You know that feeling that resonates deep within you when you meet someone who helps the world turn a bit better? It could be a simple “hello” or a quick handshake or a long conversation, but somewhere in your interaction you sense this person has something that’s bigger than them. They’re deeply rooted in the foundations of their existence and the language that leaves their body has deep, powerful meaning. Have you ever experienced such an encounter? I did when I first met Chris and Phileena Heuertz.
I met Chris first. We attended a speakers gathering together and I was the new guy thrilled simply to be in the room during the conversation. Chris was the conversation. I listened as Chris reiterated the importance of our words and the power of how we tell our stories. He spoke of intentional friendships and unexpected gifts in the midst of tragedy and pain. He was in tune with something I wanted but I wasn’t sure what exactly that “something” was.
I met Phileena a year later at an event I was helping to host. I was her transportation to the hotel but my flight was delayed an hour and she graciously waited without complaint for me to arrive. By the end of the evening my flight was five hours late and Phileena had made her way to the hotel, eaten, and called it a night. I spent that evening fretting: I should have booked an earlier flight, rearranged my ticket, something to avoid this inconvenience for her. But when I met her the next morning in the hotel lobby to proceed to the event, I was greeted with a smile and a hug, making no mention of any inconvenience despite my repeated apologies. She was sincere and warm. She had that “something” as well.
Since these initial encounters I’ve journeyed more with Chris and Phileena. I’ve heard their stories and learned at their feet. I’ve been challenged to be more intentional with friendships and to “do good better.” But most of all, I’ve learned that at the core of being an activist and working for good in this world is the responsibility to take care of yourself. That’s what kept them rooted and caused their presence and voice to resonate deep within me. Not only were they persistence workers for justice and good, they also cared for themselves. They cared for their soul.
One year ago today, Chris and Phileena formed Gravity: a Center for Contemplative Activism around these principles and practices that helped sustained them for 20+ years while leading Word Made Flesh, a group that serves the poorest of the world’s poor. Gravity exists to nurture the integral connection between mysticism and activism. And, in their own words, their “aim is to support the development of Christian consciousness in the 21st century by making contemplative practices accessible to individuals, communities and organizations that engage the challenging social justice perils of our time.” In a fast world of noise and busyness, Gravity is an invitation to slow down and ground all social engagement in Christian contemplative spirituality.
They do this through contemplative retreats, spiritual direction, and pilgrimages to places of religious significance. And, if you live in Omaha, you can spend Wednesdays at 4pm meditating with others in their office. It’s a sacred, and needed, space.
Chris and Phileena are a gift to every activist. They’ve experienced immense joy and unimaginable suffering. Attended more funerals than weddings. And yet they have a deep joy, a contagious ambiance. They’re rooted and centered. And it is truly beautiful.
Congrats Chris and Phileena on your first year of Gravity. I’m proud to call you a friend. Thank you for sharing your life, your words, and your passions with me and the world. We’re all grateful.