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While this is not directly on the topic of theology and music, at R&T we also deal with larger issues of religion and culture, and this one certainly qualifies:

I have been participating in Occupy Wall Street since 30 September (my first post about it is here), and was most recently on site at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan on Friday the 14th. (My post imagining Occupy Wall Street being applied to the Catholic Church is here, picked up by the Chronicle of Higher Education blog here.)

Among other fundamentally irreversible influences in my life, it was my Catholic upbringing, Catholic religious education, and Catholic graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School and at Boston College, that laid the spiritual and intellectual groundwork for me to be able to recognize, in Occupy Wall Street, a possible shared work of corporal and spiritual mercy, a potential place for practicing solidarity, and a plausible habitat for more deeply and experientially learning and living love’s public name: justice.

(A word about the video above: while it is intended to make a point about the connection between democratic struggle in the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, I am uncomfortable with its selective presentation of police officers; I think it is crucial for the Occupy movement not to presume that all police are enforcers of repressive state policies or personally hostile to the movement. I hope the Occupy movement can start from an engagement with police officers that appeals to them as fellow working men and women, most of them with middle class and working class families. The Occupy movement therefore shares an interest in changing the political scene to improve their lives as well.)

Because of this Catholic background, I am drawn in particular to the practices and rituals that help those of us at Occupy Wall Street to appreciate and to try to act on reality. These actions and performances bear the movement’s theologies or spiritualities as much as any explicit statement on the part of any single person about what they do or do not believe.

There are lots of practices and rituals to notice on site: serving meals, standing with a placard, drumming, dancing, silk-screening shirts, browsing literature, listening, meandering, and many more. But I have tried to pay special attention to the Sacred Space area in Zuccotti Park that emerged soon after the occupation began. (I am not sure exactly when, or by whom, though I would like to find out.) (For some initial pictures, see here.)

Recently, the Sacred Space area has changed its shape a little bit, but it is still a place for a hodgepodge of symbols left by protesters, a place for people to think, meditate, pray, wonder, and talk, and only the most recent example of how Americans hold their religious pluralism and relate it to their political commitments. Theologically, there are many reasons to take this space seriously and with critical curiosity: the relationship between religious/spiritual imagination and political imagination is of interest not only to Christianity but to conceivably all religious and spiritual movements today. One of the basic theological questions is how a relationship to God, “God,” or some other ultimate name or reality bears on how one lives and the choices one makes. Theological questions are present moment to moment in Occupy Wall Street.

What follows are my pictures from Friday, with brief captions/commentary. Please, if you are sympathetic to this movement, consider helping Occupy Wall Street or any of the apparently now more than 1000 “Occupy” movements around the world. (If you cannot see the pictures, click the “more” tab below to see them.)

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York


The Sacred Space Altar, now facing south in the northwest corner of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan

Another view of the Sacred Space Altar

And the Sacred Space Altar from the other side; the picture hanging on the tree is of "Gaia"

This is the "Gaia" picture up close; a representation of the earth as an internally and externally connected living entity, a spiritual-material reality

The Sacred Space Altar up close

Behind the Altar, leaning against the tree, blocks that spell "Equality," an announcement about meditation at the Sacred Space, Gandhi, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Another view of the Sacred Space Altar up close

Detail from the Altar: A Crucifix on a Rosary seems to swing in the breeze in front of multiple religious symbols

Serving meals to OWS protesters and anyone else who needs a meal; your donations keep these meals coming around the clock

Lavender armbands/headbands signify the red, white, and blue of the USA flag -- "I believe in the kingdom come, when all the colors will bleed into one" (U2)

Hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons supports the protest and gives an interview at OWS

"2 tunics" is a citation of the gospel of Luke, chapter 3, verse 11 in the Christian sciptures

"New York and New Jersey Pagans Hold Sacred Space in Solidarity to Occupy Wall Street"

4 Comments »

  1. Seeing the sacred space is quite encouraging. It lets me know that this movement is not hostile towards people of faith. Even people of common established faiths like Catholicism. As a Catholic as well as someone who sympathizes with this movement, I sometimes worry about hostility within the movement towards Catholics. Seeing this makes my heart smile and shows me that #OWS is made up of true “Workers in the Vineyard” (see Matthew 20 for reference)

    Comment by Tim Reid — October 17, 2011 @ 8:18 am

  2. we have started Occupy Archdiocese of Oklahoma City in order to bring increased visibility to the social teachings of the Church in this archdiocese. See also http://www.justpeace.org/occupyadokc.htm .

    Comment by Bob Waldrop — October 18, 2011 @ 11:27 am

  3. Bob Waldrop, thank you for letting us know. I look forward to seeing what happens with Occupy Arch-OKC.
    TB

    Comment by T Beaudoin — October 20, 2011 @ 11:14 am

  4. It appears that Albert Camus’ was right when he linked solidarity and rebellion. It is quite possible that we are in the midst of a movement with the potential to ignite change.

    On a smaller level this has hit my city in Columbia,SC…

    Comment by Brian Foulks — October 20, 2011 @ 11:58 am

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