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Advocacy Works: Advocacy as a Spiritual Practice

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In my job as an advocacy and policy analyst in Latin America, I work to build bridges and connections between people. I pass on messages and policy asks from communities impacted by a certain issues or concern to lawmakers in Canada and the Unites States. I also seek to support local actions for community grassroots change. The heart of everything that I do, however, can be summed up as joining in the work for social justice already happening in Latin America. The method that I use to support that work is advocacy, and it is within that advocacy that I have also found a spiritual discipline.

Rather, I have found advocacy to be a practice of listening and connection. Instead of anger, I have discovered that advocacy is, at its roots, a deep space of hope.

At first glance, advocacy may be an odd choice for a spiritual discipline. Isn’t advocacy, after all, more about yelling in the street, than contemplation? For me, however, advocacy is much more than simply an angry protest. Rather, I have found advocacy to be a practice of listening and connection. Instead of anger, I have discovered that advocacy is, at its roots, a deep space of hope.

While there is plenty of room within our advocacy toolkit for direct actions, for me, advocacy starts from a place of listening, not yelling. In order to advocate, I must first understand a situation. I need to admit my own lack of knowledge and my willingness to be present and pay attention, important parts of any spiritual discipline. Within many Christian traditions, there is a long history of paying attention to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. When I am invited to join a community meeting or sit with an organization, I often sense that I am hearing that still, small voice. Perhaps this time the voice speaks in Spanish and is written into a report, yet it is the same call to action that people of faith have been following for thousands of years.

When my colleagues and I gather for team meetings, a diverse, international group, we often start by singing. Many of the songs in our songbook are adapted from the Misa Campesina, the Farmer’s Mass, from Nicaragua. They were originally written to be sung at Mass, replacing the traditional service with folk music about the work and lives of the poor in Latin America. One my favourite songs is Vos Sos el Dios de los Pobres, (God, you are the God of the Poor), with lyrics that acknowledge the way God is found in within those who are often overlooked by the powerful. A line from the chorus reminds us that: “You are God of the poor, a human and simple God, a God who sweats in the street and a God with a weathered face.” When I listen and choose to walk alongside my Latin American neighbours, I am able to see the face of Christ in those around me.

When I listen and choose to walk alongside my Latin American neighbours, I am able to see the face of Christ in those around me.

Advocacy is also a way to realize and remember our connections to one another. When I think about the food I eat, for example, I am reminded of meeting with Honduran farmers and their concerns about the impacts of climate change. When I look at my plate, I remember that daily actions impact others living in very different parts of the world. However, because of these very connections, those impacts do not have to be only negative. We belong to each other. Making small (and large) life choices, including speaking to members of government, are a way that I acknowledge my part in our greater global community and participate in caring for my neighbour.

Making small (and large) life choices, including speaking to members of government, are a way that I acknowledge my part in our greater global community and participate in caring for my neighbour.

And of course, advocacy means holding onto hope. Even when times are difficult and change seems impossible, to advocate requires a belief that things can be different. To speak out means looking beyond a current situation and imagining a different future. Everyday, I am encouraged and challenged by the people I work with who not only believe that things can be different, but are actively working towards that change.

Advocacy is a rich space for contemplation and spiritual renewal. Through advocacy, I have found a life-giving discipline, based on choosing to believe in the possibility of change, listening deeply out of a place of connection, and then working together. I encourage you to try it for yourself. Ask questions about situations of injustice and open yourself up to a new way of seeing God’s work in the world.

How can you get a meeting with your representative or write an effective letter? Check out Biblical Advocacy 101 on the Office of Social Justice's Action Center. Canadian and American versions are available. 

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