A Perfect Spiritual Work

A perfect spiritual work should fit like a deep breath. It should bring in new life-giving energy and clear out waste. It should fill to capacity and stretch in all the right places without overwhelming. And it should be work that engages the individual as well as the corporate body.

The larger spiritual works can seem impossible at first. It won’t be clear how the work can proceed as there seem to be no open doors, holdable handles, or clear visions. It will attract only a few people to begin and slowly gather steam. And most will watch from the sidelines, saying "it can’t be done, don’t bother, fruitless folly."

What holds the work together is seeing that some essence needs to be changed, cleaned, made right. This sense of essential change carries everyone on the path in some unity. Much can be disagreed with in process and practice, but the intention is held in clarity.

The Torah says you don’t have to finish this work, but you shouldn’t stop, either. The idea that more than one generation is needed to complete the work might seem to discourage workers, and yet more often than not it means the work is shared, and the pressure of deadline is given the long view; do what’s important now, and the rest will follow.

Spiritual work is usually surrounded by reverence, a little-used idea in today’s culture. Reverence means that something is very, very important and should be treated carefully. By surrounding a work in reverence, we know the work is special, and we know how we attend to the work in certain perimeters of tone and practice. This often makes for less fear and conflict due to the sense of unity and common purpose.

In this way, a perfect spiritual work can mean that a daunting task takes on a delight— a welcome challenge instead of a loathsome requirement. And this dynamic generates Light for more good work. It might seem a "trick" of the Light to take a horrendously difficult work and surround it with reverence and the joy of hard work in unity. Not only unity with co-workers, but also unity or integrity with oneself, one’s ideals. This dynamic was never understood by the forces opposing Gandhi, King, or Jesus, but has been the basis of all change done by large groups over time.

And one might wonder: is there a large spiritual work underway currently? Imagine this: the United States of America gets out of the business of war. No more undeclared wars that go on for years against tiny countries. No more spending half the budget on wars built on lies. No more of our young soldiers wounded or dead by the thousands. No more weapons manufacture promoted by former members of Congress or Pentagon generals taking overpayments, to kill innocent civilians. No more U.S. torture in our names, using our tax dollars.

Holding U.S. leadership accountable for crimes against humanity has never happened. All the U.S. wars in Vietnam, Latin America, and now Iraq and Afghanistan involve crimes as large as any in history resulting in extensive profiteering and no justice or peace.

If the United States is ever to be taken out of the business of war, it can begin simply with addressing one issue: torture. There is more than enough evidence to begin investigations and prosecutions. It will take some time, some good work, and a great deal of spiritual discipline— a perfect spiritual work for a large group of seekers. Once the tide begins to turn, all new possibilities will open wide for economic justice, peaceful relations, and correct use of resources.

This is a work that affects every other important issue from economy and food security to climate change, worldwide poverty and lack of healthcare, clean water, and human rights. Getting the United States out of the business of war beginning with the investigations and prosecutions for those who ordered torture will do more to change the world in our lifetimes than any other single endeavor.

That time is now. Many torture survivors have made witness. Many documents are in the public domain. Our greatest chance for change is now. And the push for torture accountability should be made from every corner, in voices too loud and numerous to ignore.

The Quaker Initiative to End Torture is holding a conference September 24-26 at Quaker Center in Ben Lomond, California. See http://www.quit-torture-now.org. We want to begin this work with your help and involvement. Please join us for a very large, perfect spiritual work.


John Calvi, a member of Putney (Vt.) Meeting, is a founding convener of the Quaker Initiative to End Torture (QUIT).