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Spiritual Practice: Staying Sensitive

Dr. Reshma Susan Phillips PhD, MPH

As a member of the Mar Thoma Church, I serve on the Christian Education and Faith Formation Convening Table. Over the past year we have shared with one another spiritual practices that nurture our work for justice, In this article I offer my reflections on the spiritual practice, “staying sensitive.” I am guided in my reflection by the scripture. The first text that comes to mind Psalm 106, verse 3, Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.

How do we as Christians align ourselves for justice? Which are the causes or organizations that we should support, both personally and as the community of faith? These are often questions that have weighed me down. Here I share a few practices based on what I have found helpful in my work for justice.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Jesus’s illustrative answer allows us to see that our neighbor, whom we are asked to care for, stand by and love as ourselves is not always one who looks like us or who lives as comfortably as we do, but rather the person who is marginalized, hurt and oppressed. So, when we as Christians align ourselves for justice, where should our focus be? The practice of “staying sensitive” opens my eyes to see others as Jesus sees them as to focus on the needs of the ones oppressed by injustice rather than identify with a particular organization or societal institution.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

Humanity has reached a stage where social media is conditioning our conscience. Images of homelessness, poverty and human suffering no longer evoke an empathetic response in us. We often turn aside when we see news of famine, armed conflicts and disease. Perhaps we are too overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Our hearts hardened and minds desensitized as a defense to our sense of helplessness in making a difference. This leads me to practice of staying sensitive. I am referring to the need to be sensitive to the suffering of others, by being aware and able to recognize suffering and distress. I urge you to develop the courage to help people feel heard and understood. By staying sensitive we are more capable of making a difference.

At times all I can do when faced with a similar situation is to pray for the oppressed and at other times, I feel the need to support or even create an empowering program. The abiding grace of God is our strength and salvation. This self-realization will urge us to care for, stand by, and love our neighbor. This realization also encourages me to learn more about injustice and oppression from the past and from the present. Awareness of injustice is always the result of a conscious effort, and this will help us remain sensitive towards injustice.

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)

The third area of staying sensitive is the practice of listening to our ancestors. Written comprehensive record of justice works of past faith leaders, are seldom readily available. However, reading of such records enables us to understand how they perpetuated change for justice. Their spiritual practices of prayer, their focus on the needs of the oppressed and their courage to stay sensitive enabled them to triumph over injustice. Over the years these records have been summarized, compressed and many details obscured. All we are now left with are single narratives of past events. For example, substantial changes such as reformation in church was not achieved just by the action of the few pioneers we have come to recognize, but there were many who stood beside them and took supportive action to help achieve this change. We often fail to teach the importance of such collaborative effort to overcome injustice. It is time to energize our current generation to collaborate and work to collectively seek justice.

Prayer: Savior Jesus, enable us to always stay sensitive towards injustice, give us an understanding mind and a readiness to work for justice and peace for all. Amen.

Dr. Reshma Susan Phillips PhD, MPH is a member of the Mar Thoma Church and serves on the Mission Board for the Diocese of North America and Europe. She is an educator and has been serving on the Christian Education and Faith Formation Convening table since 2018.

About the Spiritual Practices Series

What are the spiritual practices that strengthen you for the long haul in your work for justice? In this monthly series, the Christian Education, Faith Formation, and Leadership Development (CEFFLD) Convening Table of the NCC will share personal stories of practices that have nourished them for the long haul of justice ministries. Faithful action in our communities, regions, countries, and the world, is sustainable when we are spiritually fed by the same Spirit that prompts us to bring Christ’s love and justice to bear in our world. Each monthly segment shares a testimony of how a specific practice has been helpful for the faith formation or leadership development of an individual or congregation. The series will share resources (e.g., books, website, articles, videos) that give readers/viewers a chance to learn more about the practice and to use these tools to move forward in faithful efforts toward justice.

We hope this series will show connections across faith traditions that have some similarities in practices, helping to build stronger bridges of understanding around commitments to shaping spiritual lives and communities to be agents of peace and justice in the world.