there a recipe for a perfect world? A healthy sprinkling of wealth minced
with power seems half-baked, some might say. Perhaps a soulful soufflé
with a sprig of olive branch, a slice of spiritual life and a heaping
helping of moral vision will help. At least that's what Rabbi Michael
Lerner has on the menu.
In his new book, Spirit Matters (Hampton Roads Publishing), Lerner
pictures a way for us to enrich our personal lives and improve the conditions
of our society. Noting that we live in a society whose bottom line is
"looking out for number one"; he remarks that this condition
has gradually destroyed our sense of connectivity with each other and
all living things.
Our grappling for self-preservation has undermined friendships, made relationships
difficult, produced alienation and loneliness - and has been used to justify
corporate irresponsibility and environmental destructiveness.
Consequently, Lerner urges that we must reverse ongoing conditions that
perpetually repress our spiritual needs. Instead, we are to create the
world we privately tell ourselves we really believe in.
Spirit Matters introduces the notion of Emancipatory Spirituality,
an application of soul consciousness that connects humanity to a transcendent
It is a call to balanced living by adopting an attitude of generosity,
atonement, joy, and celebrating the wonders of the universe in the midst
of a world that leads us to compromise our own highest values.
Instead of hiding our spiritual life from the public domain, Lerner encourages
us to apply the holiness of our true selves to enrich the world of work,
politics, law, education and ecology.
Spirit is not to be mistaken for something that is split off from the
"real world". However, it ultimately shapes the world. Like
Edgar Cayce's tenet, "spirit is the life, mind is the builder, and
physical is the result", Lerner explains in a similar vein that we
are a conduit of the creative forces when minding the purpose of spirit.
"The more we include the awesome power of spirit," Lerner reasons,
"the less we will tolerate a society that functions on the assumption
of competitiveness and where its members look out only for themselves."
Emancipatory Spirituality can be found nearly everywhere, according to
Lerner. It is emerging on college campuses and in churches, in community
centers and on websites.
Nevertheless, tens of millions of people with renewed interest in spiritual
issues barely comprehend its significance. Lerner shows the scope of Emancipatory
Spirituality in the following descriptions:
Recognize the sacred in other human beings, the
earth, and the universe.
Affirm the sanctity of each individual through
empathy, compassion and love.
Affirm the equal worth of every human being.
Seek the healing and transformation of the world.
Cultivate enlightened egos.
Embrace suffering with empathy.
Build communities and social practices with joy,
pleasure, love and compassion.
Encourage artistic expression.
Bind moral responsibility with sensory pleasure.
Support others while maintaining our own needs.
Respect all life forms and the universe's resources.
Honor the wisdom traditions with all of its shortfalls
Support changing the "bottom line" of
self-centeredness to an ethos of love and caring.
Embrace higher levels of consciousness and open
up to spiritual guidance.
Lerner explains that most conventional religions tend to follow more restrictive
precepts and fail to grasp the concept of Universal Oneness, an essential
characteristic of Emancipatory Spirituality. They are often regarded as
religions of refuge to protect human beings from exploitation.
"The realm of spirit", says Lerner, "does not subordinate
human needs to the needs of progress." Their basic assumptions consider
human beings intrinsically worthwhile rather than diminish their worth
as a means to an end in the corporate world. But it stops there.
Despite their usefulness, conventional religious beliefs are more reactive
to outside influences but do not necessarily create events to manifest
spirit. Reactionary Spirituality, as Lerner calls it, is limited by three
1) It promotes elitism through a privileged group of people who claim
to bear the truth or have an exclusive right to interpret sacred ideas;
2) It pontificates over social ills and quashes rational inquiry while
preserving the status quo; and,
3) It selectively honors some parts of humanity at the exclusion of other
parts, thus failing to recognize everyone's equal share in the Unity of
Lerner's message is both complex and simple. It creates a new framework
for thinking about childhood, loving relationships, and social developments.
Still, it speaks to the heart.
As time passes, we continually grow and think about the universe and ourselves
in new ways - a change in orientation such as a movement in consciousness.
The time worn pattern of fundamentalism is losing its appeal, but we cannot
wholly discard it either.
Lerner warns that we can no longer hide our doubts and fears behind it.
"We must resolve to live life in a whole new way, with new confidence
in our struggles that are increasingly taking place between Emancipatory
Spirituality, Reactionary Spirituality, and the ethos of selfishness and
materialism (market consciousness).
One way to describe the way that Reactionary Spirituality and Emancipatory
Spirituality clash is their treatment of sexuality. Reactionary Spirituality
often strives to control female sexuality and reaffirms male dominance.
Men see that women must be contained, for if they were perceived to have
more power, men might feel that they had less power. Most fundamental
religions veil women in modesty. However, the opposite effect became just
as real: "The sensuous female body becomes the prize commodity of
and the consequent valuation encourages promiscuity."
Under these circumstances, a competitive marketplace exploits the protection
of a community of traditional values and actually provides sexual freedom."
Emancipatory Spirituality takes a different approach. Rather than "protect"
women with false modesty, it seeks to challenge the manipulative ways
of the market. It affirms new sources of power: the power of love, interconnection,
interdependency, mutual vulnerability, and mutual solidarity.
It does not seek to feminize womanhood, but rather, to reclaim and reintegrate
the strengths, experiences, and talents of women. Indeed, it seeks to
rebuild this world with spiritual principles.
"Our fading sense of wonder and appreciation is ruining our health,"
says Lerner. It is not what we think and do. It is how we process and
assimilate our activities that determine our mental and physical condition.
For example, there is a positive and negative way we may consume food.
On the one hand, food can be regarded as a gift from the earth, and the
corresponding expressions of gratitude lends a spiritual level of understanding.
On the other hand, foods that are products by exploitation, e.g., through
forced labor, will likely create negative health consequences.
Lerner includes this and many more illustrations to emphasize the need
to cultivate an awareness that matter in the world is filled with spirit,
an awareness that reveals that we are deeply connected, sharing one planet.
This fundamental interconnection grasps our sensibilities with the implied
admonishment: "You cannot act immorally without global consequences."
Irrespective of our station in public or private life, Lerner explains
that we are "momentary expressions of the consciousness of the universe."
However, we tend to live amongst veiled myths of cooperation and generosity
when in reality the common denominator of our nature is centered on competitive
individualism, scientism, materialism, and selfishness.
Lerner advocates that we must elevate the priorities of spirituality or
we shall remain as sleepwalkers in a sea of coping strategies that will
manifest in the form of spiritual pain, social alienation, and psychological
Spirituality is about equilibrium. We are 'flawed' within an imperfect
world and at the same time we are reflection of the God energy of the
Rather than perpetuate the dominant values that deprive us of spiritual
transformation, Lerner says that we should teach all that we've discovered
about history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, science, religion,
and technology in a new way. "Unless we awaken to new possibilities
for thinking and exploring," writes Lerner, "much of what we
learn is going to be useless, no matter how wonderful its content."
A spiritual world that Lerner proposes challenges the ethos of selfishness
and materialism in every aspect and dimension of our lives. From our economy
to the legal system and from the medical profession to education, we are
to replace the dominant values with higher, spiritual ones.
Underlying our ability to create a new world is the need to recognize
and overcome the coping strategies that we blindly follow in an environment
where repressing and denying pain is socially rewarded. In this context,
caring is superficially doled on the basis of selfishness.
Lerner contends we cultivate a true concern for others by balancing our
personal power with theirs: "to allow things in our life and in relationships
to develop without us always needing to be in the driver's seat
to think about the world without the desire to control things."
We are continually recreating the world with the power we have, but we
are just part of the bigger picture. Emancipatory Spirituality calls for
moral selflessness, giving up control, but not subjugating ourselves in
This revised mindset replaces what Lerner calls "the slavish subordination
of everyone to the idols of the marketplace and its 'common sense' that
all people should maximize their own advantage without regard to the consequences
for others, that the physical senses validate all that is real, that it
is human nature to compete for individual excellence, and that schooling
should aim to promote economic success."
Emancipatory Spirituality opposes marginalizing people through 'melting
pot' standards. Rather, it strives to preserve the differences and multiplicity
of cultural heritages by recognizing that everyone has a part of the truth
and is partly a manifestation of God's presence.
So how do we know what Emancipatory Spirituality feels like? Lerner provides
a few "markers":
1. A drive to change societal conditions that causes pain and oppression.
2. A desire to help others feel loved and safe when they fail to live
up to their professed ideals.
3. An ability to serve, heal and repair without finding fault in those
who seem weak.
4. The demonstration of leadership within the balance of compassion and
The road toward Emancipatory Spirituality involves forgiveness, repentance,
and atonement. Forgive people who have offended or hurt and let go of
past hurts. However, forgiving others is hardly possible unless we can
forgive ourselves for being incomplete.
Lerner says, "We are beings created in the image of God, but we have
gone astray, and departed from where we really want to be, and have become
different people. At our core, we are pure; the holiness of our true selves
can never be completely fouled. The task is to evolve our lives toward
greater connection with God or to become more fully embodiments with Spirit."
One way to meet this important goal is through the exercise of Shabbat.
Shabbat is a Jewish practice of putting the world aside for one day in
order to focus on spiritual living.
Many of the busywork obligations we normally tend to are avoided in order
to focus on pleasure and to contemplate spiritual matters. Various elements
of Shabbat include an absence of work of any kind, no errands, no computer
or cell phones, etc.
The elements of Shabbat may be customized to fit one's level of comfort.
However, it is important to include it routinely and to work the energy
of Spirit into the rhythm of every day.
Lerner concludes that we, who are embodied spirits, have the power to
reveal our true potential in the daily choices we make for a spiritual
grounded life. "The more we embrace Who We Really Are, the more we
will make the world safe for Spirit, and for those who hunger for it."
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