Longing for a Better World, by Marybeth Leis Druery

Breakfast at our annual Open Circle Winter Retreat. Students reflected through discussion, creative expression and spiritual practices, with our theme of exploring the stories we each were raised with, how the story of consumerism has shaped us, and what stories we wish to live by.

“I am only 22 and I weep for the future,” Michael* shares as the discussion unfolds in our weekly group. This week we’re exploring social justice as a spiritual practice and students are invited to share an issue that they care about.

We begin the discussion group with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” This sparks conversation about suffering — why our society tries to avoid it, and whether being involved in social justice always feels like struggle. Out of the issues students have brought with them, we explore the impacts of genetically modified foods, overpopulation, personal experiences with depression, and our world’s looming crises of resource depletion and climate change.  Anxieties fill the air, one student sharing his fear that “we’re all just going to die.” Discussion flows into questions of why these issues are present in our world and what we can do about it.

Wearing our masks we created at the Winter Retreat in response to the questions: “What masks am I wearing that keep me from being authentic? What prevents me from being more of who I really am?”

Just before some run off to class, I inquire: “How does being involved with these social issues relate to your spirituality?” In response, Evelyn* shares: “For me, social justice was my path into a spiritual journey. I started learning about social issues and at the same time reading about spirituality and religion. It was part of my journey of looking for meaning. Seeing all the needs in the world led me to look for a deeper source of hope and action.”

Others open up about how their spiritual journey frees them to question the status quo and find purpose in life that reaches out with compassion for others. Some share how for them hope is found in trusting that they are co-creating with God, looking for small signs of change and trusting that the Divine hasn’t abandoned us but is partnering with us in bringing healing to the world.

And Michael tells us that it’s through his spiritual exploration that he is learning to trust that a better world is possible. Perhaps weeping for the future is part of his path to hope.

*names changed