Our times remind us that civil authority isn’t always civil, let alone equitable or just. But a surge in reactivity and even contempt from neighbors and media outlets can blind us to the fact that there are wise and grounded ways to respond to conflicts of authority in our lives. So, how should we respond when the demands of civil authority conflict with our sense of Christ’s authority in our lives?
In his book Conversation with Christ, Quaker minister and scholar Douglas Gwyn offers a meditation for exercising discernment in times when we feel a conflict of authorities in our lives. The social witness of our Quaker siblings has always included finding prophetic alternatives to violence and speaking truth to power. For us, who want to do what is right and avoid being reactionary, we must remember to first take the turn inward.
For us, who want to do what is right and avoid being reactionary, we must remember to first take the turn inward.
Begin by inviting an encounter with the living Christ, in the present moment: Choose a quiet place and set aside 20–30 minutes. Settling into a comfortable, upright position and closing your eyes or softening your gaze as you feel comfortable, begin to still your body… Becoming aware of your breathing, the sensations of the breath, and the rhythm of your breath as you follow your inhale and exhale… As you come into a place of quiet, calm awareness, signal your desire to spend time in Christ’s presence, repeating silently, Here I am.
I offer Douglas Gwyn’s meditation, with gratitude, here:
“Now bring to mind one of the civil jurisdictions where you live. It may be government at the national, state, or local level. Don’t think of it abstractly, but feel yourself physically within its territorial realm. Take a moment to encounter its presence as it bears upon your life. How do you feel toward it — Threatened? Angry? Safe? Sad? Thankful? Take a moment to savor your relationship to that authority.
“Now consider a particular matter where you disagree with that authority’s policy. There may be several such matters. Choose one that particularly disturbs you. What’s the issue here? What moral or political principle does that authority’s action violate? How does that impinge upon your life? What would you like to say to that authority about it? How would you ‘speak truth to power’? Take a moment to form your thoughts.
“If that exercise has agitated you, take a moment to quiet yourself again.
“Now ask yourself, where is Christ in this matter? How does Christ embody the important truth you feel has been abridged or degraded by civil authority? Take a moment to feel Christ present with you here and now.
“Ask Christ, what is the truth of this matter? What would you have me say? What would you have me do? How can I be your witness in this civil realm? Wait for something to come.
“You may find yourself cycling around in your own thoughts and feelings. What comes may feel simply reactive toward civil authority. But wait to feel peace and quiet arise again in you. That is Christ’s peace, which may not ‘answer’ your questions any more than Jesus always answered Pilate’s. But something may come that you recognize as Christ’s Word. It may take the form of prophetic challenge to authority. Or it may be a word of acquiescence. It may lead you toward direct resistance to authority. Or it may inspire you to more patient words of persuasion. It will not be a leading to do violence to anyone Conversation with Christ: Quaker Meditations on the Gospel of John, p. 114).”
As you come to the end of your meditation period, you might offer a moment of thanks for divine accompaniment and for your heart’s awakening. If you feel a sense of having been guided or receiving a message, pray for the patience and courage to follow. Whatever words or actions are calling to you, may you remain at peace with Christ and remember to move from love and in love.
Blessings and peace,
—Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones and the Faith Formation and Education team
Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones is Trinity’s Associate Director, Spiritual Practices, Retreats, and Pilgrimage.
Photo by Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones.
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