Institute for Communal
Contemplation and Dialogue
Contemplation Transforms Our Space for the Future
Six Reflections by Nancy Sylvester, IHM
An Incredible Time -
Contemplative Leadership at the Edge of
By Nancy Sylvester, IHM
We are in such an incredible time in the evolution
of the species. We are breaking into a new mode
of consciousness. In the last 50 years we have
experienced amazing breakthroughs in terms of
civil rights, women’s rights, psychology, quantum
physics and the new Universe story to mention a
few. Each breakthrough has invited us to see
ourselves differently as interdependent and part
of the Earth community.
In this incredible time, we find ourselves at the edge of transformation dealing with
many significant issues of culture, meaning, and identity-issues that are political
and economic and spiritual-national and global and many which defy categories
and borders. With our new understandings we sense that they cannot be
addressed in the typical ways of discourse and leadership.
Contemplation and Leadership
Our current culture keeps us separate and pits us against others. Given the
complexity of these times, we need to look at an issue from its many sides. When
discussions get coded in aggressive language and take place at a feverish pitch, it is
very difficult to reflect and act in a stance of openness. Our exchanges with one
another can create tension levels that are so high that we need to step back and
pause. Contemplation offers a new approach to leadership that has the potential to
lead to more creative, more just resolutions to critical issues.
Contemplation is a form of prayer, but it is also a way of being. Leaders can
cultivate the dispositions and attitudes for a contemplative way of being and couple
that with a variety of good processes and practical skills. The contemplative posture
is one that opens us up to ambiguity, paradox, and the unknown because it
releases for us a lot of our preconceived ways of being and thinking and it releases
us of our ego. As we try to get in touch with the God within and become open to the
Spirit, we are doing some of the very difficult inner work so essential if we are to
respond in new ways.
When we engage in contemplation, we develop a welcoming heart and a way of
listening to others that allows us to really hear and not just focus on what we think
we should be hearing. When we engage in a contemplative stance we realize we are
not in control and that we don’t always have the best answer. That seems very
simple, but it can be rather difficult when addressing critical issues like health care,
immigration, or the survival of the planet; when working with people who bring
conflicting perspectives to the table; when demands on time are many or when
decisions are made too quickly as is often the case for leaders today. We don’t
always engage others’ wisdom in such a way that something new might emerge. As
we become more contemplative, we can hold the differences that we experience,
we can take people out of the boxes we have placed them in.
Cultivating Contemplative Leadership
Contemplation is more than just sitting quietly. Contemplation involves getting in
touch with the Spirit within, and that takes some discipline. Cultivating
contemplative leadership begins with each individual leader and leadership team. It
requires allowing time and space each day to get in touch with the inner spirit
whether in moments of quiet or prayer or walks in nature. It requires overcoming
fear especially of giving up power; it requires learning to trust at deeper levels.
As each leader or leadership team begins to cultivate a contemplative spirit, they
can approach an issue in a contemplative way by taking a long, loving look at
whatever question is at hand. Together a group can look upon the various facets of
an issue, and listen to all the voices speaking about that issue, even the ones saying
exactly what we dislike. The key is how we listen to ourselves and listen to others.
Leaders must create an atmosphere that encourages people to take the time for
contemplation. Each time a meeting agenda is set build in time to pause, be quiet,
and prepare for listening as well as speaking. Be intentional in how meetings are
structured, in how people are invited into a conversation. Starting meetings with
time for contemplative silence creates an atmosphere of real listening, and quality
How Contemplative Leadership Works – A Personal Example
I chair my congregation’s responsible
investment committee. We have high level
talks with people from DTE Energy about
emissions, nuclear power and alternative
energy. When our meetings with them are
held at our motherhouse, we take the
lead at the meeting. At those times we use
a reflection piece that helps us share on
some common ground before we launch
into the issues under discussion.
One time we wanted to acknowledge that all of us around the table were doing a
work that we care about. We spent about 30 minutes sharing on what gives each of
us energy in our work, no matter which part of the industry we are involved with.
Each of us, whether we were the CEO, the shareholder or consumer, or the
legislative advocacy head, spoke. It was very interesting because it shifted our
relationship with one another and created a different atmosphere in which we
Another time we met we shared on a reading that encouraged us to think about if
we did our job in light of its effect on the seventh generation. What would we do
differently if our outcomes were not based on quarterly profits, or a two-year
election cycle, or the immediate need of a consumer? It was from there that we
began our dialogue about alternative energy and nuclear power plants. Now, can I
say that this changed any policies? I can’t. But can I say that we all thought about
things in different ways after that discussion? I think so. And we all keep coming
back to continue the conversation.
In this incredible time at the edge of transformation contemplative leadership can
open us to dealing with the significant issues of our time in imaginative new ways.
(Adapted from “The Role of Contemplation” an Interview with Nancy Sylvester, IHM published in
Winter 2009 Occasional Papers, LCWR.)
© 2021 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
The Call to Be a Mystic
BY Nancy Sylvester, IHM
We weep as we read the news and stand in numb incredulity. We know that
solutions rooted in violence, fear of the other and power over don’t work. They
won’t solve these intractable issues. The causes are multi-layered and imbedded in
the circumstances of place, of history and of time.
We need to imagine new ways of approaching our future. We need to learn habits,
attitudes, values that will turn us around so that we will act in right relationship and
in the best interest of all of us and Earth.
For many the pain of injustice throughout our world and of Earth itself forms the
experience of impasse. We wonder how this can happen? How can we be so
uncaring and violent? Why do we feel so impotent and powerless?
This anguish for our world is gift for it invites us to see these realities differently.
Entering the anguish through communal contemplation clears away the layers of
thinking that have us believe that our experiences of impasse are singular and
isolated from each other. Rather we begin to see that we are in this together. That
what we each experience is really a part of the whole. We begin to see the larger
picture—the forces that are shaping the world we live in and moving it toward this
crisis moment–and we begin to see the power we have collectively to be and act in
new transformative ways.
Joanna Macy, a Buddhist teacher and deep ecologist, writes about the Great
Turning. In Macy’s writings she explores how what we are experiencing today is the
industrial-growth society spinning out of control. Its belief in the limitless increase
in corporate profits is leading to a systems collapse. In order to shift this direction
toward sustainability for our planet we need a Great Turning.
The Great Turning helps us see the direction we are going
in and to view our collective efforts as part of a vast
enterprise, a tidal change commensurate to the crises we
face. This she calls the third revolution of the human
journey that is not only a possibility but is present
already. The Great Turning is like a lens through which we
can see what is happening. All around us there are
initiatives to minimize the destruction, create alternatives,
and begin the crucial stage of transforming our
What is becoming clear is that science alone will not enable the Great Turning. We
need to draw on ancient sources of wisdom informed and shaped by the insights of
science and other disciplines developed over these past centuries. We need to
access our spiritual depths, our inner wisdom, which invites us at once to a simple
yet more complex transformed consciousness.
Prayer, spirituality, are ways by which we can access our
spiritual depths. The challenge is to go beyond the formal
prayers one learns to recite and to reclaim for ourselves
the ancient form of prayer of contemplation. We must
reclaim contemplation as our natural organic spiritual
Contemplation is becoming attentive to the Divine within. It is slowing down
sufficiently to get in touch with one’s illusions, biases, assumptions, and worldviews.
It is getting in touch with reality—the world’s and our own.
Constance FitzGerald, OCD, a cloistered Carmelite, says “…contemplation is not a
validation of things as they are…but a constant questioning and restlessness that
waits for and believes in the coming of a transformed vision of God….a new and
integrating spirituality capable of creating a new politics and generating new social
It is in the contemplative experience that the necessary transformation of
consciousness can occur that is so urgently needed to address our current
So what must our response be?
To become Mystics!
As I’ve written in the reflections on Contemplation, we are all called to be mystics.
Too often, mysticism is seen as something for the privileged few. I am more
convinced than ever that today entering into the space where one encounters the
Divine within is critical if the transformation we so need is to happen.
This is not cause and effect. Rather I understand the call to be a mystic, to be a
contemplative, involves both a spiritual practice and a gift which awakens one to
take a long loving look at the real; to embrace the Divine within oneself, within each
other and within all of creation.
Such an awakening transforms who I am and why I exist. It frees me from the fears
of separation and division and invites me to see my life intimately connected with
the entire web of life. Such a transformed consciousness holds the seed of bold
action and creative response to our world. It invites me to be part of the Great
As with engaging impasse, the Great Turning comes with no guarantees. Macy
writes “that its risk of failure is its reality. Insisting on belief in a positive outcome
puts blinders on us and burdens the heart. We might manage to convince ourselves
that everything will surely turn out all right, but would such happy assurance elicit
our greatest courage and creativity?”
Macy continues…”the Great Turning …helps me live with radical uncertainty. It also
causes me to believe that, whether we succeed or not, the risks we take on behalf
of life will bring forth dimensions of human intelligence and solidarity beyond any
we have known.”
In the Christian tradition we have a witness to the truth of those understandings in
the person of Jesus. Jesus was a mystic. He understood himself to be intimate with
his Abba God. The Gospel story attributed to John speaks to how Jesus and God are
one and that God and Jesus will come and dwell within each of us. Jesus acted from
this place of deep contemplation and transformed consciousness as he lived in the
way that spoke to him of right relationships, justice, non-violence and compassion.
He began a Turning when he spoke to and befriended women and Samaritans,
healed on the Sabbath, welcomed outcasts and sinners to his table of communion
and forgave those who were his enemies. He could act in no other way. At the end
he died betrayed, condemned and tortured as a common criminal not knowing if
anything he did would be carried on. He risked on behalf of the fullness of life and
“brought forth dimensions of human intelligence and solidarity beyond any we
We are at a critical point. We need to see more clearly. To take the contemplative,
long loving look at the real. The future is calling to us to assist in the Great Turning.
To imagine anew how to be and do at this time, I believe we need to cultivate that
place, that space within where we meet the Divine and then live boldly and radically
because we became who we are called to be–mystics.
1 FitzGerald, OCD, Constance. "Impasse and Dark Night". Living with Apocalypse, Spiritual Resources for Social
Compassion. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.
2 Macy, Joanna. “The Great Turning as Compass and Lens.” YES! A Journal of Positive Future Summer 2006: 44-46.
© 2021 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
The Revolution That Begins Within
By Nancy Sylvester, IHM
For 15 years, I walked in and out of the
offices of our U.S. representatives and
senators and spent hours in the Capitol
waiting to discuss Network‘s positions on
legislation being discussed and voted
upon. So the attack on the Capitol on Jan.
6 was visceral for me.
Memories came flooding back. How I
taught thousands of people how a bill
becomes a law; how to lobby; how to be responsible citizens; and how to feel at
home in our nation’s Capitol. In the wake of the attack, I wondered how I would
teach it now.
I participated in many protests and marches through those years. Many were quite
large and nonviolent. Of course, there was always the possibility that a fringe group
from either side of the political spectrum might join the group and create some
disturbance. But the organizers of the event prevented them from taking control.
Always, the local Washington, D.C., police force was present to make sure that we
followed the approved route.
What happened on Jan. 6 was not a group who came to lobby or hold a protest
Watching the live coverage and the subsequent video feeds, there is no doubt that
what might have started as a rally turned into a mob who attacked the Capitol with
the intent to destroy property and inflict bodily harm. More alarming and seditious
is that President Donald Trump stoked their anger with his false claims about a
stolen election and urged them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell,” otherwise
“you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
These actions and all those complicit in them must be held accountable.
As I write this, I realize that there were many others present at this event
responding to the president’s call to gather on this day, where he envisioned his
last hope to overturn the election. His constant drumbeat that he won in a landslide
election worked. It confirmed in many of my fellow citizens’ minds and hearts that
the election was stolen.
They most likely had no idea that this gathering to support the president would
turn so violent.
And it is that group that was there not participating in the violence, and the millions
of Americans who voted for Trump, who cannot be ignored or simply tolerated as
we begin the Biden presidency.
The work that I have been doing these past years with “Enter the Chaos: Engage the
Differences to Make a Difference” convinces me that having my side or position win
does not bring about lasting change. It may bring about some policy shifts, but if we
don’t address the legitimate needs and concerns of everyone, including those who
lost, the change we hope for is temporary.
Too often, the losing side is only worried about the next election. A massive amount
of money is raised and spent on getting candidates, increasingly ideological and
partisan, to run for office.
Once they are in power, the advances of the previous administration are often
reversed, and new policies are put in place. The cycle begins again.
What happened on Jan. 6 makes that approach untenable. The stakes are too high
and the divisions too great to do what we usually do.
There has to be a national effort to begin to repair the great divide among us as a
That effort has to seep down into each of our families and local communities.
And it has to start with each one of us.
To paraphrase a quote often attributed to Einstein, the problems of today cannot
be solved from the same level of consciousness that created them. Consciousness
is not an everyday word but it is a critical one. It is how we make sense of the world
and how we view ourselves and others. Consciousness shapes our assumptions,
values, beliefs and worldviews. Sadly, too often — like the air we breathe — we
aren’t always aware of those things until something happens that threatens what
we think we know or believe.
The call of Jan. 6 is to start waking up to what we assume about so many things.
We live in a “postmodern” world with its broad skepticism and relativism, and we
can no longer afford to believe that everyone sees the world the same way. The
meaning of words like democracy, my rights, common good, flag, law and
order, respect for each person, faith or truth cannot be taken for granted anymore.
Their meanings need to be explored. It is as if our consciousness offers us a pair of
glasses to view reality. Some of our glasses have similar shapes, colors or
magnification, but there are multiple glasses
providing very different perspectives through
which each of us sees.
To begin a process of healing and repair, we
need to become aware of what goes on within
one’s self when we react to those with whom
we disagree. What we believe to be true and the
“right way” to do anything. How we defend our positions and prevent different
ideas from getting in. Why we’d rather dismiss or ridicule those who are on the
other side rather than to be curious as to why they feel and think that way.
There needs to be a radical acceptance of the other. To step into the space between
those who voted for Donald Trump and those who voted for Joe Biden we need to
embody Jesus’ exhortation to love one another as one’s self (Mark 12:31).
No longer can those just be words we recite. It is more than a pious statement. It is
a different way of being. It is a different stage of consciousness to which we are
being invited. It is a consciousness that tries to understand why we see the world
differently. It is a consciousness that reconnects with one’s true self. It is a
consciousness that touches into one’s relationship with God.
Contemplative practice invites us into that consciousness, into the process of
discovering our true self. In that process of transformation, one’s capacity to “see”
expands so that the multiple perspectives come into focus. Over time, one wants to
change behavior and respond rather than react to difficult situations. One listens
and speaks from one’s contemplative heart.
More and more, I am convinced that to understand this transformative power of
contemplation, contemplative practice cannot be seen in isolation from the broader
context of our lives. Our spiritual journey is part of the evolutionary process. It
develops as does our consciousness.
I’ve found the wisdom of Spiral Dynamics Integral very helpful in providing an
understanding as to why there are such differences among us. It explains how
consciousness evolves in a developmental way and that there are emerging stages
of consciousness with new possibilities for action and transformation. These
emerging stages, with their way of knowing and being, remarkably resemble the
insights of the mystics.
We know that deepening one’s contemplative practice is never just for one’s own
transformation; rather, it is also for the transformation of the world. Where the
contemplative transformation into one’s true self coincides with the emerging stage
of consciousness addressed in Spiral Dynamics Integral, we awaken to new
possibilities to respond to the problems of today.
A new consciousness is urgently needed, one that flows from a contemplative
Then one is ready to enter the “space” created by the differing worldviews that have
evolved over time and are operative today. The words of David Bohm, theoretical
physicist and author, remind us that the revolution starts within. “Suppose we were
to share meaning freely without the compulsive urge to impose our view or
conform to those of others and without distortion and self-deception. Would this
not constitute a real revolution in culture?”
First published in Global Sisters Report/National Catholic Reporter on January, 2021.
© Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
This Moment Calls for a New Consciousness:
Embracing Diverse Worldviews
By Nancy Sylvester, IHM
Recently I discovered a channel on TV that
shows CNN, MSNBC, FOX and BBC all at the
same time. There are four screens which
stay visible while you click on the one you
want to unmute. As I watched it, I felt drawn
to the center where all four stations
intersect. Watching the different approaches
to the same events that were transpiring, I
felt I understood that I’ve been shaped by
some of each of those narratives and I know that none are a complete picture. I am
a mix of all of them.
Different perspectives contain partial truths, and quite often those that report them do
so within the worldview held by that reporter and the network they represent. When I
react either negatively or positively, I am also reflecting the worldview from which I am
We don’t often talk about worldviews. Like the air we breathe, we aren’t aware of
them until something happens to make us stop and examine what we took for
granted. We “wake up” and become aware of what values or beliefs are operating in
us. All of us view the world with blinders on. Throughout our life certain
experiences invite us to widen our vision, to push those blinders further back so as
to embrace a greater diversity of beliefs. The way we react or respond is contingent
on our capacity to hold multiple value systems, different worldviews, and therefore
different narratives about what is happening.
The other day the contrast in the opening stories shown on two different stations at
the top of the hour was stark. One started with the pandemic; the other with the
violence in cities across the nation related to protests against police brutality,
sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Both were newsworthy, and yet how they
were presented reflects choices made in light of differing worldviews. And the
response of viewers who watch is rooted in certain assumptions.
For some, COVID19 is a hoax, has been blown out of proportion, is an infringement
on one’s basic human and constitutional rights. For others, it is the most serious
health issue facing us in a century, demands that everyone act for the common
good, reveals systemic racism rampant in our health care system and economic
For some, Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a hopeful sign that the earlier efforts at civil
rights will come to fruition, reveals the systemic racism in the police force so in
need of change, puts forth the needed complementary narrative of who we are as a
country. For others, BLM is changing history and destroying who we are as a
country, is disrespectful of our police officers who risk their lives to protect us,
engages in violence, looting and destruction to get their way.
Underneath the headlines and the choice of stories are the worldviews
unconsciously communicated; these are heard not only with our rational mind but
throughout our bodies. How many of us rant and rave at stories that challenge our
own worldview? That make our blood pressure go up? That cause us to feel anger
for longer than we want?
Those visceral responses result when our very identity is being threatened.
Everything we have taken for granted seems to be called into question, mocked or
This is described so well in a New York Times article by Elizabeth Dias, “Christianity
Will Have Power.” Dias describes the apparent contradiction of Christian
evangelicals supporting President Donald Trump, a man whose moral behavior is in
contradiction to all their values. His rhetoric about abortion and homosexuality may
find resonance, but Dias offers another explanation for their support.
She recounts how Trump, in a January 2016 rally in Sioux Center, Iowa, told those
gathered that “Christianity is under tremendous siege;” he promised that if elected
he would change that and assured them that as the majority in our country, they
would have power again.
Dias argues that evangelicals support Trump because they see him as their
protector. They fear “that their entire way of life, one in which their values were
dominant, could be headed for extinction.” Trump pledges to make sure this
To have one’s identity challenged is not easy. Seen as an attack on what one holds
sacred, it quickly fires up a defensive reaction and readies one for a fight.
When we are that defensive, the blinders of our worldview lock into place and we
cannot see what is really there.
Today we are living in a world where multiple worldviews are operative. We
encounter the diversity more than ever because of social media. Humanity’s
consciousness has been evolving throughout the centuries. At different stages of
development, certain values and beliefs dominate and become normative for a
time. Eventually, new insights, different values and beliefs come into play and our
field of perception widens.
Rather than realizing that the world that exists is much larger than the world that
we knew or were able to see, we “feel” that our way of life is being attacked. It is too
easy to think that the world we knew no longer exists.
For those of us who grew up as white and Christian in this country, the challenge
for us is to grow. It is time to remove our blinders to see that persons of color, of
different sexual orientations, of different faiths are part of who we are as a nation.
Our perceptual field must widen and become more inclusive.
If we are going to build trust between and among all of us with our various
worldviews, we need to engage each other. We need to operate out of a new
consciousness. This calls us to serious inner work — and contemplation can assist
us in this.
Here are some beginning steps:
Take time to open yourself to God dwelling within you. Try to quiet your mind and
open your heart.
Name what values, beliefs, assumptions shape your worldview.
Become more aware of what happens within you when you see people not living
out of your worldview. Do you react negatively? Are you curious? Are you tolerant
Bring those reactions to your contemplation. Simply sit with them. Over time see if
your reaction is connected to defending what you believe is the one right way —
Over time, our blinders will keep being pushed farther back, and we can begin to
share with those who differ, so that together we can evolve a common future rich
in its diversity.
First published in Global Sisters Report/National Catholic Reporter on August, 2020.
© Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
This Moment Calls For A New Consciousness:
Becoming An Anti-Racist
By Nancy Sylvester, IHM
During this time of the pandemic, a space opened
for the eruption of systemic racism into the public
consciousness. The brutal murder of George Floyd
by police officers was shared around the world
through social media and could not be dismissed
or justified. It released centuries of anger and
frustration due to the systemic oppression of people of color, caused by racist
policies, programs and consciousness.
Suddenly protests peppered the country, asserting that Black Lives Matter and
demanding that police brutality be addressed. Soon, statues of Confederate
soldiers were being forcibly removed. Names of streets, buildings and military
bases were being changed because they enshrined men who were held in esteem
defending the South and its institution of slavery. Other statues of those who were
leaders in the war against Native Americans were toppled. Names of sports teams
were changed because their current names were racially offensive. Throughout the
next weeks, protestors were ready to march and confront any incident of police
brutality. Although most of the protests were peaceful, there were some incidents
The response to the Black Lives Matter movement is as divided as we are as a
country. However, I sense this is a rare opportunity to awaken, to transform our
collective consciousness in ways that are more anti-racist. And this means each of
us must do our own individual work.
Moving forward demands a new perspective, a new set of lenses, a new way of
looking at what we thought we knew. It demands a new consciousness. Our hearts
must become our organs of perception. The work will be different for those of us
who benefitted from the legacy of white supremacy and those who suffered
because of it. But all of us have to find the place within us where racism in its
multiple forms exists, shapes us and persists.
Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist, helps to get in touch with how racism
permeates how we see the world, and it offers ways to uproot racism and
inequality in our society — and in ourselves. Kendi’s basic theory is “that racism is a
powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value that extends beyond
race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the
way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types.”
This shift of consciousness being asked of us is truly the work of contemplation.
Over these years of contemplative practice, I have become
more aware of my own biases, my own assumptions about
things. This awareness is never ending, as we are human,
but it does soften how I take in new information that
challenges me. Although I have through the years addressed
white privilege in our society and in myself, I was caught off
guard as I read Kendi’s book. I could feel the discomfort in
me. I saw myself reacting and then opening up to
understand how these various racist hierarchies lived within me. I realized I do not
have to keep affirming this or that racist belief in myself. I felt a loosening of the
hold it had on me.
If I had not been opening myself to the working of the Divine within me these years,
I’m sure I would be responding differently — more defensively, trying to justify my
way of thinking or simply dismissing Kendi’s theory as exaggerated and too
Coming to my own realization, I, in turn, had a heightened awareness of how
challenging and difficult this will be for those in the white community who are just
coming to an awareness of white privilege. The letting go of being dominant and
knowing that who I am and how I do things will no longer be normative will be gut
wrenching. In addition, because this is coming in the middle of the pandemic, some
will feel that this is the last straw — we have to deal with the pandemic, we are all
hurting, we can’t address these issues as well!
I believe that the shift of consciousness to an antiracist one is the call of our time …
a long overdue one … but one that will be difficult at best. But we can prepare for it.
Take time to learn about the history of slavery and how systemic racism operates.
Both Kendi’s book and James Cone’s book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, are
When you feel resistance:
Name the feeling.
Explore why you are feeling that way.
Open yourself to seeing the reality of racism in yourself.
After your contemplative sitting, be attentive during the day and gently observe
how the shift of consciousness begins to settle into your body and into your
As discussion of issues of systemic racism become more prominent
among your family and friends and more central to our political
discourse, you might find yourself willing to engage with people who
are still resisting seeing this as an issue. By consciously observing
yourself face into your own experience of racism, you can better
understand and offer insights to those who are just beginning the
Addressing how racism is woven into the fabric of our society and within ourselves
from a contemplative heart is not an easy task. We will have to face into our fears.
Psalm 49 offers a more poetic way of doing just that.
Yes, even the wise are not immune to fear; yet, unlike the ignorant, the wise face their
fears with resolve. Not running away, nor projecting them onto others.
They trace them to the source, rooting them out as weeds from a rose garden.
Thus, they do not trust in the riches of the world, but in the Treasure hidden in the heart.
First published in Global Sisters Report/National Catholic Reporter on July, 2020.
© Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
This Moment Needs Transformational Leaders
By Nancy Sylvester, IHM
Today, the global community is faced with the
breakdown of the economic, political, cultural and
religious structures/systems that have served us
these past centuries — but that are now the
The very values and beliefs that helped develop market capitalism — bringing many
societies out of poverty — and that developed in many of us a pride in our individuality and
achievements have been taken to the extreme and have brought us to this point.
Silo thinking is destroying the species. Where there is hope is in the emergence of a new
structure of consciousness that could integrate us with the greater whole.
Our future needs transformational leadership. Our future needs transformational
leadership that can call forth a renewed sense of altruism emerging out of this highly
individualistic and technologically sophisticated era.
Science and mysticism might offer us some help in this area. Quantum physics, which
appeared first in the turn of the 20th century, has been seeping into our lives with or
without our noticing it. It has turned the classical scientific worldview in which we are
immersed upside down. That linear, mechanistic and deterministic paradigm has shaped
the way we have understood and structured the way we do economics, politics, education,
health care and the like. The result over these past centuries has been a fragmentation of
how we do things and even who we are in relation to the “other.”
We have conceived of ourselves like silos: operating independently of each other and
believing that what went on in one silo had no effect on what was going on in any of the
Quantum physics is showing us that we are not silos. We are not isolated individuals,
corporations or nations going about our business with no impact on anyone or anything
Rather, we are an interconnected web of life. There is a living quality to the world to which
we seem blinded, and we need to awaken to this if we are to address the breakdown we
In the book The Quantum Revelation by Paul Levy, I find hope in what many quantum
thinkers — including theoretical physicists like David Bohm and cultural philosophers like
Jean Gebser — have been exploring. They write about how the fragmentation we
experience and the thinking that keeps us inherently divided and disconnected contribute
to preventing us from working together for the common good.
This silo thinking is destroying the species. Where there is hope is in the emergence of a
new structure of consciousness that could integrate us with the greater whole.
COVID-19 is certainly bringing us face to face with how we are all connected. The global
climate crisis testifies to how the reality of silo thinking — permeating all of our institutions
— wrought the kind of devastation we are now facing. We cannot go back. We need to
We are all connected. We just are not awake to it.
We are in crisis mode and only transformational leaders will call us to a renewed
commitment to work together for the common good.
Science is emerging with an old but perhaps unexpected partner in this call to a new
consciousness. It is found in all the world religions in their mystical tradition. Many of those
who practice contemplation and experience Divine Mystery in a more direct and intuitive
way often express the insight that we are all one — we are all connected. We just are not
awake to it.
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, famously wrote about his experience at the corner of
Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky:
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were
mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.
It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world.
… And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling
people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. … If only they could all see
themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would
be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.
Constance FitzGerald, a cloistered Carmelite, writes extensively on the experiences of
contemplation. In her reflection “From Impasse to Prophetic Hope: Crisis of Memory,” she
reflects on the importance of this shift of consciousness. “It is my strong suspicion that …
an essential change in selfhood, may be emerging with such frequency as a response to a
world driven by selfishness and self-concern. Any hope for new consciousness and a self-
forfeiture driven by love stands opposed by a harsh reality.”
Here she names serving our own interests, hoarding resources, ravaging the earth,
scapegoating each other, killing, maiming, torturing. “Our ability to embody our
communion with every human person on the earth and our unassailable connectedness
with everything living is limited.”
We need “to make the transition from radical individualism to a genuine synergistic
community” she says. “The future of the entire earth community is riding on whether we
can find a way beyond the limits of our present evolutionary trajectory.”
Such a future needs transformational leaders to call forth in us new ways of addressing the
common good amid difficult choices.
If the U.S. is first in obtaining a vaccine for COVID-19, do we join with those in the global
community wanting to ensure that those most at risk receive it first, or do we make sure
that everyone in the U.S. receives it first, regardless of risk?
Do those whose culture, sex and race have been privileged for centuries enter into real
dialogue with those who have been forgotten, or do we stand firm and ignore the
sufferings of so many?
Does the industrialized world — heavily dependent on fossil fuels — continue to choose
profit over acknowledging its role in the climate crisis? Or do we as a global community
make a commitment to renewable and sustainable forms of energy, so that we can try to
reduce the increasing impact of the global climate crisis?
Let us pray with Nan Merrill’s interpretation of Psalm 140, which offers us a piece of
Are we not called to make Love conscious in our lives? To divinize the earth with heavenly
splendor? … That I might flow in harmony with the universe, and be a bearer of integrity.
I know that You stand beside those who suffer, and You are the Light of those imprisoned in
darkness. Surely You will guide us into the new dawn, that we may live as co-creators with You!”
First published in Global Sisters Report/National Catholic Reporter on September, 2020.
© Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue.