reflection as to how can we exercise contemplative power in the face of such inequality.

“If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak them with affection and with the best of intentions, quite part from any personal interest or political ideology. My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth.” (Joy in the Gospel)

Part of contemplative power is seeing connections and trying to see the space where something new can emerge. Our entire economic system needs to be re-envisioned. That is so hard because we all benefit from our economic system. How more important it is then to engage in contemplation so as to name our blindness and free us to speak and act in new ways.

Nancy Sylvester @2014

Our Political Reality

How to exercise contemplative power within the pRolling-Rebellion-Denver-Democracy-is-not-for-sale-e1406041865751olitical arena with an emphasis on the kind of influence of persons like the Koch brothers?

In the Constitution we read “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice ,insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for United States of America.

In our current reality we see poverty, unemployment, inadequate education housing, healthcare and education, homelessness and other situations that fly in the face of our founding vision.

What has been lost in our political arena is attention to this vision for the common good as well as, our voice in making it a value. Decisions are made for the corporate good. These decisions have created an environment where the majority has to spend more time focused on its own survival. Unemployment and underemployment strip the time and energy from the voices that need to be heard. It strips families of the ability to be “family” providing education, healthcare, housing, and family bonding for children and elders. One might label it apathy, but it is deeper than that.

We ask. What is the political arena in which we move? Because we are a form of democracy our system is based on the voice of “we, the people”. Currently that voice has been overcome by the voice of the 1%, the voice of the corporations. The Supreme Court has given Corporate America a bigger voice based on no longer being one- person-one-vote, but one-dollar-one-vote. With most of the dollars in hands of a few, the few have more power than the many in decisions being made at the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches of government.

In a democracy the voices of the people would direct policies to eliminate the reality described above. Why is that not happening?

One strong influence has been the voice of the wealthy which has influenced policy to insure that they control the wealth. This has led to our question. We look at one prominent influence in this, ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council), founded in 1973, which has become one of the most pervasive advocacy operations in the nation. It brings elected officials together with representatives of major corporations, giving those companies a direct channel into legislation in the form of ALEC “model bills” at the Federal, State, and now local municipal levels.

There are many wealthy and powerful members of ALEC, including the US Chamber of Commerce and its Executive Council and many S&P 500 Corporations. Among the strongest proponents of this reality are the Koch brothers.

One of the main criticisms that have been levelled against these entities is that their influence distorts the democratic process by giving corporations control over lawmaking.

Some of us are in a space between bottom and the top, though still part of the 99%. And here we are today pondering what we can do in the face of the influence of the 1%. If we are true to who we are, we recognize that those we label as the 1% are also our brothers and sisters. Not an easy place to be in. How do we move forward without demonizing? How do we influence the move to more balance in our system?

How do we engage contemplative power in this movement forward?

At the beginning of Lent, one of our sisters reflected that fasting in the desert for Jesus was not the test, but the practice for the test. The 40 days preceded the meeting of the devil with the temptations to wealth, power, and complete protection…the test.

Similarly, we are committed to a contemplative practice which again is not the test, but the practice for the test. We seem to be living both the preparation and the test at the same time.

What are we inspired to do by of action as a result of our practice? And how are we viewing the invitation to be involved in the quest for the common good, for the expression and reality of our democracy?

Our tradition throws us another curve. Besides our understanding of the common good, we also hold that we are all part of one body. We are living in a culture of individualism, of judging right and wrong – and not just actions, but people themselves.

Our contemplative practice moves us to compassion for ALL and concern for ALL. And in that, right and wrong take on a different meaning.

It seems like the big test is how do we confront what we label right and wrong in such a way that do our part in raising issues through active dialogue with each other and others who have power to influence the lawmaking process to insure the common good.

The operative word here is “how”. Is this not how we use our contemplative power with each other and with our God to determine the steps that need to be taken?

A key of this contemplative practice is that we engage it in dialogue which is also the key to a vital democratic system. How do we connect what we do today in our ministries to what we do every day in our civic reality?

By Mary Ellen Gondeck, csj