One of my favorite Assagioli quotes, which I actually have printed on my business card, is as follows:
“When spiritual light is focused on the most complex of individual or collective problems, it produces solutions…and spares us much suffering.”
These words resonate with the news that the UN is now actively inviting spiritual leaders to become involved in 17 sustainability commitments for the next 15 years. On 25 September, world leaders will gather at the United Nations in New York to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These commitments include a worldwide end to poverty and hunger, full employment across the globe, and gender equality in every country.
The last time the UN initiated such ambitious objectives was when they set their Millennium Goals in 2000. However, they have since learned that seeking endorsements from governments is not only enough. This time they are turning to the religious sectors of civil society. As Martin Palmer, Secretary General of ARC, the Alliance of Religious and Conservation, recently explained:
“Governments are too often handicapped by greed and corruption, by violence and abusive systems. They are not the best guarantors of sustainability goals.”
Paul Ladd, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Director, confirmed their engagement this time around with faith communities: “More than 80% of the world’s people express a religious affiliation. Knowing this, it becomes clear that the UN needs to work closely with faith communities over the next 15 years if the new Global Goals for Sustainable Development are to be achieved.”
As part of this new spiritual approach to world problems, the UN Development Program and ARC recently facilitated the “Faith in the Future Conference” held in Bristol, England. This conference brought together religious leaders from 24 faiths to share their experience of implementing various climate change, employment and gender targeted programs in their communities. Leaders (amongst others) were Buddhist, Christian, Daoist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto and Sikh. At the conference, all the faith leaders pledged far reaching practical action over the next 10 years to help the world’s poorest people. Pledges included the development of micro credit schemes for the poor, increased access to education, tree planting, and an investment in clean energy and green pilgrimage.
For example, Bishop Nathan Kyamanyara from Uganda starting a tree-planting program to reforest the Ailbertine region in 2002. “We have witnessed the degradation of the environment particularly in our forests and landscape, driven by disregard of the laws, corruption and greed. But today hundreds of thousands of trees are springing up.” His next challenge is to tackle the oil and gas industry that is trying to move into his diocese.
Dr. Husna Ahmad is chief executive of Global One, the only UK NGO for international development led by Muslim women. She has introduced numerous programs to eliminate water born infections in Kenya, Nigeria and Bangladesh. I found her reflection about the upcoming visit by Pope Francis to the annual U.N. General Assembly particularly moving:
“Somehow Pope Francis is representing me as a Muslim woman, and I think that’s incredible.”
In this statement, you can readily imagine the power of the Higher Self, which works beyond cultural or religious identity to include the higher human qualities of courage, love and hope. There is an Ethiopian proverb that says: “When spider webs combine, they can entangle a lion.” In other words, we can all build our own personal web of compassion and outreach, Love and Will. However, we also need the Higher Self to further weave these singular acts into an intrapersonal web that might catch the greater lion of injustice, greed, and poverty worldwide.
I believe in my own heart that Assagioli’s insight was brilliantly clear. Historic examples of spiritual energy fueling political and social justice are embodied in the campaigns led by Martin Luther King and Gandhi. The sooner individuals and organizations, like the UN, acknowledge and garner the power of spiritual light in the world, the more likely we will come closer to solving the most complex of human problems.