I recently participated in a circle of worship where we were contemplating the question, “Where is God in the swirling of fear and antagonism we see in communities, politics and churches?” Several people were suffering as they contemplated the upcoming vote in the Methodist church on full acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community into the life of the church. One of the readings was a portion of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” The following are his words that keep resounding in my mind as I contemplate practicing non-violent communication going forward.
. . . I have looked at her beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlay of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over again I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? . . . ““Letter from the Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.
I keep asking myself, “What does my life say about the kind of person I am and what does it say about what I believe about God?” I spent many years trying to divest myself of a vision of God that was oppressive and judgmental, promoting an atmosphere of “them” against “us”. I realized that in order to love someone else, I must know them. I needed to start with my relationship with God and self in order to love others. My guiding scripture for this journey is:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ . . .”Matthew 22: 37-40 (The Message)
My understanding of who God is has expanded and broadened as I have studied at Columbia Theological Seminary. The image of Trinity as a relationship of flowing of connection and love between the Creator, the Logos, and the Spirit is beginning to heal the effects of the old image of hierarchical coercion and submission. I believe God created the world and people as an expression of creativity and desire for relationship with and between all things. As I’ve read the re-imagining of Biblical texts by the mystic, feminist, womanist, and liberation theologians, I’m seeing a new vision of the many ways God is at work in the world.
The religion of my childhood was focused on correcting external behavior and I never learned to listen to what was occurring within myself. Simply working on “fixing” behavior proved to be exhausting and in the long run a wasted effort. Transformation of the heart by the love and grace of God continues to reveal a better way of life. My expanding image of God is causing a greater awareness of the interconnected relationship between my mind, body and spirit. My exploration of Buddhist thought has helped me find practical actions that help me separate from my thoughts and be more compassionate to myself, to feel what I feel.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg felt that the principles of non-violent communication was a way of life, of expressing our spiritual connection with God. He promoted the use of empathy, honesty, presence to feelings and attention to needs as expression of the Divine. However, needs are not something I have experience identifying. His thoughts on needs made me wonder if it is possible that Philippians 4:19 is referring to all the basic needs of each person.
You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus.Philippians 4:19 (The Message)
Does my God provide the resources I need to live in creativity and relationship with God and all that is? Could NVC become a spiritual practice that reflects who I believe God is and help me to continue the work of Matthew 22? There is much to internalize, however, to make this process become a way of life. I must continue to learn how use the stillness of meditation to quiet my thoughts and allow myself to feel what is going on in my body, heart and mind and reveal my needs.
I recently had an experience in a work setting that required reflecting on the feelings lists for quite a while. I was able to finally uncover some of the feelings that were less comfortable to acknowledge. And needs! That took even longer to uncover. I had to really work to keep my internal conversation away from what I wanted other people to do. I spent time thinking empathetically about what the other people’s points of view and what their needs might be. As I spent time processing the NVC steps I noticed the reactivity and heightened feelings beginning to subside opening up the space for needs to emerge. Coming to a specific request was even harder as one of my needs seemed likely to conflict with their needs. The process helped me think through what was “mine” to request in this situation and to find my boundaries.
Could non-violent communication be part of the way to finding abundant life for all people that Jesus offered?
I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.John 10:10 (The Message)
What difference will it make in the broader world if I can allow God to continue to transform my heart with God’s loving presence and care about myself and others the way in which God cares for us? God’s needs, our own needs and the needs of our neighbors are interconnected, a reflection of the relationship within the Trinity. I cannot, at this point in time, think too much about the application of non-violent communication for transforming hearts and resulting behavior within the organization of church. But, when I think of the members of the universal church with whom I interact on a daily basis, I know my life and theirs can be more life giving. Wherever this path is leading, I can incorporate non-violent communication into my spiritual practices to increase the possibility of knowing and loving God, myself and my neighbor.