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“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Rev. 22:1-3, NIV)

The voice that called to Moses from the burning bush is the same voice calling to you now. 

In the Exodus story, God didn’t start with plagues but a petition. Moses’s instructions were to “tell ol’ Pharaoh to let my people go!” Pharaoh’s failure to listen triggered the divine dismantling of the system that enslaved the Hebrews. 

In the New Testament, Roman persecution against the early church was horrific. One of Jesus’s closest friends, John, was exiled to the island of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation. He recorded the terrifying reality of persecution, describing it as a beast of violence and injustice, and a bunch of world-ending plagues. 

However, this is not the end of the story. Like in Exodus, John records how God’s intervention alters the course of history. He describes the lamb of God triumphing over these evils by bringing the fullness of God’s new creation. John records these words of Jesus: “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5, NIV)

From Exodus to Revelation, we see this ongoing process of all things being made new. Moses was called to participate. John was called to participate. And you, also, are called to participate in this process.

- Julius Shumpert 

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by Julius Shumpert
MOTION STATEMENT

Holistic contemplation leads to action; holistic action is rooted in contemplation.

Opening Contemplative Practice: Breath Prayer

Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore, PAX’s spiritual director, is a Black, Southern, everyday peacemaker. She serves as community life pastor at Roots Covenant and adjunct teacher at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Osheta is the author of Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, and Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace, on anti-racism peacemaking.

PAX spiritual director Osheta Moore leads us in a simple, centering breath prayer to connect us to God and prepare our hearts to hear from God.
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by Mondo Scott

A Poem for Thursday

Drew Jackson

Drew Jackson is the author of God Speaks Through Wombs (InterVarsity Press, 2021), a poetic and theological engagement with the first eight chapters of the Gospel of Luke. He also has a forthcoming collection, Touch the Earth: Poems on The Way, set to be released in January 2023, which explores the rest of Luke’s Gospel. Drew serves as president of Pax and is the lead pastor of Hope East Village. He lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife, Genay, and their twin daughters, Zora and Suhaila.

When I know who I am

with nothing to prove

it frees me to do

the work of love.

*Inspired by Maundy Thursday
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The Poet’s Way: Poetry as a Path to Contemplation

PAX president Drew Jackson facilitates this discussion with acclaimed poets Cole Arthur Riley and Pádraig Ó Tuama on the connections between poetry and contemplation. How does poetry help us slow down and see? What does poetry teach us about ourselves and others? How does it reflect the tensions and complexities of human existence? Why is so much poetry found in Scripture? Listen in on this provocative conversation on the ancient art form of poetry, and how it can point us toward the shalom of the kingdom of God.
Cole Arthur Riley

Cole Arthur Riley is a writer and liturgist who serves as the Content and Spiritual Formation Manager for a Center for Christian Studies at Cornell University called Chesterton House. She is the creator and writer of Black Liturgies, a project seeking to integrate the truths of Black dignity, lament, justice, and liberation into written prayer. She is currently working on a book with Penguin Random House to be released in 2022.

Drew Jackson

Drew Jackson is the author of God Speaks Through Wombs (InterVarsity Press, 2021), a poetic and theological engagement with the first eight chapters of the Gospel of Luke. He also has a forthcoming collection, Touch the Earth: Poems on The Way, set to be released in January 2023, which explores the rest of Luke’s Gospel. Drew serves as president of Pax and is the lead pastor of Hope East Village. He lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife, Genay, and their twin daughters, Zora and Suhaila.

Pádraig Ó Tuama

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet and a theologian from Ireland. He presents Poetry Unbound from On Being Studios. A book of the same name is forthcoming from WW Norton in October 2022. He lives in Belfast.

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Music in collaboration with artist VNE
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by Josue Carballo Huertas

Prayer as a Work of Justice

Ken Shigematsu

Ken Shigematsu is the senior pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, BC, one of the largest and most diverse city-center churches in Canada. He is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal awarded to Canadians in recognition for their outstanding contribution to the country. Before entering pastoral ministry, he worked for the Sony Corporation in Tokyo. Ken is the author of the award-winning bestsellers God in My Everything and Survival Guide for the Soul. Ken lives in Vancouver with his wife, Sakiko, and their son, Joey.

The Great Commandment begins with a call to love God and follows with a call to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). These two commandments overlap, but they are in sequence for a reason. Love for our neighbor ideally flows from our love for God and his love for us. If we get the two reversed—if we try to love others without receiving love from God—we will find ourselves running dry with nothing to give. If we engage solely in activity without contemplating our belovedness, we will grow weary and resentful.

With, In, and For

Prayer and other related spiritual practices such as silent meditation, gratitude exercises, and Sabbath-keeping enable us to receive God’s love so we have something to offer others. As my seminary professor Haddon Robinson once said, “Before a ministry of service to others, there must be a ministry to our spirit.” Prayer and other spiritual practices allow God to do something in us before we do something for him.

This is why being with God is such an essential part of service. In prayer we become more aware of God and his love for us and those around us. Even though Jesus—more than any other human being—enjoyed an intimate relationship with God the Father, before he began his active ministry, he took time to deliberately savor the presence of his Father and revel in the knowledge that he was the beloved Son. Jesus, led by the Spirit, spent forty days praying and fasting in the desert before initiating his public ministry.

After his ministry began, he also regularly took time to withdraw and pray (Luke 5:16). 

Jesus received God’s leading through prayer. Jesus spent a night praying in the hills before recruiting others to join him in his work (Luke 6:12-16). While seeking his Father, he also received life from him to do the work itself: “The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10). If this was true of Jesus, how much more do we need to experience the love of God through refreshing times of prayer and worship as the source of service for him and others?

The women and men who have been part of Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, have found their work sustainable across the years because each of them keeps a rhythm of daily prayer. Even amidst the sounds of desperate people, blaring horns, cars, and people selling their wares, they gather for regular times each day to still their body, mind, and spirit before the Lord in prayer. Those in the Missionaries of Charity pray six hours a day and work five hours a day. They also have a regular rhythm of rest: one day a week; one week a month; one month per year; one year in every six. 

Years ago, a friend of mine visited Mother Teresa in Calcutta and asked her, “With all the staggering needs in the world, how do you keep going?” She replied, “We pray the work: we do our work with Jesus, for Jesus, and to Jesus.” Mother Teresa knew that her labor on behalf of the poor was more than anything else an expression of her devotion to Christ. Beyond our tangible efforts for justice in the world today, our prayers for shalom, our rhythms of enjoying time with God, and rest are a central part of our calling.

Prayer Is a Work  

We need to change the way we think about prayer. Prayer is more than just the preparation for our service, or a turbocharger that gives the “real work” of ministry more power. In a very real way, prayer is a work itself—it is the work of ministry. Prayer is a powerful force in shaping the world. When we pray, we resist the spiritual forces of evil that blind people. This is why the apostle Paul wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” calling us “to pray in the Spirit at all times” (Eph. 6:12,18). While unseen and usually unnoticed in Western contexts, cosmic forces of darkness are real and we dare not engage them with the frailties of our flesh alone, but with the all-powerful weapons of God (2 Cor. 10:4).

When he served as a leader of the anti-human trafficking nonprofit International Justice Mission (IJM), Sean Litton would tell the story of a young woman who had lived in a brothel in northern Thailand. Lured by the promise of a good job, Elizabeth (not her real name) had been tricked into going to Thailand, and then forced to work in a brothel. Members of IJM had been praying that God would intervene to remove barriers so they could offer assistance and aid to the girls who had been trafficked. In answer to prayer, they were able to cooperate with some local law enforcement officials (a miracle in itself), leading to the rescue of Elizabeth. 

After the rescue, they discovered small script scratched on the wall of the tiny room where Elizabeth had been locked up inside the brothel. Sean asked a co-worker to translate the characters into English. They read:

      The Lord is my light and my salvation—
      so why should I be afraid?

      The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
      so why should I tremble?

      When evil people come to devour me,
      when my enemies and foes attack me,
      they will stumble and fall.

      Though a mighty army surrounds me,
      my heart will not be afraid.

      Even if I am attacked,
      I will remain confident. 

The team learned that Elizabeth was a Christ-follower with a heart to serve God. She had written those words on the wall of her room as a visible reminder of her daily prayer for God to rescue her from the brothel. 

Sean heard these words and realized that, out of all the girls trafficked into Thailand, he and his team had rescued the one who was specifically praying to God for deliverance. Overcome by the mercy and kindness of God, Sean broke down and wept. In spite of all the challenges they had faced, the barriers and the complexity of working with the local officials, God had guided them to Elizabeth—a clear answer to their prayers and hers.

In mysterious ways that we don’t fully understand or typically perceive with our eyes, God uses our prayers to heal and transform the world. Prayer is an act of reverence, but, as theologian Karl Barth noted, it is also an act of defiance against the way things are. In prayer we rise against the order of this age and join the transformation of the kingdom of this broken world to the kingdom of our Lord (Revelation 11:15).

As we receive God’s love and power through prayer, we become contemplative activists who engage in the glorious work of bringing our divided world into harmony with Christ (Col. 1:20).

Adapted from God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu

The Great Commandment begins with a call to love God and follows with a call to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). These two commandments overlap, but they are in sequence for a reason. Love for our neighbor ideally flows from our love for God and his love for us. If we get the two reversed—if we try to love others without receiving love from God—we will find ourselves running dry with nothing to give. If we engage solely in activity without contemplating our belovedness, we will grow weary and resentful.

With, In, and For

Prayer and other related spiritual practices such as silent meditation, gratitude exercises, and Sabbath-keeping enable us to receive God’s love so we have something to offer others.

As my seminary professor Haddon Robinson once said, “Before a ministry of service to others, there must be a ministry to our spirit.” Prayer and other spiritual practices allow God to do something in us before we do something for him.

This is why being with God is such an essential part of service. In prayer we become more aware of God and his love for us and those around us. Even though Jesus—more than any other human being—enjoyed an intimate relationship with God the Father, before he began his active ministry, he took time to deliberately savor the presence of his Father and revel in the knowledge that he was the beloved Son. Jesus, led by the Spirit, spent forty days praying and fasting in the desert before initiating his public ministry.

After his ministry began, he also regularly took time to withdraw and pray (Luke 5:16). 

Jesus received God’s leading through prayer. Jesus spent a night praying in the hills before recruiting others to join him in his work (Luke 6:12-16). While seeking his Father, he also received life from him to do the work itself: “The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10).

If this was true of Jesus, how much more do we need to experience the love of God through refreshing times of prayer and worship as the source of service for him and others?

The women and men who have been part of Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, have found their work sustainable across the years because each of them keeps a rhythm of daily prayer. Even amidst the sounds of desperate people, blaring horns, cars, and people selling their wares, they gather for regular times each day to still their body, mind, and spirit before the Lord in prayer. Those in the Missionaries of Charity pray six hours a day and work five hours a day. They also have a regular rhythm of rest: one day a week; one week a month; one month per year; one year in every six. 

Years ago, a friend of mine visited Mother Teresa in Calcutta and asked her, “With all the staggering needs in the world, how do you keep going?” She replied, “We pray the work: we do our work with Jesus, for Jesus, and to Jesus.” Mother Teresa knew that her labor on behalf of the poor was more than anything else an expression of her devotion to Christ. Beyond our tangible efforts for justice in the world today, our prayers for shalom, our rhythms of enjoying time with God, and rest are a central part of our calling.

Prayer Is a Work  

We need to change the way we think about prayer. Prayer is more than just the preparation for our service, or a turbocharger that gives the “real work” of ministry more power. In a very real way, prayer is a work itself—it is the work of ministry.

Prayer is a powerful force in shaping the world. When we pray, we resist the spiritual forces of evil that blind people.

This is why the apostle Paul wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” calling us “to pray in the Spirit at all times” (Eph. 6:12,18). While unseen and usually unnoticed in Western contexts, cosmic forces of darkness are real and we dare not engage them with the frailties of our flesh alone, but with the all-powerful weapons of God (2 Cor. 10:4).

When he served as a leader of the anti-human trafficking nonprofit International Justice Mission (IJM), Sean Litton would tell the story of a young woman who had lived in a brothel in northern Thailand. Lured by the promise of a good job, Elizabeth (not her real name) had been tricked into going to Thailand, and then forced to work in a brothel. Members of IJM had been praying that God would intervene to remove barriers so they could offer assistance and aid to the girls who had been trafficked. In answer to prayer, they were able to cooperate with some local law enforcement officials (a miracle in itself), leading to the rescue of Elizabeth. 

After the rescue, they discovered small script scratched on the wall of the tiny room where Elizabeth had been locked up inside the brothel. Sean asked a co-worker to translate the characters into English. They read:

      The Lord is my light and my salvation—
      so why should I be afraid?

      The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
      so why should I tremble?

      When evil people come to devour me,
      when my enemies and foes attack me,
      they will stumble and fall.

      Though a mighty army surrounds me,
      my heart will not be afraid.

      Even if I am attacked,
      I will remain confident. 

The team learned that Elizabeth was a Christ-follower with a heart to serve God. She had written those words on the wall of her room as a visible reminder of her daily prayer for God to rescue her from the brothel. 

Sean heard these words and realized that, out of all the girls trafficked into Thailand, he and his team had rescued the one who was specifically praying to God for deliverance. Overcome by the mercy and kindness of God, Sean broke down and wept. In spite of all the challenges they had faced, the barriers and the complexity of working with the local officials, God had guided them to Elizabeth—a clear answer to their prayers and hers.

In mysterious ways that we don’t fully understand or typically perceive with our eyes, God uses our prayers to heal and transform the world. Prayer is an act of reverence, but, as theologian Karl Barth noted, it is also an act of defiance against the way things are.

In prayer we rise against the order of this age and join the transformation of the kingdom of this broken world to the kingdom of our Lord (Revelation 11:15)

As we receive God’s love and power through prayer, we become contemplative activists who engage in the glorious work of bringing our divided world into harmony with Christ (Col. 1:20).

Adapted from God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu

Prayer and other related spiritual practices such as silent meditation, gratitude exercises, and Sabbath-keeping enable us to receive God’s love so we have something to offer others
If this was true of Jesus, how much more do we need to experience the love of God through refreshing times of prayer and worship as the source of service for him and others?
Prayer is a powerful force in shaping the world. When we pray, we resist the spiritual forces of evil that blind people.
In prayer we rise against the order of this age and join the transformation of the kingdom of this broken world to the kingdom of our Lord
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Walking the Contemplative Activist Path

PAX spiritual director Osheta Moore interviews pastor and author Rich Villodas about his personal journey toward contemplative spirituality–of being with Being–and the deep connections between contemplation and social justice. Rich Villodas walks us through the model of Jesus’s actions and stillness, and the practical steps we can take to follow his example.
Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore, PAX’s spiritual director, is a Black, Southern, everyday peacemaker. She serves as community life pastor at Roots Covenant and adjunct teacher at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Osheta is the author of Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, and Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace, on anti-racism peacemaking.

Rich Villodas

Rich Villodas ​​is the Brooklyn-born lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-five countries represented in Elmhurst, Queens. He is also a key speaker for Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, a movement that has touched hundreds of thousands of people. Rich graduated with a BA in pastoral ministry and theology from Nyack College. He went on to complete his master of divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary. His award-winning book, The Deeply Formed Life, was released in September 2020. He and his wife, Rosie, have two beautiful children and reside in Queens.

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by Mondo Scott

Pilgrimage Perspectives

The meaning of the word pilgrimage as we understand it today–a journey to a holy place for spiritual learning or benefit–dates back to about 1200 AD. But the practice of pilgrimages dates back to biblical times, when God regularly sent his people on long journeys as an exercise of faith and spiritual transformation. Nowadays pilgrimages are not as common within the church, but they are still happening, and they are still affecting followers of Jesus in significant ways. Below, two individuals share brief reflections about two different pilgrimages they participated in. May we also adopt such a posture of learning as we seek to better understand the communities around us.
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by Mondo Scott

Pilgrimages Can Pick You Up, Shake You Around, and Drop You to the Ground. That’s a Good Thing.

Cara Meredith

Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker, and Episcopal priest-in-training. She holds a masters of theology from Fuller Seminary and is author of The Color of Life, a spiritual memoir about her journey as a White woman into issues of race. When she’s not playing with her words, you can find her tinkering around in the garden or cheering on one of her sons’ little league baseball games. She lives with her family in Oakland, California.

I had begun to understand injustice, at least when it came to issues of racial justice. As a white woman, privilege had always been mine: that much I understood. But as a US citizen, I’d never had to question calling the only place I’d ever known home. There was a whole lot, I realized, I didn’t know about immigration issues.  

When an invitation to join a pilgrimage to the Tijuana-San Diego border surfaced, the only thing I could say was “yes.”

This much I knew: I’d fly into San Diego for an immersive experience with Global Immersion Project. For three nights, we’d stay at locations on both sides of the border; we’d eat local food, drink local drink. 

This was not border tourism, but it was a listening and learning trip—a time for repainting misconceptions, not only within conversations of immigration, but also in spaces of Christian spirituality. 

After all, how did the God Who Sees see migrants? How did the “with-ness” of God accompany lives of turmoil and fraught? 

Day 1 

After arriving in San Diego, we met our fellow sojourners at a hotel. The next day would be full, our leaders advised us. They reminded us that we were not there to be consumers, nor was this a missions trip. 

As I slept in the hotel bed that night, I remember thinking how easy this was all going to be. Little did I know how much the experience would rock me. 

Day 2 

Our group awoke at dawn to eat breakfast and travel by fifteen-passenger van to mountains that ran between the US and Mexico. There, we listened to a pair of US Border Patrol agents, self-described defenders who said their sole role was to prevent “illegal aliens, terrorists, and terrorist weapons” from crossing the border.

A couple hours later, we walked through the gate from San Diego to Tijuana. This, of course, was purposeful. Notice how easy it is to cross into one country. Notice how the lines extend around the corner in the other country. Notice the welcome, notice the hate. Notice the discrepancies between how men and women, children and seniors, Black and White and Brown, are treated along the way. 

Ours was an invitation to notice, perhaps not unlike the God who is always seeing, always noticing, always beckoning us to do the same.

Later that night, we lounged on mismatched couches in the upper room of a men’s shelter, listening to one man’s heroic story of migration from the Northern Triangle to the Mexico border. He desperately wanted to make a better life for his poverty-stricken family back in Honduras, so much so that he would do anything to cross into the US. 

Why, I wondered, did desperation label him illegal? 

Day 3 

We visited a farm that doubled as an orphanage; later, we sat on the floor of a women’s shelter listening to one woman’s heartbreaking story of survival. Weeping with her, we thanked her in broken Spanish and shook our heads with incredulity. Soon we would go home to lives cushioned in comfort, while she continued to run from the Mexican Mafia, hidden behind the bars of a safe house. 

By the time we drove back over the border later that afternoon, I felt like my whole body was stuck in slow motion. Tensions are often the stuff pilgrimages are made of. No longer are we settled into places with people who look like us and think like us and believe like us. Instead, we lean into more questions than answers, into more mystery than certainty. What does it mean to listen to the story of those we haven’t listened to before? I wrote in a journal that night. What does it mean for us to enter gray, not leaning into a black-and-white we’ve always known and heard? 

I sensed God was meeting me in the mystery, that much I knew. 

Day 4 

We ended our morning the way our trip had begun: with stories. We listened to an “angel” who left jugs of water in the desert for weary migrant travelers, and to a DACA recipient who wondered if she’d have to leave the only country she’d ever known. 

We cried some more. 

By the time we arrived back in the offices for a time of reflection, my world felt like it had been turned upside down. I was not the same person I’d been when I’d arrived. My perspectives on immigration, political discourse I so easily believed as gospel, and the sanitized nature of a palpably comfortable God had been picked up, shaken around, and dropped onto the ground. 

This couldn’t have happened had I stayed home, but it took a trip to the border to realize it, embrace it, and be changed by it. 

After all, God is the one who sees those along the migrant pathways. No matter their journey, God accompanies these sojourners every step along the way. And, as a fellow sojourner, I am invited to join with God and these beloved travelers as we move forward—together.

I had begun to understand injustice, at least when it came to issues of racial justice. As a white woman, privilege had always been mine: that much I understood. But as a US citizen, I’d never had to question calling the only place I’d ever known home. There was a whole lot, I realized, I didn’t know about immigration issues.  

When an invitation to join a pilgrimage to the Tijuana-San Diego border surfaced, the only thing I could say was “yes.”

This much I knew: I’d fly into San Diego for an immersive experience with Global Immersion Project. For three nights, we’d stay at locations on both sides of the border; we’d eat local food, drink local drink. 

This was not border tourism, but it was a listening and learning trip—a time for repainting misconceptions, not only within conversations of immigration, but also in spaces of Christian spirituality. 

After all, how did the God Who Sees see migrants? How did the “with-ness” of God accompany lives of turmoil and fraught? 

Day 1 

After arriving in San Diego, we met our fellow sojourners at a hotel. The next day would be full, our leaders advised us. They reminded us that we were not there to be consumers, nor was this a missions trip. 

As I slept in the hotel bed that night, I remember thinking how easy this was all going to be. Little did I know how much the experience would rock me. 

Day 2 

Our group awoke at dawn to eat breakfast and travel by fifteen-passenger van to mountains that ran between the US and Mexico. There, we listened to a pair of US Border Patrol agents, self-described defenders who said their sole role was to prevent “illegal aliens, terrorists, and terrorist weapons” from crossing the border.

A couple hours later, we walked through the gate from San Diego to Tijuana. This, of course, was purposeful. Notice how easy it is to cross into one country. Notice how the lines extend around the corner in the other country. Notice the welcome, notice the hate. Notice the discrepancies between how men and women, children and seniors, Black and White and Brown, are treated along the way. 

Ours was an invitation to notice, perhaps not unlike the God who is always seeing, always noticing, always beckoning us to do the same.

Later that night, we lounged on mismatched couches in the upper room of a men’s shelter, listening to one man’s heroic story of migration from the Northern Triangle to the Mexico border. He desperately wanted to make a better life for his poverty-stricken family back in Honduras, so much so that he would do anything to cross into the US. 

Why, I wondered, did desperation label him illegal? 

Day 3 

We visited a farm that doubled as an orphanage; later, we sat on the floor of a women’s shelter listening to one woman’s heartbreaking story of survival. Weeping with her, we thanked her in broken Spanish and shook our heads with incredulity. Soon we would go home to lives cushioned in comfort, while she continued to run from the Mexican Mafia, hidden behind the bars of a safe house. 

By the time we drove back over the border later that afternoon, I felt like my whole body was stuck in slow motion. Tensions are often the stuff pilgrimages are made of. No longer are we settled into places with people who look like us and think like us and believe like us. Instead, we lean into more questions than answers, into more mystery than certainty.

What does it mean to listen to the story of those we haven’t listened to before?

I wrote in a journal that night. What does it mean for us to enter gray, not leaning into a black-and-white we’ve always known and heard? 

I sensed God was meeting me in the mystery, that much I knew. 

Day 4 

We ended our morning the way our trip had begun: with stories. We listened to an “angel” who left jugs of water in the desert for weary migrant travelers, and to a DACA recipient who wondered if she’d have to leave the only country she’d ever known. 

We cried some more. 

By the time we arrived back in the offices for a time of reflection, my world felt like it had been turned upside down. I was not the same person I’d been when I’d arrived. My perspectives on immigration, political discourse I so easily believed as gospel, and the sanitized nature of a palpably comfortable God had been picked up, shaken around, and dropped onto the ground. 

This couldn’t have happened had I stayed home, but it took a trip to the border to realize it, embrace it, and be changed by it. 

After all, God is the one who sees those along the migrant pathways. No matter their journey, God accompanies these sojourners every step along the way. And, as a fellow sojourner, I am invited to join with God and these beloved travelers as we move forward—together.

This was not border tourism, but it was a listening and learning trip—a time for repainting misconceptions, not only within conversations of immigration, but also in spaces of Christian spirituality.
Ours was an invitation to notice, perhaps not unlike the God who is always seeing, always noticing, always beckoning us to do the same.
Instead, we lean into more questions than answers, into more mystery than certainty. What does it mean to listen to the story of those we haven’t listened to before?
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by Mondo Scott

Equipping and Empowering Through the Journey

Nilwona Nowlin

​​Nilwona Nowlin is a redemptive artist who uses her creative abilities to bring about God’s shalom in individuals and communities. When not hopping on Sankofa buses, she serves on the ministerial team at Kingdom Covenant Church Chicago, as a chaplain at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, as a CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) board member, and–most importantly–as a daughter, sister, and aunty. Nilwona has an MDiv and a certificate in justice ministry from North Park Theological Seminary and a masters in nonprofit administration from North Park University.

I call myself a redemptive artist, someone who harnesses the transformative power of the arts to help bring about God’s shalom in individuals, communities, and the world. The arts help me better understand and communicate with myself, others, and God. Through the arts, I discovered my identity as a contemplative activist. Through the arts, I encourage others to tap into their contemplative side. The Sankofa pilgrimage is where my redemptive artist and contemplative activist identities work together in perfect harmony.

The Sankofa experience is an immersive discipleship pilgrimage facilitated by the Love Mercy Do Justice (LMDJ) mission priority of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Sankofa, a word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, loosely translates as “go back and get it” or “looking back to move forward.” 

By visiting historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement, Sankofa helps participants connect the dots between freedom movements of the past and those of the present. Participants partner with someone of a different race and journey together for three days. Like the Freedom Riders of 1961, they travel throughout the South on a coach bus. The purpose of Sankofa is to invite “the church to understand racial righteousness as a critical component of our Christian discipleship. This immersive discipleship pilgrimage equips believers to participate in the kingdom mosaic and pursue biblical justice. Sankofa empowers participants to become ambassadors of reconciliation inside and outside the church.”

In 2012, I stepped on my first Sankofa bus as a participant. From the beginning, all five of my senses were overwhelmed—often in conflicting ways. One morning I indulged in a scrumptious soul food breakfast buffet; minutes later, I was sitting in sacred silence at the 16th Street Baptist Church, site of the 1963 bombing that killed four young girls. One evening I huddled with others in the damp basement of Jacob Burkle’s house, once a safe haven for escaped slaves and now the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. An hour later, I was eating chicken and waffles while bopping to the beat of the blues on Beale Street

Each day, I contemplated all I’d seen, touched, heard, tasted, and even smelled, putting those thoughts on paper as words and images. I also had plenty of opportunities to verbally process with my partner and the entire group. 

Since that first Sankofa, I’ve participated in about twenty trips, including some as a co-facilitator. I’ve learned over the years that God has called me to this work. Educating others is a unique way that I live out my calling as a contemplative activist, and Sankofa is the perfect way to do that. Looking back, I now know that the seed of this calling was planted within me on my first Sankofa journey.

It is difficult and painful work. Once, while listening to a presentation, a first-time participant whispered to me, “How can you do this over and over?” I thought about how Harriet Tubman risked her life over and over to lead enslaved people to freedom. Sankofa is exhausting in every way, but it’s worth it to me if just one person walks away “transformed by the renewing” of their mind, motivated to do their part in fighting racial injustice.

While co-leading a Sankofa journey in October 2019, I had one particular experience that has stuck with me. It reminds me why I choose to participate in these pilgrimages again and again. 

At the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, we saw a presentation that began with a video called “Why Build a Lynching Memorial?” The video showed images and statistics while an acapella quartet sang “I Love the Lord (He Heard My Cry).” This rendition of the song resembles versions sung for decades in Black congregations around the country, including my grandfather’s old country church where I first heard it as a child. The song references Psalm 116:1-2. As I listened that day, the lyrics and emotion of the singers, combined with the images and statistics, hit my soul in a way I couldn’t fully explain. 

The next morning, still reflecting on the previous day’s experience, I read Psalm 116. I realized the words were perfect for our group as we prepared to pilgrimage over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of Bloody Sunday in 1965. While we stood at the foot of the bridge in Selma, I read Psalm 116 aloud to the group. I shared the connection between verse 14, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord,” and the Negro Spiritual “Done Made My Vow to the Lord.” We encouraged our fellow pilgrims to consider what vow they wanted to make to the Lord and to reflect on the vows made by those who marched on Bloody Sunday. We then silently followed the footsteps of the pilgrims who had walked before us.

Why do I make this journey every chance I get? God called, and I answered. Each step of this discipleship pilgrimage is my way of continuing to say yes, and continuing to be renewed in my faith. 

On another trip in 2015, we heard from Anthony Ray Hinton, who had been recently released from prison after being wrongfully convicted and spending thirty years on death row. His great faith in God—after enduring so much unnecessary anguish—inspired me to persevere in my own faith walk. He was free because of the work of other activists, many of whom I’d consider to be contemplative activists. His story reminded me that our work makes a difference to the marginalized, and it matters deeply to God. 

The next Sankofa pilgrimage is October 13-16, 2022.

I call myself a redemptive artist, someone who harnesses the transformative power of the arts to help bring about God’s shalom in individuals, communities, and the world. The arts help me better understand and communicate with myself, others, and God. Through the arts, I discovered my identity as a contemplative activist. Through the arts, I encourage others to tap into their contemplative side. The Sankofa pilgrimage is where my redemptive artist and contemplative activist identities work together in perfect harmony.

The Sankofa experience is an immersive discipleship pilgrimage facilitated by the Love Mercy Do Justice (LMDJ) mission priority of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Sankofa, a word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, loosely translates as “go back and get it” or “looking back to move forward.” 

Educating others is a unique way that I live out my calling as a contemplative activist

By visiting historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement, Sankofa helps participants connect the dots between freedom movements of the past and those of the present. Participants partner with someone of a different race and journey together for three days. Like the Freedom Riders of 1961, they travel throughout the South on a coach bus. The purpose of Sankofa is to invite “the church to understand racial righteousness as a critical component of our Christian discipleship. This immersive discipleship pilgrimage equips believers to participate in the kingdom mosaic and pursue biblical justice. Sankofa empowers participants to become ambassadors of reconciliation inside and outside the church.”

In 2012, I stepped on my first Sankofa bus as a participant. From the beginning, all five of my senses were overwhelmed—often in conflicting ways. One morning I indulged in a scrumptious soul food breakfast buffet; minutes later, I was sitting in sacred silence at the 16th Street Baptist Church, site of the 1963 bombing that killed four young girls. One evening I huddled with others in the damp basement of Jacob Burkle’s house, once a safe haven for escaped slaves and now the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. An hour later, I was eating chicken and waffles while bopping to the beat of the blues on Beale Street

Each day, I contemplated all I’d seen, touched, heard, tasted, and even smelled, putting those thoughts on paper as words and images. I also had plenty of opportunities to verbally process with my partner and the entire group. 

Since that first Sankofa, I’ve participated in about twenty trips, including some as a co-facilitator. I’ve learned over the years that God has called me to this work. Educating others is a unique way that I live out my calling as a contemplative activist, and Sankofa is the perfect way to do that. Looking back, I now know that the seed of this calling was planted within me on my first Sankofa journey.

It’s worth it to me if just one person walks away “transformed by the renewing” of their mind, motivated to do their part in fighting racial injustice.

It is difficult and painful work. Once, while listening to a presentation, a first-time participant whispered to me, “How can you do this over and over?” I thought about how Harriet Tubman risked her life over and over to lead enslaved people to freedom. Sankofa is exhausting in every way, but it’s worth it to me if just one person walks away “transformed by the renewing” of their mind, motivated to do their part in fighting racial injustice.

While co-leading a Sankofa journey in October 2019, I had one particular experience that has stuck with me. It reminds me why I choose to participate in these pilgrimages again and again. 

At the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, we saw a presentation that began with a video called “Why Build a Lynching Memorial?” The video showed images and statistics while an acapella quartet sang “I Love the Lord (He Heard My Cry).” This rendition of the song resembles versions sung for decades in Black congregations around the country, including my grandfather’s old country church where I first heard it as a child. The song references Psalm 116:1-2. As I listened that day, the lyrics and emotion of the singers, combined with the images and statistics, hit my soul in a way I couldn’t fully explain. 

Each step of this discipleship pilgrimage is my way of continuing to say yes, and continuing to be renewed in my faith.

The next morning, still reflecting on the previous day’s experience, I read Psalm 116. I realized the words were perfect for our group as we prepared to pilgrimage over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of Bloody Sunday in 1965. While we stood at the foot of the bridge in Selma, I read Psalm 116 aloud to the group. I shared the connection between verse 14, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord,” and the Negro Spiritual “Done Made My Vow to the Lord.” We encouraged our fellow pilgrims to consider what vow they wanted to make to the Lord and to reflect on the vows made by those who marched on Bloody Sunday. We then silently followed the footsteps of the pilgrims who had walked before us.

Why do I make this journey every chance I get? God called, and I answered. Each step of this discipleship pilgrimage is my way of continuing to say yes, and continuing to be renewed in my faith. 

On another trip in 2015, we heard from Anthony Ray Hinton, who had been recently released from prison after being wrongfully convicted and spending thirty years on death row. His great faith in God—after enduring so much unnecessary anguish—inspired me to persevere in my own faith walk. He was free because of the work of other activists, many of whom I’d consider to be contemplative activists. His story reminded me that our work makes a difference to the marginalized, and it matters deeply to God. 

The next Sankofa pilgrimage is October 13-16, 2022.

Educating others is a unique way that I live out my calling as a contemplative activist
Ours was an invitation to notice, perhaps not unlike the God who is always seeing, always noticing, always beckoning us to do the same.
Instead, we lean into more questions than answers, into more mystery than certainty. What does it mean to listen to the story of those we haven’t listened to before?
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by Mondo Scott

Closing Contemplative Practice: Walking Meditation

Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore, PAX’s spiritual director, is a Black, Southern, everyday peacemaker. She serves as community life pastor at Roots Covenant and adjunct teacher at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Osheta is the author of Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, and Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace, on anti-racism peacemaking.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass and civil rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel both discussed the importance of “praying with their feet.” This mirrors the ministry of Jesus himself, who walked constantly as he taught, healed, and restored those around him. PAX spiritual director Osheta Moore guides us through a walking meditation that considers how we embody God’s love and justice in healthy and rooted ways.
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Thank you for journeying with us on this pathway exploring the life and discipleship of the contemplative activist. Before you leave, check out these additional resources that provide practical ideas and recommendations for the both/and approach of being and doing, of centering ourselves and actively engaging. We hope you will take these guides and tools with you as you follow the peacemaking way of Jesus in our world.
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Embrace This Hour

By Osheta Moore
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The contemplative activist practices rhythms that balance stillness, silence, and reflection with external engagement in social issues. In this guide, PAX spiritual director Osheta Moore presents several contemplative practices tailored specifically for the social activist, organized around the hours of the day, to prepare your hearts for service, to strengthen you throughout the day, and to help process through your experiences.
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Drawn Not Driven

By Darcy Wiley
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All around the world, followers of Jesus are leading transformational organizations and movements addressing the greatest physical, social, and spiritual needs around them. But how do these leaders sustain themselves and keep going in the face of massive challenges like poverty, ethnic conflict, and war? In this guide, spiritual director Darcy Wiley explores 5 key contemplative approaches from interviews she conducted with dozens of leaders across the globe. Their collective wisdom provides practical approaches for leaders and aspiring leaders who want to remain deeply connected with God and others in their work.
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Leading with Wisdom

By Jonathon Murillo
Leading within any organization, including churches, nonprofits, and businesses, is challenging and full of tensions. Leadership consultant and coach Jonathon Murrillo of the Ignite Institute contends that we make things harder for ourselves when we lead from unbalanced, reactive extremes rather than embracing both/and mutuality. His guide examines three key areas–mindset, meetings, and metrics–where a balanced, contemplative approach can help us foster healthy organizations of thriving, productive people.
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