Image Description: A stick of upright incense in a bowl on a wooden table. The smoke curls in the shape of a heart against a black background. The title on the image reads: “On Healing Justice & Sacred Activism” with the URLs “lukayo.com” and “patreon.com/lukayo“.
(This article is one of a 5-part series written in the spring of 2017 for a spirituality and social work class.)
As I struggle to keep my daily practice alive without regular classes to keep me accountable, I diversify how it is done. I am centering on the bus. I meditate on the train. I wander my neighbourhood and speak to the buildings and plants around me. I trance in the heart of Toronto, the downtown streets steaming with unsavory odours while their oracles stamp themselves into my mind through spraypainted graffiti on innocuous brick. I peer into campfires and sacred fires all night long in the woods at Henvey Inlet First Nations by the rez, grounding myself into firekeeping and lodge-building and ceremony with Cree, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Metis, and others. I spend hours divining meaning in the tumble of stones, the patterns of shells, and the spread of cards. I make food for my Ancestors. I pray. I seek Spirit in my activism.
When one of my oldest friends, a gay Indigenous man, defends police involvement in Toronto Pride, repeatedly bringing up this sore point between us, I try to open myself to be mindful, to deep listening. “Deep listening requires us to clear space in ourselves first, so we can offer that space to those around us” (Gomez, 2015, “Listening is Sacred Activism, para. 12). I take a deep breath, I try to clear myself of all the pain and baggage I have around the police. I try to be present in the holistic and total nature of my friend that exists beyond this moment, and expand myself outside the incredulity that a gay and Indigenous man would defend the institution of policing. Instead I let myself be curious. I open up a space. I try to “come from a place of understanding and compassion” (Gomez, 2015, “Sacred Activism”, para. 8). From this place, I confront him gently, lovingly, by speaking my own truth without attacking his and by exploring this love or passion he has to defend police.
I wonder if this is what it means to use bawi as part of interpersonal conflict? What Butot (2004) calls “spirituality”, i.e. “a recognition of the intrinsic interconnection of all beings and a recognition of, and respect and reverence for one’s own and others’ intrinsic wholeness, sacredness, and value as an expression of the diversity of this interconnection” (as cited in Butot, 2007, p. 149), is foundational to bawi. There is no native Bicol word for “spirituality” among my people because it is a part of our culture. What Butot’s definition stops short of, is the responsibility inherent in that connection. The gratitude that is expressed and the amends made because of it. I see this more reflected in Sheridan’s (2012) work concerning the connection of social justice and spirituality through seven key themes: “(a) spiritual motivation for justice work; (b) recognition of interdependence; (c) the means matter; (d) acceptance of not-knowing; (e) openness to suffering; (f) outer change requires inner work; and (g) commitment to spiritual practices” (p. 195). Specifically themes (a), (c), and (f) speak to this, though I could go on about each of these themes and how important they are to my own life, and find myself surprised that I wholeheartedly agree with every single one of them.
I think what I find most interesting is that these themes need to be written about and gathered as “evidence” to practice spirituality with social work, when from my background, I don’t understand how to practice social work without spirituality– it would feel false and colonial and oppressive. It would neither be true to my values, nor my communities. In these readings, I scanned for what I understood about my spirituality– which is a connection to Spirit, and to the spirit worlds. None of that was mentioned. Instead, all of this seems like practical and obvious behaviours and protocols of a spiritual nature, but still without the admission of connecting to actual spirits.
My sacred activism is all about healing, navigation, mediation, and advocacy– between people and institutions, the living and the dead, and humans and spirits. They’re all transferable skills, though the techniques are different due to technological advancement, and how culture grows, is colonized, decolonized, and resurges. However, though the course readings did not touch so much on my own ways of “spirituality”, it did clarify to me how social work and spirit work can be similar, and how my life path unfolds with the two intertwined or merged into a single movement, a flow of sacred activism.
Butot, M. (2007). Reframing spirituality, re-conceptualizing change: Possibilities for critical social work. In J. R. Graham, J. Coates, B. Swartzentruber, and B. Ouellette (Eds.), Spirituality and social work: Select Canadian readings (pp. 143-159). Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.
Gomez, M. B. (2015, September 10). Sacred activism: Mindfulness and racial justice. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marisela-b-gomez/sacred-activism-mindfulne_b_8080444.html
Gomez, M. B. (2015, November 11). Listening is sacred activism. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marisela-b-gomez/listening-is-sacred-activ_b_8485818.html
Sheridan, M. J. (2012). Spiritual activism: Grounding ourselves in the spirit. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 31(1-2), 193-208.
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