Generating ideas, connections, and action

Uncovering Hope in the Dark: The How We Gather Gathering By Bidisha Banerjee

The original Greek meaning of the word ‘apocalypse,’ has the sense of an uncovering claims Reverend Jen Bailey, a young elder in the African Methodist Episcopalian church, and founding executive director of the Faith Matters Network, which helps faith leaders address structural inequality in their communities. Bailey traces this uncovering to a “rupture at the very heart of our democracy…rooted in the deep paralysis of anxiety and disparate visions for our collective futures,” and “an inability to process death of bodies and institutions.” Suggesting that this is a moment of “calling in” for “those of us at the margins who are rightly fearing for our lives,” she calls for brave spaces where we can “thicken relationships” and hold each other lovingly accountable to Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community that bridges differences of race, religion, gender, and class. [see On Being blog]

About 80 of us were in the audience at Harvard Divinity School for Rev. Bailey’s sermon, delivered shortly after the election. Shortly beforehand, as part of the same gathering, I attended a Crossfit Bible Study session that combined high fives, burpees, quotes from Deuteronomy and questions like “Where in your life have you felt god’s presence and absence?” And I encountered folks like Anurag Gupta, the founder of Be More America, which has created a mindfulness-based curriculum to educate police officers and other key stakeholders about implicit racial bias.


We were attending an eclectic gathering for community leaders whom the conveners were calling ‘spiritual innovators.’ In addition to Crossfit representatives, the participants included faith-based foundations and folks like the founders and/or representatives of Kinspire; the Big Quiet; the Afroflow Yoga; Soulcycle; Open Masters; The Dinner Party; the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture; Middle Circle; InVision Contemplative Collective; StartingBloc; The Women’s Mosque of America; Valley & Mountain; Thrive East Bay; the Movement Strategy Center;; New City Church; United We Dream; Open Ideo; and the Mindful Garden Collective at Laney Community College in Oakland.


At the gathering, I was honored to share a breath-based centering practice with this group of spiritual and secular leaders; the most surprising result was hearing from Christians and Jews who had not experienced such a practice before. One person said he was brought to tears. The power of mindfulness to create such instant connection was moving.

Some of the conveners, Casper Ter Kuile and Angie Thurston, have been featured in the New York Times for their interest in ministry for millennials, one in three of whom identify as ‘nones’ who are ‘spiritual but not religious.’ They identified six themes common across all the organizations represented: social transformation, personal transformation, accountability, creativity, purpose finding, community, and something more. The host of NPR’s On Being, Krista Tippett, mentioned the importance of connective tissue across these disparate communities, and spoke about our efforts as being part of a spiritual reformation running across traditions. Surprise guest speaker Brene Brown started some of her latest research on belonging. The ability to sit with discomfort is a key leadership skill, she said.


Mindfulness practices, including the ones Deborah Meehan has referenced in her blog about the Tree of Contemplative Practices, can play a key role in increasing our ability to tolerate sensations of discomfort and in increasing our ability to connect across differences. I’ve also been inspired by the work of theological scholar Charles Vogl, who distills principles from three thousand years of spiritual traditions to support organizations and movements in building practices that create greater belonging.


In our current age of uncovering, I challenge the readers of this blog to seek out people who may not already be familiar with mindfulness, and, if they are called to be bridges, to share mindfulness practices with them both in order to deepen relationships across differences, and in order to build our ability to take a spirited stand for what we care about. Mindfulness can increase our quality of attention: being seen, called to become more, held, loved.


Read Bidisha’s previous blog for the Leadership Learning Community: The Power of Secular Sangha