In God Has A Dream the beloved South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks about transformation in ways that are fresh and challenging. He describes suffering as long-term, redemptive and purifying. He sees freedom as inevitable in God’s world, which is being restored to wholeness day by day. His metaphor of choice, transfiguration, ignites my imagination and somehow deepens my sense of the potential of earthly transformation.
I appreciate most how Tutu articulates a spirituality of transformation in this tiny volume. For those of us working to see transformation, be it global or local, he sketches out a structure for our soul amid the hard work of activating change. His words offer wisdom to mothers, writers, pastors, artists, activists and disciples laboring every day for real change in their homes and communities.
What is the spirituality of transformation that sustains us from beginning to glorious end? The spirituality of transformation has a redemptive understanding of suffering.
I’m not at all surprised that an African elder would make this connection between suffering and spirituality. When suffering colors a continent, you must address it. Tutu doesn’t diminish the pain, but he places it within a larger context to demonstrate that evil is not the final word.
He says suffering can either embitter us or ennoble us, and we get to choose what it will be in our own experience. Mandela left Robben Island a noble man after 27 years of loss. I’ve listened to Brian McLaren reflect on harsh and hateful critics over the years; I’ve watched the pain of it shape him into a more gentle person because he opted to see it as an opportunity for spiritual formation. Just recently I saw Rachel Held Evans take hate mail and make it into origami, an echo of swords into plowshares. We can be formed by our suffering, whatever variety it is, according to Tutu. Our own Michaela Evanow holds her sweet Florence, living with a terminal disease; she finds words of grief and hope to serve us. She’s luminous with transfiguration—and this is the mystery of it, Tutu confesses.
We cannot escape suffering; we must endure and embrace it. In the end, it will transform us in ways beyond the power of our vocabulary.
The spirituality of transformation has ubuntu as the foundational understanding of persons.
“We are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and all of creation,” he says. This is a foundational understanding of our shared humanity; we are connected to one another in irrevocable ways. When she is humiliated, I am humiliated. When you are brokenhearted, my joy cannot be complete. When I’m left out, your table isn’t complete.
The most challenging part of ubuntu, how we are “persons through other persons,” comes when we confront our enemies. Jesus makes clear that enemy love is part of neighbor love. Tutu reminds us that as much as God loves us, He also loves our enemies. In some way, the state of our enemy is linked to our own welfare.
When we see everyone as a part of us, each human condition bearing down on us, it will shape us into better neighbors. But it is very hard.
The spirituality of transformation has a contemplative posture toward God.
When we consider the work of transformation, action verbs come to mind. Go and do, cook and clean, plant and harvest, preach and pastor—change requires movement. But Tutu reminds us that our work will not be sustainable without a contemplative posture toward God. Everyone is meant to cultivate that space inside where they can hear God’s voice or sense the Spirit’s abiding presence. This requires stillness, quiet and time alone. As Richard Rohr also reminds us, action must be married to contemplation for long-term health.
For all our well-intended activity in our homes and neighborhoods, we must honor Sabbath and stillness to be sustainable partners with the Spirit.
So much of Tutu’s words remind me about the importance of how I steward my energy toward my circumstances, my neighbors (and enemies) and God. Reading Tutu recalibrates my frame of reference and even injects a bit of whimsy—I love his humor. But he also keeps pointing to the big picture, the redemptive arc and the steady but slow pace it takes to be transfigured.
Questions to Consider
- Do you agree with Tutu that “nothing, no one and no situation is untransfigurable?”
- What do you feel when you consider his statement that God loves your enemy with the same love He has for you?
- Has suffering embittered or ennobled you?
- Do you hold contemplation and action together in your own discipleship?
- What parts challenged you? What are your takeaways?
Our March book is Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. Come back Wednesday, March 5 for the introduction to the book. The discussion, led by D.L. Mayfield, will be Wednesday, March 26.
We’ll be announcing our Second Quarter selections Wednesday March 12. We cannot wait to tell you about them!
* Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.