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The On Being Project

Finding the Spirit to Question Our Messy Realities

It’s intriguing to note how each of our columnists is looking to people who engage messy realities with a generous spirit and a steadfast call to question the ways in which we’re doing things: Parker calls on Thomas Merton, Omid admires Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Courtney lauds Pope Francis at TED. In a culture that pivots on the fresh and new, it’s heartening to see these pointers to the tried and true. Who are the people you are looking to in this cultural moment?

A Word from Our Columnists

(Ralph Eugene Meatyard )

Parker Palmer
A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue
Thomas Merton’s writings continue to inspire so many people, including Parker. He reveals how the Trappist monk’s words have been a companion to him these past 40 years, and how they continue to shape him today. He has so many excellent passages, but this one resonated deeply today:

“As long as we are wedded to ‘effectiveness’ we will take on smaller and smaller tasks, for they are the only ones with which we can get results. If we want to witness to important but impossible values like love, truth, and justice, there must be a standard that trumps effectiveness.”

(Timothy A. Clary / Getty Images / © All Rights Reserved)

Omid Safi
An Abiding Faith in America

“Most human beings would crumble under the tragedy of losing a child. Or, for a select few, it can take a different turn. Sometimes a heart breaks. And sometimes a heart opens up. Khizr and Ghazala decided to take their heartache, and have it open up their heart. In the words of Hamilton, they have learned to live with the unimaginable.”

Omid pays homage to a beautiful couple who cling to goodness and a faith in an America to come. Anna Niles Davenport said it so well on our Facebook page: “As so often happens when I read your writing, my heart and mind open, and I feel my whole being relax. Like the Khans, I have experienced the unimaginable in the loss of a beloved adult son. Their example, and yours, hearten me.”

Courtney Martin
A Revolution in Tenderness

“At a conference known for its culture of young people celebrating ‘moving fast and breaking things,’ here was an old man talking about slowing down and really seeing people. At a conference where positivity and courage are celebrated, where the future is often painted with an unapologetically optimistic patina, here was a reminder that the world doesn’t feel so hospitable to everyone, that people have deep and understandable fear of what is around the corner — either in their personal lives or in our political sphere.”

Sitting among fellow TEDsters in Vancouver, Courtney saw an audience thirsting for Pope Francis’ words. And, she thought, how can we acknowledge more tenderness in our public spheres, and in ourselves?

Public Theology Reimagined

Jennifer Bailey
The Power of Welcome in an Age of Loneliness
In an age of never-ending digital connectedness, we feel more lonely — and more isolated — than ever before. Through a project titled #100Days100Dinners, our contributing editor explores what possibilities emerge when people with different identities come together, face-to-face, and gather around the dinner table:

“The story of division so prominent in today’s headlines is not the final word on our democracy. Each dinner I attend reinforces a new narrative. A story that reveals that unity does not mean sameness, and it is indeed possible to bridge differences without compromising your values and principles.”

Our Featured Guest Contributor of the Week

(Gian-Reto Tarnutzer / Unsplash / Public Domain Dedication (CC0))

Andrew Zolli
Toward a Contemplative Ecology
So often when we speak about climate change, we talk in numerical terms and make it a pure numbers game. But we often forget, Andrew writes, to focus on the spiritual cost these ecological crises create. Just a really gripping dialogue with Douglas Christie on the necessity of both detachment and radical engagement with the environment:

“When eros becomes part of a spiritual practice, it’s the capacity that we have to open ourselves up to places on the edge. It can foster an experience of being drawn into the life of the other. It’s often about surrender, vulnerability, tenderness, and receptivity to the other, who is beckoning to us. We both do and don’t want to let ourselves become this vulnerable, but the language of eros invites us to consider how enlivening and enthralling these exchanges are.”

As always, I welcome all feedback. I can take it. 😉 Contact me at [email protected] or via Twitter at @trentgilliss.

May the wind always be at your back.

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