Speaking Out of the Heart of God

Opening Minds, Opening Hearts Podcast Season 2 Episode 9 with The Rev. Michael Battle

Episode Title: Speaking Out of the Heart of God

“If there is no reference of a community, you can’t be unique. You can’t even use language, you can’t know that you’re beautiful, you can’t know you are intelligent, or a stand-up comedian if there’s no one in the audience laughing at your jokes…..There’s always a larger reference point but it doesn’t negate or belittle our individuality. God makes sense of us as individuals…For so many Christians around the Western world, what really matters is my personal salvation and that misses the depth of Christian mysticism. We are interdependent whether we like it or not.” - The Rev. Michael Battle

Today we will discuss the evolving and expanding community of Contemplative Outreach and Centering Prayer. We have a special guest, The Very Reverend Michael Battle, Ph.D. a theologian, professor, author, and speaker. Rev. Battle was appointed as Herbert Thompson Professor of Church and Society and the Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at the General Theological Seminary in New York. He holds an undergraduate degree from Duke University and received his Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. He also earned a Master’s Degree in Sacred Theology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from Duke University. Rev. Battle was ordained a Priest by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and served as an Associate Priest in Cape Town, South Africa and many other churches throughout the United States. He is the author of 11 books including his most recent title, Desmond Tutu, A Spiritual Biography of South Africa’s Confessor.

In this episode
  • Rev. Battle was fascinated by the title Contemplative Outreach while he was in seminary because he felt it was a nice contrast of concepts in conflict. Like Mary and Martha, we must lead a balanced life as both a contemplative and an activist and he helps us to explore this idea.
  • Michael shares how he was naturally drawn to the contemplative life because he draws energy during times of quiet and silence.
  • His experience with travel helped him to understand the contemplative life because he was constantly in new surroundings, cultures, and countries. He says that when you are aware of your surroundings you have more to contemplate. We all need subject matter in order to be contemplative. 
  • “Christian spirituality is not taught, but caught.” Centering Prayer allows us to get out of the way so we can have time with God without distractions. 
  • Rev. Battle shares his experience with Desmond Tutu and reflects on his contemplative practice, daily office, and what he learned from their time together. 
  • He shares thoughtful insight about community and our interdependence on each other. 
  • We unpack the idea of Ubuntu, an African proverb that is based on the Trinity. “I am because, we are and because we are, I am.” Identity is interdependent. I cannot be myself unless you are being who you are. 
  • We discussed the question, “How do we invite more people of color to the contemplative life?” Rev. Battle encourages us to move beyond the stereotypes and the classifications of race that are imposed on us and be an influencer like Jesus. He challenges us to explore the difference between therapy and spirituality and examine how we pray so that there is more depth and maturity in our prayers. 
  • Rev. Battle believes that God gives us gifts and we are all gifted differently. No gift is less than the other. Our gifts look different, but that doesn’t mean they are less than another. They are all needed. 
“In fact, not to forgive others is not to forgive ourselves. At the deepest level, we are everyone else. We can only enjoy the world unconditionally with parts that are completely open to everyone.” - Father Thomas Keating

To learn more about Father Thomas Keating’s guidelines for service and principles visit www.contemplativeoutreach.org/vision

  To connect further with The Rev. Michael Battle:

Read his works including his most recent book Desmond Tutu, A Spiritual Biography of South Africa's Confessor at www.michaelbattle.com

To connect further with us:  

Season 2 of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts was made possible by a grant from the Trust for the Meditation Proces a charitable foundation encouraging meditation, mindfulness and contemplative prayer.

This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana LLC www.crysandtiana.com
Opening Minds, Opening Hearts EP# 9: Speaking Out of the Heart of God with The Rev. Michael Battle

[cheerful music starts]

Colleen Thomas [00:00:02] Welcome to Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, a podcast about the transformative practice of Centering Prayer. In each episode, we will talk to Friends of Contemplative Outreach about their personal practice. Listen in as our guests share insights about the teachings of Father Thomas Keating, how the practice impacts their work in the world, and their thoughts about how Centering Prayer connects to the living traditions of contemplation and meditation. We are your hosts, Colleen Thomas.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:00:35] And Mark Dannenfelser.

Colleen Thomas [00:00:36] Centering Prayer practitioners and contemplative life seekers who love to talk a little too much about how the practice of contemplative prayer transforms our inner and outer worlds. Our hope is to open the door for you to explore more deeply this powerful practice of Centering Prayer.

[cheerful music ends]

Colleen Thomas [00:00:58] Welcome to the Contemplative Outreach Podcast, Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. I am Colleen Thomas.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:06] And I'm Mark Dannenfelser. Colleen, this has been a fun season. We've been having all these conversations about contemplative practice and the contemplative tradition and where it's been and where it's going. And you know, we've been framing our conversations part around the Contemplative Outreach guiding principle that states Contemplative Outreach is this evolving community with this expanding vision about deepening the practice and also about serving the changing needs of contemplatives. So it's been very exciting and we're continuing that vein today with our special guest, aren't we?

Colleen Thomas [00:01:42] Yeah, we are. And evolving and expanding are beautiful ways of describing what, I don't know if Father Thomas knew this would be the case in this time, but this spiritual landscape that we find ourselves in is definitely evolving and expanding. And I'm really excited today as I know you are, Mark, to talk with our guests and hear about not just Centering Prayer, but really the principles, theological principles, and the vision of Contemplative Outreach and how it's universal, how that connects with what we hope to hear about the philosophy of Ubuntu. And before I say more, let us introduce our guests today. Today we have with us The Very Reverend Michael Battle. Welcome. We're so excited that you're here.

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:02:39] Thank you, Colleen. And Mark, it's wonderful to be with you.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:02:42] Michael is currently appointed as the Herbert Thompson Professor of Church and Society. He is also the Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at the General Theological Seminary in New York. And Reverend Battle has an undergraduate degree from Duke University, received his Master's of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Master's of Sacred Theology from Yale University. And he's earned a PhD in theology and ethics also from Duke University. And he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and served as an associate priest in Cape Town, South Africa, as well as has served in many other churches around the US. His most recent book among many, is entitled, Desmond Tutu, A Spiritual Autobiography of South Africa’s Confessor. 

 So welcome Michael. It's so good to have you here.

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:03:37] Thank you.

Colleen Thomas [00:03:38] Reverend Battle. I know you say to call you Michael, but I'm old school, so it's really a treat to speak with you in this setting. I've been like adjacent to you in the last two years, but never really been blessed to have a personal conversation with you. I first was with you in the Lenten Tutu Series that Contemplative Outreach Chicago co-sponsored, and that was, I tell everybody about that. It was just such a beautiful way to ground and to the Lenten season and to meet some of your colleagues in South Africa. And we want to hear so much more about your experience in South Africa. We'd like to ground our conversations with this formation question for all of our guests around the practice of Centering Prayer. Would you mind starting us off and just telling us when and how you were first introduced to Centering Prayer and any impact that's had on your formation as a contemplative?

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:04:51] Yeah, sure, Colleen. I think initially my exposure to Thomas Keating to practices of Centering Prayer occurred when I was in seminary, first part of seminary. And I was fascinated with the title Contemplative Outreach when I was doing a paper. I thought that was quite a nice contrast of concepts because usually in the Bible there are some siblings that tend to be at each other's throats. And those siblings are known as Mary and Martha and there are typologies for the active life. That's Martha, as she wanted to make sure Jesus was well cared for as Jesus entered her home. And then the other typology is Mary and Mary just wanted to be with Jesus, wanted to take advantage of being in his presence. And so the conflict and the tension has always been between being a contemplative and being an activist. And so when I came across Thomas Keating's work and Centering Prayer and to bring those two together to make them indeed siblings was wonderful. So my first exposure was doing that kind of research on Christian spirituality and the balanced life. And just wanted to let you know, Mark. More recently, I have moved from General Theological Seminary and I'm doing work with my institute called PeaceBattle. So just wanted to be upfront about that so that those listeners can follow me on my PeaceBattle or just usually my website, michaelbattle.com. So yeah, Colleen, that's my first exposure was just a wonderful contrasting balance between active life and the contemplative of life.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:06:43] Speaking of that part of contemplation and action, you have had a very important relationship with Desmond Tutu, and I'm wondering, did you see that Tutu was a contemplative and that whole dynamic of working with him and understanding who he was as a contemplative, which you frame him as a contemplative, who also was obviously very active in not just individuals, but social issues as well, and how that might have impacted your own work?

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:07:16] Definitely. Desmond Tutu usually is seen as a political actor or a political agent. Most of the public doesn't understand the deep rootedness of his contemplative life. And unfortunately for much of the world, they don't even really see him as religious. They just see him as political. So the layers of depth are really deep. And I think for Tutu, he is even deeper. The more you get to know him, it's sort of like C.S. Lewis's wardrobe. You go through the wardrobe and you're going deeper into a whole nother world. That was the beauty of the kind of imagery that C.S. Lewis used. And with Tutu's life, that's exactly the way he was. The more you got to know him I had the opportunity to live with him for two years to serve as his chaplain. And so to pray with him for the daily offices to see him in silence.

And in many ways, Tutu was surprised that he lived to be 90 years old in light of the violence that he had to live in during apartheid. He had the deep need to find the contemplative life to be able to live in the eye of the storm. And you have to keep in mind, Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years and there was a vacuum of leadership. And so in many ways, during the height of apartheid in the 80s leading to Nelson Mandela's release in the early 90s, Tutu was in many ways the public face of fighting apartheid. But he always did it from this base of a contemplative life. So that's one of the reasons I wrote this, my newest book. And put a plug in here Desmond Tutu, as you said, Mark, a spiritual biography of South Africa's confessor. And I've really outlined this sort of concept that you're helping me to bring up how Desmond Tutu is deeply rooted in the contemplative life.

Colleen Thomas [00:09:23] On a personal level, I'm curious about how contemplative practice has impacted you and formed your spiritual life. And from the perspective of, so when you first were introduced to Centering Prayer, was that before or after your relationship began with Desmond Tutu? And then also once you were in relationship with him, how did his presence form your contemplative prayer life?

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:09:58] Yeah, so I was first exposed probably in 1987. 1986, was my first year of seminary. And then once I got into seminary, I really started to explore Christian spirituality. And you can't explore Christian spirituality without understanding the contemplative life. And so I was someone naturally drawn to the contemplative life. I usually listen before I speak the stereotypes of an introvert, even though I think those are not necessarily very good characterizations of human beings to put them in these nice little neat compartments of extrovert, introvert. I naturally draw energy in those times of silence and quietness. And if that's one of the best ways of understanding an introvert, I think that's true. And so I naturally found myself being a contemplative. And I had a lot of opportunities in seminary to travel too. So I met Mother Theresa in India.

I spent two months in India. All these things. I first met Archbishop Tutu in the late 80s, but I didn't actually go over and live in such an intense way until 1993. So the travel experiences also helped me understand the contemplative life because when you are in a totally different culture, different country, you are so much more aware of your surroundings, so much content to contemplate. For example, I know it's kind of a irony here that's in the contemplative life, you need subject matter, especially in Centering Prayer when you're trying not to be enslaved, the subject matter, but you actually need content to be contemplative. You have to have something to contemplate. 

And the beauty of what Thomas Keating taught was what we're trying to do is really contemplate something we can't do, trying to contemplate God who is so much more than who we're, but contemplate always has to have to contemplate something. You always have to have a direct object. You are seeking something. So for me personally, I had a lot of opportunities to build up that subject matter and to have more of a vocabulary to talk about the contemplative life and also to have more of the experience of learning how to be in the eye of a storm just for anything going on in my own life. But to be close to someone doing that on a macro scale like Desmond Tutu was incredible.

Colleen Thomas [00:12:48] Would he have named his prayer practice Centering Prayer or did he speak of it as contemplative prayer? Did you ever speak with him about the practice and what you all were practicing?

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:13:07] Yeah. We had some conversations around Centering Prayer, the contemplative life being quiet. One of Tutu's favorite sayings was “Christian spirituality is not taught, but caught.” And so he understood that as a principle for Centering Prayer, because so much of Centering Prayer is you're trying to get out of the way and so that there can be a way of being with God caught up with God without our distractions. So yeah, he understood Thomas Keating. He understood Centering Prayer. He also was someone who used what we call the daily office. So he would pray three times a day using the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. And during the pattern of the daily office, the rhythm of the daily office’s to have discreet times of quiet. So not only did he know the official formality of how to practice Centering Prayer 20 minutes, two times a day, but he also had this daily routine, almost sustention daily routine of praying seven times a day. He was deeply aware of these traditions.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:14:30] Just to stay with your relationship with Desmond Tutu for a moment, because you mentioned a vocabulary of the contemplative life and one word that comes up for me in my own practice and is in that vocabulary is it's something about union. Sometimes that shows up for me as when there's not union, when there's a fracture of some sort, how do we come back to that and how does the contemplative life help us? And specifically thinking of the act of forgiveness as part of contemplation for me, a lot of times it becomes a very individual idea, like me working with my lack of forgiveness and how do I become more or when someone has injured me personally. But it seems to me it's much larger than that too. When you look at union and you look at oneness, then it's not just, you hurt me, so now you got to forgive me or I hurt you. And I've got, it's bigger.

 And it seems to me that Desmond Tutu as well as the work that you're doing is on this larger scale. It's not just an individual thing. And transformation is not just individual. There's some other communal element to that and global element. Because Keating said that at one point God is nothing but forgiveness. And as God's children, we too are invited to practice forgiveness that this, he saw that as intimate and universal in the practice as well. Hope that's not a left field question, but.

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:16:00] Yeah, No, it's a great question. Great question. I think the larger atmosphere or environment that you're referring to is what I think most of us would consider as Christian mysticism. I think the contemplative life, Centering Prayer, all of that is within what we would call the discourse of Christian mysticism. Forgiveness also, believe it or not, is understood in Christian mysticism. And also we oftentimes forget that it's not just forgiveness. There's a rite of reconciliation. So there's contrition, confession, forgiveness, repentance, and reunion. So there are like five steps to the rite of reconciliation. 

And Christian mysticism has three steps that are very similar to the rite of reconciliation. And in Christian mysticism, if you read the The Cloud of Unknowing, for example, the spiritual director helps the directee to understand the three stages of Christian mysticism, purgation, illumination, and union. And if I repeated the rite of reconciliation, those five steps, and if you held up the steps of Christian mysticism, they're all aligned. It's all symmetrical. So you're right, all of this is larger than what I personally want or personally need. But here's the thing. Usually when I'm talking about Ubuntu, and I'm sure we'll talk about that a little later, my audience, my students would always say, well, I matter. I'm an individual. 

And that's missing the whole point. For example, unless you understand the ebb and flow of being a community and being an individual, unless there is a community, you can't make sense of you being unique. If there is no reference point of a community, you can't be unique. You can't even use language, you can't know that you're beautiful. You can't know you're intelligent or a standup comedian if there's nobody out there laughing at your jokes. So there's always, the way I liked what you said Mark, was I like, there's always a larger reference point, but it doesn't negate or belittle our individuality.

What happens actually is God makes sense of us as individuals, God who is so much more than who we can think about or imagine that larger macro knowledge is what makes sense of how we are loved and the depth of how we're being loved and the depth of, we're unique. So Western people, meaning Europe, United States, Canada, the western world, we focus on individualism and we do that in our religion as well. For so many Christians around the Western world, what really matters is my personal salvation. And that misses the depth of Christian mysticism. It misses that depth of what I'm trying to say, that we are interdependent whether we like it or not.

Colleen Thomas [00:19:18] In that same line where you were just quoting Father Thomas, Mark, he goes on to say, "In fact, not to forgive others is not to forgive ourselves at the deepest level, we are everyone else. We can only enjoy the world of unconditional love with hearts that are completely open to everyone." And you know that when I look at that and just all of the teachings from Father Thomas that I've been steeped in over the years, and then look at the Ubuntu as you present it in your book, in the recent workshop that we had around the Ubuntu circles, these are really strong commonalities here in the principle of Ubuntu and what Father Thomas has as one of his foundational theological principles for Contemplative Outreach, which is recognizing and acknowledging the divine presence in every member of the human family. But yet it does get lost, right?

Like somehow in our western practice of Christianity, we're always so drawn back to the individual and the personal salvation. And that's been the greatest gift of contemplative practice for me, is a reawakening to the divine and dwelling, but not just within my own self, but in others, still very hard to practice and acknowledge that divinity in others, especially say an enemy. But it is the essence of Jesus's teachings. And so I'd love for you to share more with us about Ubuntu as a representation of this divine and dwelling and maybe how we lose this so easily, how this is missed in Jesus's teachings. And yeah, that's a good start. 

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:21:41] Sure. So Ubuntu is a simple proverb, and the proverb goes like this, I am because we are and because we are, I am. So it's a simple proverb that my identity is interdependent with your identity, and it's deep in the African worldview. And so the word Ubuntu is an African word coming from the Bantu languages of Africa. And the Bantu languages are mostly the languages in Africa from the sub-Saharan downward to the bottom of Africa. So it's a vast linguistic system that understands this worldview of Ubuntu. Ubuntu, I think for us as Western people, believe it or not, is really illustrated in the concept for as Christians understand it and the concept of the Trinity. So we understand God basically as Ubuntu, the Father understands the father's identity, interdependent with the Son and the Spirit. And the son, Jesus, understands identity with the Father and the spirit.

There is no separation, there is only interdependence. And then the Holy Spirit is interdependent with the Father and the Son. One theologian put it simply this way that this theologian says that we understand the Trinity basically from the Hebrew Bible or from the Old Testament, because when Moses asked God's name, God said, I am that I am. And the theologian just basically put a summary to that. God is the relationship that God is having. And so not to put you through a whole theology class here, but Ubuntu is basically saying the same thing, that identity is interdependent. I cannot be myself unless you be who you are. And Jesus's golden rule, oftentimes we want to sugarcoat it and we don't want to go to that depth. Jesus's golden rule to love God with all of your heart, your soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself in the Greek is basically those two are connected.

You can't separate loving God and also loving your neighbor as yourself because the loving God is inviting you into this Ubuntu, this way of understanding your identity through others. I think, Colleen, is hard for us naturally, a world based on capitalism, a world based on force and power in order to get ahead, a world in which many of us are not taking the interdependence of our climate seriously, a world in which we just went through one of these biblical moments of a pandemic. And you would think that that would make us a little more theistic and believing in God when we see that we actually are interdependent, whether we like it or not. I think it's hard for those kinds of reasons. But I think if you scratch the surface under people's subconscious, I think we know that we are interdependent. And there's a willfulness that gets in the way of accepting that.

And I think that's one of the reasons why Jesus continued to talk about doing God's will. Because I do think it's hard. I think it's a conscious effort to align our will with God's will. And Jesus understands that because when Jesus was saying that he was trying to do the will of the Father, he is cluing us in that that takes work, it takes intentionality. And then this brings us back to Centering Prayer, because this is an intentional practice to do daily, to put our will in sync with God's will. And not to treat God like Santa Claus or some sounding board for our own monologues. But how is that we can sync with God and I think that's the beauty of Centering Prayer.

[solemn music plays]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:26:32] In the Christian tradition, Contemplative Prayer is the opening of your mind and heart to God who is beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate contemplation. The method suggests four guidelines. 

One, choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within you. 

Two, sit comfortably and relatively still close your eyes or leave them slightly open and silently introduce your sacred word. 

Three, when you notice you have become engaged with a thought, simply return ever so gently to your sacred word. 

And four, at the end of the 20-minute prayer period, let go of the sacred word and remain in silence for a couple of minutes. The additional time invites you to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.

[solemn music ends]

Colleen Thomas [00:27:40] I love that. The putting our will in sync with God's will. And I think of that Jesus saying that they would all be one, his final prayer. And I also find myself thinking too about how western society, American culture, the hallmarks of which are much of what you just named capitalism, et cetera, works so hard against our experience of oneness uniquely in the US but ironically also in South Africa, by saying, no, you are not one, you are not equal to this one or that one. And part of this season. On the podcast, we're talking about the changing needs of the Christian contemplative community. And to be very transparent, one of the changing needs that we talk about internally with Contemplative Outreach is the need to be more inclusive of persons of color. And you are doing really significant work right now towards reclaiming the African heritage of not just Christianity, but Christian contemplative practice in particular.

I really do feel like one of the questions we're wrestling with within Contemplative Outreach is how do we invite more people of color into these spaces? I, as a contemplative, am aware that I occupy some very white spaces. I also was an Episcopalian still technically am. I know you're in the Episcopal church, very white space, and these questions are real and they're genuine when people ask, how do we get more people of color to show up in these spaces? But how will people of color feel more welcomed if they're not seen in these spaces? I have a colleague of mine, Cindy Lee, she's a professor at Fuller Seminary. She often says, there's a need to see our reflectiveness, our sacredness reflected back to us. So there's some part of me that is so grateful for the work that you're doing because in reframing how we see Jesus, how we see early Christians, how we see who we think of as embodying contemplative practice, who we see, who are the mystics, did they look like us? And I'm just curious if some of this is inspiring your work to see that more of us feel welcomed or is it just driven by a need to educate us about the truth of this origin? But yeah, I'd love to hear more from you about the importance of this reframing of our history.

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:30:59] Yeah, Colleen, that's so important. I remember in one of the sessions that we did with Contemplative Outreach, maybe it was the Lenten series, you asked a very important question about this. I think several things. One, a fish doesn't know it's wet. So much of Christianity, people have assumed to be a white religion or European religion and to be a man's religion. When those who are different from those assumptions challenge them, oftentimes we find ourselves in the quandaries that we are in now politically. I think no one could not respect someone enslaved in the faith that they have to carry them through slavery and to learn how to forgive and move beyond perpetual war and resentment after being enslaved. In this western world, these stereotypes are that Black people are naturally religious or spiritual, but oftentimes I think, Colleen, Black people do not get the credit they deserve in the sense of being contemplative, being able to move through suffering and also the ability to try and not just survive, but to flourish.

And to flourish means that we're trying to learn how to be a community with all people and to move beyond this classification of race. Because race, in many ways is artificial and imposed upon us for certain gains. And most of those gains are in a capitalistic system of trying to those in power, owning Black bodies, owning Black people in the roots of so much of our police violence. And the Black Lives Matter movement is addressing those issues of how as Black people have gone through affliction, and that affliction is still with us. So the first thing is, I think we as Black people understand we do need to be seen and not just seen, but to understand that our faith, the way we understand God and practice God's presence is just as important as what is considered classical religion or proper theology or systematic theology. I mean, that's all kind of code for white European theology. So the second is, we need to travel. Did you know that American citizens have one of the lowest rates of having passports of most countries on the planet? Do you know that?

Colleen Thomas [00:34:02] I, for some reason, I'm not surprised.

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:34:05] I was. I would imagine, and it's because we think this is the world we don't really. Americans would go to the south of France, maybe visit some vineyards or go get some Italian food in Italy, but not many are going to South Africa or Afghanistan or Ukraine. So we need to learn how not just to be voyeuristic in the issues of the world, we need to be able to go and travel the world. And so doing, we will change, we will get rid of this patronizing way of being an American. And then third, just explicitly around, I think, Colleen, what you're saying about seeing us, those who are not white in Centering Prayer or in the Contemplative Outreach to address that specific issue. I think one of the ways, besides those first two, but one of the ways I think is what you're doing, hopefully your podcast is successful, but you're doing, I think what Jesus would do would take advantage of what the means of communication is for that time.

And to use social media to be an influencer. Jesus consciously was an influencer. I mean, Jesus would gather his disciples and say, who do they say that I'm? And he would help his disciples shape the discourse of the public. And I think that's what we need to be doing with Contemplative Outreach, not to be in these debates over who's more religious and so on. But how is that we can get into this world of helping people to understand the depth of the contemplative life, help people understand the difference between therapy, for example, and spirituality. That still hasn't really been done very well in the public eye. And also the essential question for anybody who's religious, how do I pray? To get in the throes of that question can help us to try to take advantage of how culture matters. In that particular question, how do I pray, culture matters, but also how do I pray in ways in which God is not Santa Claus?

How do I pray in which there is more of a depth and maturity, and how do I pray in a way in which I'm not against anyone else in my prayers? It is so funny. I'm a big American football fan, and I see people over there praying to God that some of the players, they're praying, right? And I'm imagining they're praying that they're going to beat the other team or whatever. And it's funny, you know, what's God going to do? Okay. I think I'm more of a Seattle Seahawks fan. So to help people go be deeper in their prayer lives instead of making prayer entertainment or kind of pharisaical showing off in the public eye, but helping people to really learn how to pray. And I think that crosses all culture lines, racial lines, economic lines as well.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:37:27] God taking a position, you know, for my team it seems so obvious, but it's very American. We do it all the time. And I think this is a challenge. You were saying, Michael, about shaping

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:37:40] Democratic- 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:37:41] Right, but

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:37:42] Democrat, Republican, for example.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:37:43] Right. But just so happens that God always ends up on my side of what, or my view of it. And that that is a challenge, I think, and maybe I'm speaking from a place of options or whatever, you know privilege that I get to choose that or not, or even assign it to God. But I find that a challenge, especially in the contemplative life. We even have a guiding principle that states that, because we want to be accessible to everyone, that Contemplative Outreach does not endorse any particular cause or take up a public controversy, whether religious, political, or social. 

And that sure, as private individuals, we can take a position, but as a, and I get that on one level, that if you take a position, then you're excluding others who don't have that position. But of course, it also assumes that you're the included one in a sense. And so you don't want to put anybody out. No, but there are, especially in the public forum, there are people who are excluded or people who are already out. So how do you take on issues of justice with this concern? Or is it even a concern that you, by doing that, you're excluding others? We mentioned this before about Tutu. People saw him as purely political because he took positions because it was right to speak against apartheid. So anyway, maybe I'm speaking from somebody who hasn't-

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:39:18] It's a good point. Yeah. I think if we really understand the heart of God's life and we're trying to be in sync with God, that will get us in trouble, Mark, it's not so much we're waiting for whatever the latest issue is. It's actually speaking up in the midst of turmoil and tension and to speak out of the heart of God. So for example, after September 11th and everyone wanted to go and just of course respond for revenge, Barbara Lee was the only one in Congress after going to a church service of the National Cathedral, Colleen, at the Episcopal Church. And after hearing the Nathan Baxter, the dean at that point saying that we should not be for revenge. And so that got her in trouble. And to this very day, she's not getting the credit that she deserves. So when we are speaking out of the heart of God, we're going to find ourselves.

People are going to be very suspicious of us when there's the blood thirst or there's political monopoly. So I wouldn't worry so much about the statements of Contemplative Outreach just as long as it's actually true. And so when those issues come that the world wants us to be revengeful or retributive, we can stand by what that faith is. And then for Tutu, his priest, the Anglican priest, and when he was the Archbishop, were angry with Tutu for not allowing them to endorse a political party. Many people don't know that, but he said it's not fair to be a spiritual leader and to be partisan politically. Now again, Mark, like you said, I think most people wouldn't even know that most people would think Tutu was naturally, with the ANC or naturally wanted everyone to vote for the ANC to be against apartheid.

Most people don't know that practice that Tutu gave his clergy as the Archbishop of the Anglican church there. Also, most people don't know that Tutu was just as much a thorn in the side of the ANC once Nelson Mandela was President. Tutu was seen as a pariah for many people in the ANC as Tutu tried to make them accountable. Whoever's in power has the danger of the cliche of corruption. And whatever you do with power, it will eat away at you. And I think the beauty of what you're saying, Mark, is that if we actually believe in Jesus and Jesus gave us texture for how to approach different context there's no excuse really. Jesus gave us a revelation of how to act, what to cry about when Jesus cried, what to laugh about when Jesus was always with children, how to behave, not just to not kill someone, but not to be angry in ways that are vengeful and vicious and toxic. 

So again, if you scratch the surface, I think we know as Christians, we know what to do, but I just think we don't do it. And I don't know if this has ever happened to you, Colleen or Mark, but have you ever not prayed for something? Because if you did pray for it, you would have to change.

Colleen Thomas [00:43:01] Mm-Hmm. Yeah. 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:43:04] Each morning.

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:43:05] Do you understand what I'm saying? 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:43:07] Yeah.

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:43:08] Each morning.

Colleen Thomas [00:43:13] I think if you ask my family, they would say I was annoyingly non-partisan. I don't hate the right people, but it's also because there's, and I've been accused of some things that are not true, but I look at, and I think this is where we get lost a bit too, in the choosing sides. I see the gospels and the principles of our faith as moral more than they are political or even social. And that can be tough to judge, but we do have a moral center. And I feel like Jesus speaks deeply at a moral level, and that that's nonpartisan, we can all err on the right or wrong side of justice. I do though often, especially in contemplative Christian spaces, ask this question of whether or not there is such a thing or any room for a contemplative practice that excludes justice.

At the same time, I know like there are different ways of showing up in the world. We have a Desmond Tutu who was a political and moral leader, and also socially in the sense that he was out with the movements and he was visible in the movement. And then you have a Howard Thurman who was never out with the movement, but he had a strong moral and social conviction that was evidenced in some of his writings, especially Jesus and the Disinherited. So do you wrestle with that, with justice as this active outward expression versus a way of being spiritually?

The Rev. Michael Battle [00:45:24] I think, Colleen, we're going back to Mary and Martha. I think God gives us gifts. We're created differently and we're gifted differently, thank God. And I don't think any one gift is less than the other. The hand can't say to the eye, I have no need of you. We are all interdependent. And I think what the tragedy is that many of us do not even know our gifts because we're so focused on ourselves. A gift implies the other. When you have a gift, that means that you need to give it away. But if our worldview is focused primarily on individualism. 

[solemn music starts]

Giftedness becomes unintelligible. I think we all have gifts and they look different, but I don't think our gifts are less than the other. I think that they're all needed.

Colleen Thomas [00:46:18] Thanks for joining us on this episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. Visit our website contemplativeoutreach.org to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever else you listen to podcasts. You can also follow us on Instagram @ contemplativeoutreachltd. To learn more about our guests and their work, you can find info in the show notes for each episode. 

If you enjoyed this episode, you might want to check out our YouTube channel: C-O-U-T-R-E-A-C-H. Coutreach. Thanks for listening and see you next time. 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:47:03] Season two of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts was made possible by a grant from the Trust for the Meditation Process, a charitable foundation encouraging meditation, mindfulness, and contemplative prayer. To find out more about the foundation, go to trustformeditation.org. If you are a grateful listener and would like to support this podcast, go to contemplativeoutreach.org/podcast to make a donation of any amount. And thank you for your support.

Colleen Thomas 00:47:39] This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana.

[solemn music ends]