From transcendence to social action, by Tina Simson

A member of our Wellspring group asked a vital question the other day. How do we get from transcendentalism to social action? It’s such an important question. It seems like a long and twisting road from the internal experience of the divine to political activism. And yet when we study the Transcendentalist forbears of our faith, such as Thoreau, Emerson and Margaret Fuller, we see their effort in womens' rights and abolition evolved from their deep beliefs and personal experience of the divine.  What they don’t tell us is, how that happens.

I believe when we open your heart and mind to the divinity of this world, something inside us changes. We are called to serve, not by an external set of rules and expectations, but by a deep knowledge of our connection to each other and all living things. It’s serving from the heart.  It’s seeing injustice and having a call so personal and so deep, that it must be answered.  For me it clarifies the difference between helping or fixing and serving.

Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom puts it this way:

“If helping is an experience of strength, fixing is an experience of mastery and expertise. Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender and awe. A fixer has the illusion of being causal. A server knows that he or she is being used and has a willingness to be used in the service of something greater, something essentially unknown.”

You can read her whole essay In Service of Life from the
Noetic Science Review

And I think it’s important to note that service provided from the heart does change the world, not because the efforts are enormous or exhausting, but because they are true. It is the most simple and generous act that is the most profound. The Buddah listened and Jesus forgave.

In the four years we have facilitated Wellspring in our congregation we have witnessed numerous graduates of our program go on to take roles in of leadership in our church community, support social action projects with passion, and even pursue the ministry. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think something happens when we open ourselves to the deepest connection, something that calls us to live with integrity and serve the needs of others as our own.  It truly is our faith in action.

One Response to “From transcendence to social action, by Tina Simson”

  1. You write: “What they [19th C. Transcendentalists] don’t tell us is, how that happens.”
    But they do. Thoreau is pretty explicit in “Civil Disobedience.” Emerson’s “Divinity School Address” is a call to action based on his Transcendentalist beliefs.
    Philip Gura offers good insight into this question in his American Transcendentalism; see esp. the chapter titled “Self and Society,” pp. 209 ff.


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