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The one hope for the future lies, I believe, in Sacred Activism -- the fusion of the deepest spiritual knowledge and passion with clear, wise, radical action in all the arenas of the world, inner and outer. --Andrew Harvey

A Call for Spiritual Activism Around Gun Violence

--by Rev. Charles Howard, Dec 17, 2012

I imagine that many of us who travel on public transit had a similar commute home on Friday afternoon.  Shaken spirits while trying to hold on to a shaking subway train.  Tragedy on our minds.  No one saying “Thank God it’s Friday”.  Just “Why God?” and “Please God.” 

All of us reading the news on our phones as if we all shared one mind.  One heart.  One deep sadness at hearing, reading, seeing, and feeling the news coming out of Newtown, Connecticut.

I called my wife to see how she was holding up and through tears of her own, she told me that when picking up our girls from their elementary school (which is almost 200 miles away from Sandy Hook Elementary School), every single parent there had tears in their eyes.

Our country has faced tragedy before, but this felt different. Maybe it was the time of year. Maybe it was that we've all exhaled after the tension and (at moments) vitriol of this fall's election and were caught off guard. Maybe it was the fact that 20 of the 26 victims were children. Young children. 

My spirit was unusually burdened.  Being burdened is different than being saddened or concerned. A burden calls for action and movement. 

This one is heavy. And I imagine most of us feel the weight.

I felt, like so many, that I wanted to do something.  I didn't want this to be just another sad moment in the news cycle that we are briefly concerned with, only to be distracted by something else a few days later.  I didn't want to forget and escape, I wanted to do something.

I quickly - probably too quickly - turned to social media to add my voice to the thousands or millions who let out a collective cry of hurt and anger.  Maybe gathering virtually helped us navigate the corporate second hand trauma that some of us were going through.

Yet, my words didn't feel like enough.  

I am not a politician so I can’t work directly for shamefully overdue policy changes that might not end gun violence, but could certainly curb it.  Nor am I wealthy so I can’t help pay for the 26 funerals for those whom we lost on the cold New England morning that will forever be etched in our memories.

But what I could do was pray.  And while praying I felt deep in my spirit a call to spiritual activism.  I felt a call to fast.  So, I am fasting for the next 27 days.  One day for each life lost in Newtown – including the gunman’s.  

Fasting has been a part of my spiritual life for some time, but it was always impressed upon me to never tell others when I was fasting, as it is meant to be a private thing – just between you and God.  Not a show.  Not a feat to bring attention to oneself.  But this time, I thought that maybe by sharing what I’m doing, by fasting for peace, I (we) might be able to not only lean into this issue spiritually, but also move those around us to act as well.  

It is perhaps, crazy to think that an individual's internal actions can make a difference in the world around them.  But history says otherwise.  The individuals who have brought about perhaps the most change in the world have often drawn from the deep wells of their spiritual lives to flood the world around them with compassion, with concern, and with love.  Those who have struggled for freedom, for human rights, for changed hearts in India, in South Africa, in Tibet, in South America, in various places in Europe and here in the states during the different movements for civil rights, freedom, and peace – know the great power in fasting.

Thus, I am fasting with four main prayers on my heart:

1.      I am fasting and praying that our nation would have breakthrough in our long painful journey with gun violence.  Especially that our leaders would have the courage to introduce, pass, and fix the gun laws of our nation, states, and cities.

2.      I am fasting and praying that the individuals in my life who own guns in their homes (especially for protection) would get rid of them safely.  Research shows that rather than making someone safer, gun ownership actually increases the likelihood of gun violence in the home.  Selling back or getting rid of the guns we own is a powerful act that can bring about change in our small corner of the world.  And speaking with family members and friends who own guns and encouraging them to remove them from their homes is an important action that each of us can do.  

3.      I am fasting and praying that the painful situations surrounding and leading up to gun violence would be addressed.  That those whose hearts are hurting and moving them towards violence might have their lives touched and their life’s trajectory changed.  That those who are suffering from mental health, emotional health, and spiritual health issues would receive the care they need.  And that we would all do what we can to put more good out there in the world.

4.      And finally I am fasting and praying that our hearts would be deeply touched by and inspired by the brave and amazing teachers who protected their students.  They model the kind of courage that is needed to reduce and eliminate gun violence in our country.

New Year’s is coming up.  For the last two years, I’ve participated in a project (Resolution 13) that has encouraged service-minded socially conscious New Year’s Resolutions. I wasn’t sure what I was going to resolve this year.  But now I am.  I will dedicate my service efforts this year to raising awareness and bringing about change in regards to gun violence in our country and in our world.  And I’m starting with this fast.  I will march arm and arm with the wonderful group of individuals who are working to turn our nation around from being one of the worst countries when it comes to gun violence, to instead a nation known for peace.

If you feel so moved, it would be a blessing if you decided to fast as well.  It might be an abstention from food (please consult your physician first) or it might be a fast from something else, like the internet, social media, or television.  Fasting is a powerful spiritual tool that nearly every major world religion has employed over the centuries.  And it, along with prayer,  is a powerful tool used by spiritual activists who feel led to work for change.  And it works.  

Some of you won't want to fast.  Maybe you could host a conversation at your home or school.  Or help circulate a petition calling for our political leaders to act.  Or have a study at your place of worship. Or pray or preach or sing or dance or paint or write about it.  Or something completely different.

Gun violence is not a problem just for individuals on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and in our City Halls to address. You may not agree with me on how to address gun violence.  That is fine.  If you believe other methods would be more fruitful in addressing gun violence, aim your energies there instead of attempting to block paths that you disagree with.  The point is that however we get there it most certainly must be addressed. It’s everyone’s problem.  And everyone can do something.  I’m going to start by closing my mouth for the next 27 days.  What will you do?  

This article is printed here with permission from the author, Rev. Charles Howard (also on Twitter), the University Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of several articles and chapters as well as the editor of The Souls of Poor Folk (2007), an essay collection and multimedia project raising awareness about poverty.  


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