Keeping the Sacred in Sacred Activism

by Will Wilkinson

It’s surprising and immensely encouraging to learn that Rumi, the ecstatic poet, has become a modern rock star. According to Jane Ciabattari, writing for, “The ecstatic poems of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Persian poet and Sufi master born 807 years ago in 1207, have sold millions of copies in recent years, making him the most popular poet in the US.”

Modern mystic Andrew Harvey is a celebrated Rumi translator and offers a full year of Rumi poems, one per day, in an online course. In 2016, Andrew graced us with a visit here in Ashland, Oregon to share his powerful sacred activism program. He frequently quoted Rumi, emphasizing how essential passion for the Divine is if we seriously care about making a positive difference in the world. He put it this way in his book, The Hope: “All the great Sacred Activists know that Divine Love cannot be only an interior experience: after all, it is also the energy that creates and sustains the universe. To live in Divine Love is inevitably to act from it, both by the radiance of your presence and in actual acts of justice and compassion.”

We know from personal experience that it is the radiance of personal presence that inspires others to join a cause. There’s nothing as attractive as someone who is really lit up, genuinely passionate about life. Where does that fire come from? Rumi has a poem for that:

Passion burns down every branch of exhaustion;
Passion is the Supreme Elixir and renews all things;
So don’t sigh heavily, your brow bleak with denial,
Dare to look for Passion, Passion, Passion, Passion!…
Futile solutions deceive the force of passion,
They are bandits who extort money through lies!…
Run far away, my friends, from all false solutions!
Let Divine Passion triumph and rebirth you in yourself!

There are powerful lessons in these eight lines. I’m especially intrigued by the connection between “exhaustion” and “false solutions.” Many of us have flirted with burnout as we labored to save the world. This recalls a story about a guy standing at his window with a bucket, feverishly scooping away until the sun came up, when he boasted, “I finally got all the darkness out of this room!” Sometimes our activism is like that. We forget the sun!

Andrew has this to say about the potential impact of activism when we keep the “sacred” in it, again from The Hope: “Let us imagine together now what humble, divine human beings, born into this marriage of peace and passion, could effect as instruments of God in the world. Imagine what scientists, lawyers, doctors, therapists, politicians, economists, and activists of all kinds could effect as embodied and illumined instruments of compassion and justice. Imagine what illuminations and discoveries of every saving kind would stream through us, not only to preserve human and animal life on earth, but to transform our ways of being and doing everything in every realm–from politics to economics to all arts and sciences.”

This evokes the image of a creative flood, so fundamentally different than fighting against injustice, and it exposes another obvious secret: to be effective in this world requires flowing something into it from another world, through our connection with the Divine.

Andrew wrote the Foreword for my latest book, Now or Never. In our conversations about the manuscript, I was so impressed with his generous support and how much energy is perpetually flowing through this man. He is plugged in! And what a producer! He recently finished three books and two films… all at the same time! I’ve noticed that this is a quality consistent with other sacred activists I’ve met. They are invariably busy, but can always find time for others like themselves, or those who are aspiring to be.

This illuminates another insight: sacred activism is 24/7. It’s not just about marching, signing petitions, voting, writing a book, etc. Sacred activism is a way of living, a state of being, and the impact is constant. It doesn’t reserve itself for special occasions like, for instance, being on stage.

This reminds me of precession, one of Buckminster Fuller’s core principles. Precession describes the impact you have on your way towards achieving a goal. It’s what happens as you are talking to a waitress, parking your car, paying a bill, and meditating, etc. Bucky said that the net effect of your precessional expression always outweighs the value of reaching your goal. We all leave a wake, an influence that spreads out beside and behind us. I remind myself of this principle by reversing a well-known phrase into “the means determine the end.”

Much of our healing work in the world requires healing damage done by “the means justifies the end” thinking. When that belief motivates someone, their wake can be horribly destructive. In this regard, I notice that it’s easy to deceive oneself. Someone who murders an abortion provider may say that they are killing one person to save many. Is that justifiable? It’s a hard question and I won’t volunteer an easy answer but murder is murder. It’s not love and it’s not appreciation, which is one of the primary tools for every sacred activist.

Just a few minutes ago my writing was interrupted by a call from a friend helping me on a web project. I thanked him in detail, letting him know how much I appreciated his friendly and professional assistance. It made a big difference for him to hear me say what I’m sure he already knows; appreciation is powerful. Any of us who are married understand this; our spouses never tire of hearing us say that we love them! Woe to the guy who informed his wife: “I told you that I loved you when we got married twenty years ago. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” That’s not a marriage I would expect to last!

Appreciation increases value. Many people don’t know that; they think it’s just about being polite, saying thank you, almost automatically. “Oh, thanks.” No, appreciation is the opposite of depreciation and we all understand depreciation. Our cars depreciate, as do our computers, printers, etc. They lose value over time. Appreciation increases value over time. For instance, my wife and I just celebrated our 23rd anniversary and our marriage is worth a lot more today than during our honeymoon, because we’ve logged 23 years of appreciating each other!

Yet another quality of the true sacred activist is kindness. That’s not exactly what you get from activists without the sacred part. Just listen to hate radio for a few minutes, if you can stand it; the hypocrisy is embarrassing. I still remember an old song from 60’s satirist Tom Lehrer called National Brotherhood Week. He introduced it this way: “There are some people who do not love their fellow man. I hate people like that!”

Finally, sacred activists have powerful reality warp fields. That was a term invented to describe the effect Apple founder Steve Jobs had on people who got close to him. Suddenly they wanted a Mac! Somehow they were now sure that his wild plans would all work. This is called entrainment, being affected by someone’s presence, and it introduces a host of possibilities for sacred activists! Imagine, every contact is an opportunity to “spread the word,” not by proselytizing about an urgent cause but by “being the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi, one of the world’s most effective sacred activists, said that about 70 years ago, and it’s still the gold standard for me.

Here’s a final quote from Andrew Harvey, words that leave little doubt as to what it means to be a true sacred activist!

“The only questions you will be asked when you cross over the waters of death are ‘What did you do while the word was burning? How did you work to heal the horror of the world on fire? What did you love enough to risk and give your life for?’ Nothing else will matter. Understand this now. Turn away from everything you have been and done and believed, and dive into the furnace of a divine love that embraces all beings. Give your whole life to spread and embody the message of its passion to the world—that the world must now wake up, claim the sacred fire that lives within every human heart, and act from it. The one hope, both for you and for humanity, is to take up the challenge of the divine and put the fire of divine compassion into radical action in every arena of the world.”


Will Wilkinson is an author and presenter living in Ashland, Oregon with his wife and guru (a cat named Yogi). Will has eight books in print and has developed and delivered educational programs for decades. His most recent book, Now or Never, A Time Traveler’s Guide to Personal and Global Transformation—with a foreword by modern mystic Andrew Harvey—invites readers to take a stand and “be the change we wish to see in the world.” Will provides mentoring through a course of study, Living on Purpose, available through his website

Sue Sorensen

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