On Monday evening, April 30, members of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in San Jose gathered for Session One of the Resilience Circle curriculum. The event marked the first Resilience Circle to convene in a Catholic church. Welcome aboard, St. Martin’s! May your leadership inspire others!
The story of St. Martin’s begins with their Peace and Justice Commission, which presented a Lenten Series in the Spring called Faith and Finance – Christians and the Economic Crisis. The group read a Sojourners article by Chuck Collins (We’re In This Together) as part of the series, and series leader Donna O’Connell took the initiative to find out more. She invited Resilience Circle organizer Thomas
Atwood to give a presentation at their March 15 meeting. Over a dozen participants expressed an interest in the experience at that meeting, and the rest is history.
The group gathered at 7:00 PM in the Bailey House, a cozy and welcoming space to begin a discussion about hope in a climate of economic stress. As with any confrontation with transformation, however, we first have to acknowledge the problems we haven’t been talking about.
Frances Bowen anticipates positive messages of hope
As 13th century Dominican priest and mystic Meister Ekhardt expressed so well, in the Via Negativa we may experience the “dark night of the soul” and may find through contemplation a deep rest and peacefulness.
And as 21st-century Dominican priest and mystic Matthew Fox said, “By knowing our own darkness, we can get to know God’s darkness. …our truest rest will be in this darkness.” The Via Negativa is a stage on the journey that leads to the “letting go” and cleansing effects of the Via Creativa, and the epiphany of the Via Transformativa, in which we become a new creation. Resilience Circles recognize and accept all these stages in the journey of the soul.
Dominican Sister Virginia Pfluger (who celebrated her 50th Jubilee last year) co-facilitated the session, adding a lifetime of compassion and experience to the spirit in the room.
Patrick O'Meara calls people into the circle as part of a Common Ground exercise
After describing the essential components of a Resilience Circle, participants gathered in a circle for a Common Ground exercise.
Participants who had known each other for years learned new things about one another as they took turns calling friends into the circle if they were born outside the United States, their parents were factory workers, or they wanted to be part of shaping a more hopeful vision for our culture. (Acknowledging the importance of the whimsical and mundane, we also found out what people had for breakfast!)
The group went on to share the things that make them feel secure, covering everything from money in the bank to a drawer full of socks. Other contributions emphasized frequently overlooked resources, such as comfort food, meaningful work to do, family, and feeling loved.
Suzanne Murphy, Sr. Virginia Pfluger, William O'Connell, and Daniel Mascarenhas discuss things that make us feel insecure
Small group discussions surfaced things that make people feel insecure, such as loss of jobs or loved ones, the news, or fear of the unknown.
Co-facilitator Thomas Atwood collected the feedback from the small group discussions, building up to a video that explained the root causes of the economic collapse of 2008. In The Crisis of Credit Visualized by Johnathan Jarvis, participants reminded themselves of the deregulation, institutionalized greed, and wild speculation with sub prime mortgages that caused the crisis. The value of global financial assets, including stocks, bonds and currencies, probably fell by more than $50 trillion that year, according to the conventional measures of an Asian Development Bank report. On a more personal level, many in our community lost home values and retirement savings, or found their homes in foreclosure.
The group set itself to the task of compiling a list of Cultural Messages about the Economy. While it’s sobering to think about the demoralizing effects of the dominant messages embedded in our culture, one necessary step on the road to transformation is to confront those messages and write a new story. As Bill Moyers said, ““Freedom begins the moment you realize someone else has been writing your story, and it’s time you took the pen from his hand and started writing it yourself.”
St. Martin's transforms cultural messages into an arc of hope
The journey toward transformation begins. In the exercise that follows, each person begins to fill in counter-messages that repudiate the prevailing cultural messages of isolation, separation, fear, scapegoating, internalized “shame and blame,” anxiety, powerlessness, and exhaustion.
A transition to a new economy will take decades, but the journey begins with a single step of realization. Indulging ourselves in a sense of powerlessness gives us permission to do nothing. Our kids and grand-kids deserve better from us. We can band together to support one another when we feel discouraged. We can cultivate hope, solidarity, confidence, transparency, and strength in ourselves and others, one relationship at a time. A different future is possible.
St. Martin’s resilience circle will meet three times in May and three in June to dig into the remaining sessions of the curriculum. Like so many communities of faith before them, they will be part of the solution. Halleluia!