What enables deep change? When humanity takes a leap forward, or an evolutionary step, where does the impulse and energy for that change come from? It seems to me that at those moments, whether in our collective life or in the life of an individual – it is never solely the result of our effort or intention.
We can achieve tremendous things through applying our own intelligence, through invention and experimentation, through sheer determination, but often we are just rearranging the way we do things on the surface.
The paradigm shifts that take us beyond what we know into a new way of being – into a completely new space and experience – by their very nature, these are always catalysed by something unpredicted, something we could never have conjured up through our own resources, something that comes from a deeper source.
You could call that Divine grace.
I believe there is something akin to Divine grace at work within the younger generations. A very particular quality of renewal that is not just the regular energy of youth – but rather is life’s response to a deep and urgent need for change. That quality moves me very much. This book is really a testament to that quality. My hope was to make this energy of regeneration visible – so that all of us – young and old can witness it and recognise its purpose.
These interviews and stories are a reflection of 6 years of work at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. I can remember very vividly the first programme we developed for millennials, funded by a Buddhist community. When the group of young adults came together for the first time, there were 3 things that stood out.
Firstly within the group there was a unstoppable impulse to lead, to step up, and to take action- a sense that time for talking was over. Secondly, there was a feeling of joy. I was used to interfaith dialogue having a slightly serious quality – but instead here – despite the challenges of the outer landscape – there was a lightness, an effervescence, a bubbling up of hope.
Thirdly, there was a difference in how identity showed up. A marked absence of fixed identities. This wasn’t Christians, Jews and Muslims in conversation. These young people were the children of interfaith and intercultural marriages, or had at the very least grown up in a much more diverse and complex urban environment. Many had been born in one country, grown up in another, and educated in a third. They were influenced by a huge range of different belief systems and practices. And their use of social media hooked them up to a global reality.
Their world seemed to be reflecting a dissolution of dualism – moving away from defining oneself as this or that – and instead coming into relationship with many shades of difference and possibility. But they were also less focused on difference, and much more concerned about the world and how to change it.
This sense of commitment to social change, global connection, uninhibited leadership, and more fluid relationship with identity were very exciting to be around. I remember having the feeling – ah – now something can really happen!
In the interviews in the book the phrase ‘dissolving binaries’ came up frequently. The younger generations are growing up in a world where, for example, we have a very different relationship with gender, moving beyond the dualism of male and female into an infinitely more subtle and exciting understanding of gender as a continuum. But the younger generations are also dissolving binaries across the board – between action and contemplation ….leader and follower……human and other than human. Also physical and spiritual, sacred and every day.
Within this are the seeds of a profound shift in how we relate to God and to life. Our stories of faith and spirituality define our sense of meaning and so underpin all other dimensions of our culture. Professor Ursula King says in her book The Search for Spirituality, “The current global situation calls for a spirituality that will lead to the reorganisation of world economics, politics, education, business and world governance” The seeds of that change are in the lives of these young people.
This is a shift that has been going on for a while. Generation Y are not the architects of this shift. But they have grown up in more complex and connected world, are standing more firmly in this new worldview – and they are leading the way in how we embody it. This shows up in many forms, but particularly in their profound desire to fully live spiritual values in everyday life. They are taking faith out of the church and temple and into the workplace. Off the meditation cushion and on to the street. In our youth the new worldview is becoming real and manifest. This is where I see the grace operating – in this space between vision and actuality.
Many of our religious institutions are being left behind in all this. That prophetic voice that can speak truth to power in times of darkness – where is it? If you have found that in an institution you are one of the lucky ones. The fast growing unaffiliated majority of young people have to be that for themselves. They have to be that for each other. And – though I’m ashamed to say it – they also have to be that even for their elders.
For me, working with the millennial generation has been a huge source of learning and inspiration.
It’s a great privilege and a joy to be able to showcase their work through these stories. I hope through this book young people will feel their way of ‘doing’ faith is being recognised and honored, and that elders will see more clearly what they bring to the table and give them the space and support they need to help humanity usher in a new era.
Justine Huxley is the Director of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in London, and has a Ph.D in psychology. Her work includes advancing the next generation of leaders and peace-makers, and building spiritual resilience for an increasingly dystopian world.
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