I am grateful to author Brian McClaren for raising up for me the word “aliveness.”* It’s such an obvious concept, of course, because anyone reading this is alive. But to be truly alive is consciously - or subconsciously - what we all truly seek in our lives. We want to be vital, hopeful, loving, purposeful, energized, and excited to be engaged in all the full drama of life. We want at some level of our heart, mind and soul to thrive and not just survive.
These cold and dreary days of winter, in addition to our personal challenges, the multi-layered political, cultural, and environment concerns that surround us can create a curtain of wariness and weariness that can sap our souls from being truly alive. So I have been thinking this week about what most brings me and others to being alive, and how can we best foster an attitude and vision for aliveness in our every day lives and in our perspective on the future.
I am not interested in the “don’t worry, be happy” kind of aliveness. I am most interested in the deep spiritual quality of what it means to be truly alive. When people say they are spiritual, not religious, I think what they are really saying is that at some level they are seeking aliveness, whether in nature, loving relationships, or the moments in life when they are filled with the majesty and mystery of life in all its complexities between birth and death. And the constraints of organized religion do not meet that need.
At a personal level, what makes me most alive is a deep sense of awe that always leads me to a sense of gratitude. And I personally name this sense of Mystery the presence of God. I am often reminded that "gratitude is the heart of prayer,” meaning that my gratitude for being conscious and alive to mystery and wonder fills my soul, even in those stretches in life when adversity weighs heavily on me.
Another important source of my sense of aliveness are the spirited experiences of cooperation and mutual support in our families, communities, and national movements. I think of the energy we felt emanating from the recent No. Dakota Standing Rock drama where an indigenous, spiritually-based community provided us with a vision of how we can spiritually confront the powers-that-be that threaten us. I think of the grassroots climate awareness organizing by the local high school student-led United Student Leaders program as I am especially aware of how important it is to acknowledge and support a sense of aliveness and hope in our youth. I think of the positive communal energy created when we all pitch in to care for our neighbors during a storm or other crisis. And I think of the Civility First program that we created here to envision a means of overcoming our political and communal differences. I wonder about the creative other ways many of you are engaging in this level of positive social actions motivated by a sense of your aliveness, hope and love.
It is often a struggle to be truly alive and empowered to live fully. In my work within organized religion, for example, in spite the many positive, compassionate movements originating from faithful communities, I have often been saddened by how often religion can be a major factor in thwarting spiritual aliveness by imposing constraints of judgmental conformity. And one of the great, tragic ironies of our times is that Trumpian political popularism ignites another form of aliveness in a conservative base: the fervor of anger, disruption and destruction of the common good. Our movement must counter these negative forms of energy with the energy of positive, life-giving change that must always be initiated in our own individual hearts as well as though political organizing.
I believe we truly have an opportunity - and perhaps an obligation - to choose to be fully alive, regardless of our discouragement and fatigue. And we need to encourage a spirit of aliveness in others and in our family and social groups. Life is too precious to squander the gift of aliveness given us.
Blessings dear friends,
*We Make the Road by Walking, Brian McClaren, Jericho Books, 2014