Two types of power are at work in human society. Worldly power aims to control and dominate. This includes economic power, political power, cultural power and environmental power. Spiritual power on the other hand intends to liberate and empower. Its essence is truth and love, wisdom and compassion.
Worldly power is motivated by pride and greed and uses fear, lies, hatred and violence to subdue and control others, Spiritual power, however, is animated by good will and uses affirmation and peaceful means to help others realize their true nature.
Where do we see these two powers at work today? Worldly power is at work on Wall Street, in the big banks, the fossil fuel industry and with the 1%. Their objective is to secure and control capital and wealth at all costs to society or nature. We see worldly power in political elites. Their aim is to dominate democratic institutions by controlling media, voting laws, politicians, courts and think tanks that write the laws. We see worldly power in cultural, racial, gender and religious elites. Their intent is to negate and oppose the beliefs and behaviors of people who are different or part of a minority. We see worldly power of corporations and other institutions that harm the environment. Their way of being is to plunder and use up limited natural resources, pollute air, water, soil, plants and animals and spew carbon into the atmosphere without any regard for sustainability or concern for other living beings.
On the other hand, we see spiritual power in individuals who believe in interdependence and unity and exhibit kindness and generosity in their behavior with others. We see spiritual power in groups who maintain a culture of openness and universal human values of equality and justice and manifest compassionate action within communities, organizations, networks, policies and systems.
Worldly power appears to be so massive and dominant. Is there any hope that spiritual power might ever prevail? Are there any historical examples or exemplars where spiritual power has overcome worldly power?
The Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed, among others, lived lives of and taught others about love and truth; and from their witness and example, millions and billions of people have and are attempting to live lives of compassion and wisdom. Mahatma Gandhi lived a life of and taught others about nonviolence and social justice and his words and deeds have inspired millions around the world to do likewise. Martin Luther King Jr. lived a life of and preached about equality, truth and hope. His sacrifice changed attitudes and laws around the world.
In addition to these five male exemplars, there are the lives, deeds and words of the many world changing female leaders, saints and revolutionaries. Today, we have Elizabeth Warren, yesterday, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Florence Nightingale, Susan B Anthony, Saint Teresa of Avila, Mary Magdalene, and on and on.
And then there are the many amazing collective heroes: the Occupy movement, the labor union movement, the cooperative movement, the credit union movement, the democracy movement, the decentralization movement, the gift economy movement, the pay-it-forward movement, the fiscal reform movement, the human rights movement, the peace movement, the environmental movement, the green energy movement, the civil rights movement, the voter registration movement, the women’s rights movement, the facilitation movement, the gay rights movement, the ecumenical movement, and on and on.
But is all of this enough to turn the tide of human history? The only questions you and I can and need answer in relation to the seeming war between worldly power and spiritual power are: Who am I? What do I? How be I? Am I committed to pride and greed or kindness and generosity? And we answer this question moment by moment with each word and deed.
In some moments I let pride and greed take the lead and in other moments kindness and generosity. How can I strengthen my spiritual power so that I tend always toward kindness and generosity? Study, meditation, contemplation, prayer, liturgy, yoga, journal writing, retreats, being in good company, walking in nature, making vows, caring for those in need, mindfulness and relieving others’ suffering - these are just a few of the many ways of increasing spiritual power.
Our challenge then is to use our spiritual power to transform worldly economic, political, cultural and environmental power into kindness and generosity, sustainability and participation, tolerance and justice, equality and peace.
We can do this.