This is a web-exclusive article on the theme “Positive uses of power.” For more stories on this theme, see the October issue of The Mennonite.
Power involves energy. The ways we engage energy are tied up in narratives, histories, agendas, self-worth, institutions, conditioning, traumas—even our sense of the Divine—and have very real consequences. Have you ever walked into a room and conducted a power scan? Have you noticed who is present and who is not? Who takes up the most space and how? What assumptions are being made? How are you showing up? If you haven’t, try it as a practice of awareness. Systemic injustices based on the misuse of power hurt everyone. So, how do we change this? As a starting point, I recommend listening to voices that seek to move us away from a toxic status quo.
Beyond this, I would advocate that there is an even deeper level of engagement to pursue. It’s the most accessible and sometimes the most difficult to engage because it’s so countercultural. It begins with two questions, posed in a speech by Dr. Johonna Turner, professor of restorative justice at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She says we must ask, “How do we set the table?” and, “How do we come to the table?” These questions call each of us at our respective tables to be present in ways that promote equity, inclusion and agency. Often these are the very questions that are avoided when conflict arises because of the depth of introspection they demand from us. But they are key questions to unlocking positive uses of power.
Consider the “tables” you sit at each day—a kitchen table, a meeting table, a virtual table, a classroom desk, coffee with a friend, an interaction with a neighbor or a child. Every “table” is a place we “set” and “sit at” in one way or another. The problem is we are so often in our heads, tied up in ego-centered narratives about ourselves and others, that we forfeit our ability to show up empowered to hold space for what needs to emerge.
Our invitation is to go deeper. When we catch ourselves feeding ego narratives, we can drop into our hearts and into our guts and embody new ways of being. We need to train our minds to serve this space instead of permitting our minds to constantly pull us away from being centered. And what is this space? It’s our home; the place where we are so deeply connected to the unconditional Love of God that we can experience release from ego attachments. It’s from this place that we heal, where we learn how to truly be present to others, where we can listen and respond, rather than simply react.
So how do we get there? I’ll share a practice that is helping me live into this space more fully.
We start with our breath. “Breath” and “spirit” are from the same Hebrew and Arabic roots. The word “ru’ahh” (Hebrew) and “rwh” (Arabic) literally translate into the words breath, soul, vitality, spirit, wind. God’s Spirit is imminent—literally inside of us, filling us at every moment, knowing us better than we may know ourselves. Breathing deeply is one of the most accessible paths to our center. Most of us breathe from the tops of our lungs throughout the day. When we pause and breathe deeply, we can notice substantial shifts in our be-ing. We get into our bodies and feel our centers. We drop out of our head-dominated existences and move toward wholeness. Try it.
Second, we anchor into our hearts. Place a hand on your heart and call your energy there. Notice how it feels, if it has a texture or a temperature. Practice being familiar with this place so that it becomes a space you don’t want to leave. Don’t think but know you are held in unconditional Love—this is what our faith is for. Divine Love is abundant—there’s more than enough for all. From here we understand we don’t need to compete for our worth. There’s no need for domination. Thus, ways of being that perpetuate systemic injustices are collapsed. It may not feel easy, but it is transformational.
Next, we practice awareness. Keep a hand on your heart and place a hand on your gut to remain anchored in this centered space of Love and Wisdom. If you’re familiar with the “Circle of Grace” curriculum for children, this is that same space with God. It’s from this safe place that we can examine ourselves. What are we attached to or carrying that doesn’t belong to us or is sucking the life right out of us? What narratives have we been tied up in? How is our ego flickering to distract us back into a shallower existence? When we are anchored in Love, these questions become roadmaps to inner freedom. Our job is to unattached the distractions and sink into a place of being held. This may well be the most challenging part, but that’s why we practice. Remember to be gentle with yourself.
Finally, we align with “I Am.” This is the space where we are be-ing. A friend of mine recently said to me, “ ‘I Am is the name of God. When we use the phrase ‘I Am’ and whatever follows is anything less than the magnificence of who we were created to be, we are taking the name of God in vain.” What a powerful reassessment of our connection to the name and image of God. Another way to think of it as being so attuned to God that we emulate God. So, we show up at our tables in this manner. What if we showed up as Love? That statement is about showing up with God. And please hear me, if you intend to show up as Love, you must be ready for the Power of Love. Love does not shy away from pain; it moves toward it because it’s charged with Divine Power. Love is not afraid. It doesn’t react; it responds from the place of centeredness. This is a revolutionary way to show up, and I assure you it will be transformative.
Divine Love invites us to align with the energy of God’s Spirit. When we authentically set and come to our tables from this space, I believe we are operating with the heart of Christ and we will begin to experience life-giving shifts in the world around us.
Chris Hoover Seidel is a spiritual director who lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She is director of Bridge of Hope Harrisonburg-Rockingham and attends Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg. Her website is www.soulence.space.
Benner, Jeff A. “Hebrew Word Definition: Spirit: AHRC.” Hebrew Word Definition: Spirit | AHRC, 2019, www.ancient-hebrew.org/definition/spirit.htm.
“SPIRIT MEANING IN ARABIC.” Spirit Meaning in Arabic – Spirit. English Arabic Dictionary, 2018, hamariweb.com/dictionaries/spirit_arabic-meanings.aspx.
Turner, Johonna. “At the Kitchen Table: Healing and Hope in the Christian Community.” 2018 Bridge of
Hope Conference. Akron, PA. October 4, 2018. Lecture.