Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Introduction of Gravity to the World: An Anniversary Post

I remember the first time I interacted with Chris Heuertz. At the time he was the international director of Word Made Flesh, a network of folks who love one another in real and practical ways whether they come from the wealthy West or were born into and trapped in extreme poverty or systems of injustice in the Majority World. I was a book editor; Chris wanted to convert some of the essays he'd collected from friends on behalf of WMF into a book. I told him that was a bad idea--collections like that don't sell. I hung up the phone and felt a little bad that I'd squelched this guy's vision and lamented that collections like that don't sell. And then I went on with my day.

Turns out I hadn't squelched Chris's vision. We stayed in touch and went back and forth about what would make a more appropriate and viable first foray into book publishing. Soon enough we had a good idea that was true to the heart of Word Made Flesh and played by the rules of the publishing industry. Now all we had to do was come up with a contract. I sent the contract to Chris and he proofread it, finding numerous spelling and grammatical errors (filling him with confidence in us, I'm sure) and demanding (in jest, it turns out) cell phone charms and bobble head dolls and other forms of ridiculousness. I fell in love a little that day, I'm at home enough in my sexuality to admit.

As part of the editorial process--the part of our contract negotiation that he wasn't kidding about--I flew out to Omaha to spend time with Chris and his community. It was an unbelievably fun trip, with Chris's manic humor mirrored back to him by his staff and harmonizing well with the depth of soul I discovered in his wife, Phileena. While Chris and I ate Pop Tarts in their library, Phileena spent a chunk of time in centering prayer--right there in the midst of us.

Not long after I wrapped up working with Chris on his book Simple Spirituality (which he's since followed up with two others: Friendship at the Margins and Unexpected Gifts), I started working with Phileena on her first book, Pilgrimage of a Soul. Contract negotiations, I'm happy to say, were much more straightforward, and the experience was just as delightful and soul-shaping for me. In the Heuertzes I discovered a rare quality: totally invested in the hard work of bringing justice and compassion to overlooked and exploited people throughout the world, they are nevertheless at peace with themselves and joyfully engaged in the day-to-day experience of life. They are big-hearted in ways I've never seen before.

A year ago today Chris and Phileena ended their tenure at Word Made Flesh to devote the next chapter of their lives to helping people find their center even as they pour themselves into the problems of the world. Gravity is a center for contemplative activism, bringing the insights of Thomas Keating and other mystics ancient and contemporary to bear on the challenges of global justice work. They offer retreats and pilgrimages, spiritual direction and other services throughout the year with the goal of keeping activists in touch with their souls and spurring the rest of us to live out our spirituality in ways that improve the lot of our neighbors. It's a remarkable vision, and the two of them are uniquely gifted in it.

When Phileena and I first talked about Gravity they had already launched it; Chris had given me the scoop, but Phileena rounded out the vision. She did so, oddly enough, while we were riding to a retreat on a disco party bus, complete with neon lights and what I have convinced myself was not a stripper pole. She told the story of Gravity in patience and good humor, given the chaos of our environment, and I was struck again by how centered, how tethered to reality, these two people really are. I'm blessed by them--and I find that language far too earnest to say about too many people too often. But today, the anniversary of the introduction of Gravity to the world, such language is only appropriate: I'm blessed by Chris and Phileena and the vision that motivates their work:

It IS possible to live from the Divine center of gravity within us that orders our chaos and frees us to live the values of the Gospel: freedom, reconciliation, peace and unconditional love. Values that can change the world.
Visit the Gravity website to get a better sense of them and to consider how you can support their work. Doing so will be a great anniversary present to them and a great investment in the well-being of the world.

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