Courage is the First Sign of Spirit


In the latter part of March, men will be gathering to participate in a 5 day Work That Reconnects Intensive with Joanna Macy to immerse themselves in the male mysteries of the Great Turning and explore what unique gifts, challenges, and opportunities we must draw upon to contribute to the healing of the earth. How easy it is these days to turn away our gaze and succumb to the numerous distractions that keep us from feeling our pain for the world. Yet the cost is immense as we carry deep in our psyches the knowledge that something is immensely wrong. Where do we find the courage to step into the fire and find our true voice to express and act upon our deep love for all life in its many forms.

I share with with you a recent letter from Joanna Macy about how people have found the courage to act in their own lives as a source of inspiration and hope that you may find the courage to be part of the Great Turning.

The deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy.
— William Blake

Joanna’s Letter

Groundhog Day, St. Brigid’s Day, Candlemas. Well, in addition to bringing a favorite movie to mind, this day seems to be about wondering if more light is there, and if spring is really coming. Well, that fits.

Have you noticed, in this Now that we’re living, how both the dark and the light seem to be intensifying?–and the swings between them swifter? Both the Great Unraveling and the Great Turning are accelerating.

On the Great Turning side, there’s no doubt about it: the Occupy movement is waking us up to the core pathology of our nation and, indeed, of capitalism worldwide (even making it okay to say “capitalism”!). Respectable mainstream journals and media are all of a sudden describing Wall Street’s financial and moral failures, with juicy disclosures of high-level venality and appalling reports on the poverty swallowing more millions of our people. Knowing this is bitter but essential.

So the Great Unraveling is being illumined by the Great Turning. Some of its features that have gripped me of late concern lost civil rights. With the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress actually voted to strip away last remnants of habeas corpus, and made each of us susceptible to indefinite detention in the hands of the military, without charges or trial, on mere suspicion of aiding the enemy. It’s important that we know this.

It fits with our mania for locking people up. Despite its enormous cost, our prison population has increased till it’s higher than any other nation, including China: it is now, in absolute terms, 25% of all incarcerated around the world, though the U.S. is only 5% of global population. To take part in the Great Turning we must know this.

To take part in the Great Turning, we must know about the ongoing disaster of Fukushima. We are being denied reporting of what’s befalling the Japanese people, and even information we need in order to protect our families from the radioactive fallout reaching us by air and sea. Each act of truth-telling, such as Arnie Gundersen’s reports on Fukushima is part of the Great Turning, a jewel in Indra’s Net. See

The other night at dinner, as we were sharing news and views, my Creation theologian friend Matt Fox said, “Courage is the first sign of the Spirit. It is the root of all the other virtues.”

I loved his saying that. It caused me to think how courage is the essential ingredient of truth-speaking, how it sparks our fervor and our self-respect, how it lets us discover new strengths, new allies. And I got to reflecting on how lucky I am that the work I do acquaints me with so many courageous people. For example:

Last weekend in Boise I gave a workshop on nuclear guardianship for the Snake River Alliance, which is Idaho’s nuclear watchdog and clean energy advocate. Among the many inspiring folks I met was Beatrice Brailsford, who lives out near the Idaho National Lab. For over 30 years she has been keeping her eye on that huge nuclear mega-complex, and also on vast fields of plutonium-drenched waste from Rocky Flats. Dumped into unlined trenches directly above the great Snake River aquifer, the toxins are seeping down through the soil to the source of the region’s drinking water. Challenged by the Alliance, the Department of Energy has begun digging up one section of the mess. “We have to keep on it,” Beatrice said with calm simplicity. “The plutonium lasts forever, so that’s how long we’ll be at it—forever.”

And I think of Doug Mosel who served as my personal assistant for seven years when he lived in Oakland at the tail end of a career as a corporate trainer. A study group on deep ecology brought him into my life. Soon he was co-teaching with Fran and me. If Beatrice’s brand of courage is to face the horrible and stay put with unwavering presence, Doug’s is the courage to change course when called to a different aspect of the Great Turning. In our intensives he had been teaching powerfully about the food revolution and the return to locally controlled agriculture, when he became aware that no wheat was being grown in the counties north of San Francisco. So he upped and moved out there, despite lack of land and capital. Now six years later he is producing the first wheat grown in Mendocino County in four decades. Not only is he growing heirloom varieties of wheat, oats, barley and rye, but other farmers in five adjoining counties have followed suit. Furthermore, to produce the quality of flour he wants, he has seen to the import and operation of an Austrian stone mill.

Chris Johnstone, my co-author in the U.K., shows me another face of valor: the courage to stand up for one’s rights to health and well-being—and, of course, in the process, defending others’ rights as well. In our book to come out next month, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess we’re in without Going Crazy, Chris describes the dramatic ordeal he triggered when he was a medical intern in a British hospital. Extravagant hours were the norm for interns, often up to eighty a week, sometimes over a hundred. Experiencing the exhaustion and depression this kind of pressure produced, seeing the dangers and accidents that resulted, Chris was surprised there wasn’t a campaign to improve conditions. “We don’t have the power here,” his fellow-interns told him, “there’s nothing we can do.” He began meeting with like-minded doctors, and eventually considered legal action against the National Health Service. This had never happened before and at each step of the way he was advised against it at the cost of his career. Yet he pushed through. The case generated so much domestic and international publicity that finally, five years down the road, the National Health Service settled out of court. The case was won and the age of hundred hour work weeks was over.

The courage to receive and follow a vision, to risk comfort and security in radically rearranging your life, that’s what I see these days in Anne Symens-Bucher and her husband Terry. When Doug went north, Anne replaced him as my personal assistant. I had known her as a founder of theNevada Desert Experience (a faith-based protest presence at the Nevada Test Site), a secular Franciscan, and the busy, home-schooling mother of five children. Watching the deteriorating conditions and the mounting gang violence in their east Oakland neighborhood, Anne and Terry decided to open up their family compound and turn it into an urban center for growing food and people. Honoring St. Francis they would call it Canticle Farm, for Francis’s beloved canticle for Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Young people had already been showing up, now more began to arrive and move in, generating regular meetings for gardening, clean up, rituals, meditation, workshops, you name it. Last week the papers of incorporation arrived. Canticle Farm is now a legal reality. That’s good, because on the next street Anne saw a For Sale sign on a house adjoining the rear of their property. She immediately envisioned it as a nonviolence training center, a good thing for that street where a shooting had just occurred; it’s the turf of two gangs and the tensions are high.

It’s a fairly big house and all you need to do to make it part of Canticle Farm is move the chicken coop and take the fence down—oh, and first raise two hundred thousand dollars. That’s happening. Meanwhile I learn more definitions of courage. It’s betting on your values and trusting what will emerge. It’s readiness to risk your personal security and have your life turned inside out.

The young people coming to Canticle Farm demonstrate the power of the Work That Reconnects, because that’s how most of them heard of this new community and were motivated to join. I have loved having them show up at my workshops and I have become powerfully committed to increasing their numbers. Few can afford even the modest fees for a residential intensive, which is long enough to be really transformative. That is why I am making an appeal for a scholarship fund for young activists. Please read about the particulars here to see how you can support a young activist in the Great Turning.

Yours in gladness for life,