The Awakened Soul: Having the Spirit of a Change Agent
Late Friday afternoon Philip Gulley, co-pastor at Fairfield Friends Meeting near Indianapolis and writer of over 20 books including his popular Harmony series, educated and entertained the audience with his keynote address entitled “The Awakened Soul: Having the Spirit of a Change Agent.”
Gulley began the address by suggesting that every religion begins with a counter-narrative, a way of seeing the world in a different light than the way everyone else may see it. The stronger the counter-narrative, the stronger the religion’s strength and staying power. As Gulley described, coupled with this counter-narrative is also an “AHA” moment, a moment which changes an individual’s mind and heart.
Giving examples of the types of counter-narratives he was speaking about Gulley pointed to a few: the first one being the example of Jesus in the Gospels, and another being the counter-narratives offered by President elect Donald Trump in the wake of this year’s election. Speaking of “AHA” moments, Gulley shared a personal story from his own family with the audience. Growing up in a socially conservative family in southern Indiana, it came as quite a surprise to the family when Gulley’s brother came home one day with his African American male partner with him. This lead to many tense conversations in the family until Gulley’s father had an “AHA” experience of his own.
After a bout of ill health, Gulley’s father fell into a coma which the family feared he would not come out of. Throughout the coma family members sat with Gulley’s father, including his brother’s partner who spent several late nights reading to him to pass the time. On the 11th day, as the family began to fear the worst, Gulley’s father snapped out of his coma, and the first hand he reached for was the hand of his son’s partner, who spent those nights reading to him. As Gulley explained, that was the beginning of a powerful counter-narrative in his father’s life, one that changed his opinion about his brother’s lifestyle and those he chose to love.
Gulley referenced these “AHA” moments, these peak experiences as similar to what the psychologist Abraham Maslow describes in his concept of self-actualization, where a person realizes their full potential as a human being. Arguing for a necessary spiritual component to these kinds of moments, Gulley suggested using the term “Soul-Awakening” to describe these moments when one sees the world as it truly is and cherishes it.
Gulley’s personal “AHA” moment occurred when he was a student at Marian College in Indianapolis. Barely scraping by with his bills for both his education and his life, Gulley also drove a car badly in need of repairs that he could only drive in 3rd gear and had to park strategically in case the brakes didn’t work quite right. It was in a moment sitting in this car at the end of a long day, when his worries over car bills, college tuition, and rent were too much that Gulley suddenly felt a deep sense of welcoming come over him. He felt enveloped in love and peace, staunchly aware in that moment of the fact that Jesus loved him as he loved everyone in this world. It was this “AHA” moment that had a profound impact on Gulley’s theological beliefs, and led him to his own counter narrative he preaches now.
As Gulley described it, it is in moments like the ones he and his father had that the world enlarges and your old worldviews can no longer fill the space of this new, enlarged world. Gulley further explained, these moments of “Soul-Awakening” can take a long time manifest in a person’s life, they can be the length of 2 or 3 sermons, as Gulley hopes, or they can take years upon years to appear. Oftentimes these “AHA” moments happen in a moment of crisis in people’s lives, where they have to become more mindful about their circumstances and their choices and are forced to grow in a new way. This was obviously the case with Gulley’s father, and it was also the case with Gulley’s own “AHA” moment.
Gulley encouraged people looking to bring about moments of Soul-Awakening in those around them to not give up. He told the crowd we have to keep offering up our own counter narratives, our own views of the world in words and sweat and hospitality. At some point, perhaps through some personal crisis, but perhaps just in a moment of deep reflection, the “AHA” moment will hit someone and it will be thanks in part to our continued efforts that someone might understand the world, and their place in it, in a new and more positive way.
By: Andrew Weller
Partners: Indiana Moral Revival and Peace & Social Justice Committee at Fairfield Friends Meeting.