“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; . . . Your people willrebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58: 6-7, 12 .
Western law, particularly American law, has made many positive contributions to upholding modern democracy. However, in global comparison, Western law is a fairly new approach in human history. As such, it often ignores ancient traditions of non-dualism, contemplation, and thus at times lacks a significant viable catalytic framework for liberation. The adversarial American legal system is characterized by reason, procedure, outcome, reaction, and technicality, rather than Universal Truth. Universal Truth may be defined as the Reality behind existence, beyond the three-dimensional plane, which can be articulated in numerous ways by many religions and spiritual practices – yet all expressing this one Truth. This Reality may be characterized as Love or Consciousness. That said, indeed the practice of law can be an unhealthy endeavor. Largely in conflict with the aforementioned principles, the American bar loses a substantial number of competent legal professionals, who exit the profession due to fatigue (burn out), depression, anxiety, addiction, and for other reasons: the fundamentals of the practice of Western law are largely inimical to the human spirit.
The law as traditionally practiced presupposes a dualism: there are “winners” and “losers”; “order,” “judgment,” “condemn,” “mandate” exude dominance, hierarchy, and non-cooperation. For instance, in litigation, naked self-interest, aggressiveness, factual disingenuousness, greed, and plain meanness are often regarded as shrewdness and strength and thus rewarded. Present practice ignores the circumference of innate human senses, to instead call upon information gathering, rather than knowledge, wisdom, and rational intuitiveness. Even in legal circles which are oriented towards social justice, one can easily find attorneys, armed with a smug self-righteousness, who have become the very example of the oppression that they purport to stand against. Set against the Universal Principle of Unity, this causes or contributes to a dissonance which may engender attorney and legal worker exhaustion because this type of practice originates from a false place of finitude. This is because practice in the mode of dualism invokes a reality based on that which only exists upon a three-dimensional plane. In contrast, Unity, as a principle, posits that at the base of all Reality, all life and therefore all beings are fundamentally One.
Yet there is an inexhaustible place from which a conscious lawyer may practice. Contemplative lawyering is an approach to legal representation and legal work that seeks to provide legal counsel from a place of Consciousness, the ground of being. In short, contemplative lawyering is a prophetic orientation towards Love – to engender social change from the unbounded reserve of Love. Contemplative lawyering seeks to dismantle systemic evil by invoking both the practices and principles of Universal Truth, which supersedes law. Contemplative lawyering acknowledges the oneness of humanity. At this imperative social and political juncture, at no time more than in the present, is contemplative lawyering so needed. From a place of Consciousness, contemplative lawyering provides a means to transcend and challenge dominant systems of oppression. As poet Audre Lorde so aptly stated, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” It is by pulling from a stronger energetic field of Consciousness, soul force, or satyagraha, that contemplative lawyering does so.
(I) Contemplative Lawyering As A Means Of Challenging Systemic Evil
By conscious and unconscious individual and collective assent, we created the breach of separated consciousness. However, the remedy has always been present in our Oneness in Love. Father Richard Rohr posits in his book What Do We Do With Evil? that the primary concern of the Bible is the collective tacit agreement to participate in unjust systems, rather than individual personal sin. Rohr suggests that these systems are veiled and seldom challenged at their root: wealth and its accumulation, as a dominant measure of success, individualism, war, and poverty. Rohr explains that everyone benefits and is complicit in these systems of evil, which is precisely why they are difficult to detect and uproot. Rohr argues that this is why Jesus and Paul warned about the inability of the rules to resolve human problems: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). For law, as it was practiced first in a theological vein and now in secular terms, may be complicit in evil systems. By acknowledging and practicing the maxims of transcendence, one enters a state of grace, mercy, and Love. Rohr insists that a contemplative inner posture is necessary to act from a place of consciousness, which is distinctly necessary for activism.
“Too much activism, without enough inner work, insight, or examination of conscience inevitably leads to violence—to the self, to the project at hand, and invariably to others. If too much inner focus risks narcissism and individual- ism, too much outer focus risks superficiality,negativity (passing for love of justice), and various messiah complexes. Those on the right can lack love, and those on the left can lack love—they just wear two different disguises. We need both inner communion and outer service to be “Jesus” in the world!”
— Fr. Richard Rohr, Dancing Polarities, The Center for Action and Contemplation, January 13, 2020.
(II) Contemplative Lawyering In Practice: Servant Leadership As A Means To Liberation
True Power is Circular Power. For circular power is sourced from the inexhaustibility of Consciousness, or Love, and is regenerative because it gives and creates unto itself. Distinct from hierarchal power, where power is held at the top, Circular Power is shared and regenerative in nature and is not held in a static manner, but rather evolves as a never- ending centripetal force. Servant leadership under the lens of liberation offers a transformative means of lawyering, not only to dismantle oppressive systems, but to repair, restore, and renew the Beloved Community. Though practiced for thousands of years, originally coined by Robert Greenleaf in the United States, servant leadership encourages the “leader” asservant first to this: Practiced for thousands of years and first coined by Robert Greenleaf in the United States, servant leadership encourages “the leader” as servant first. This approach serves the health and growth of the community as a whole by focusing on those who are the least privileged in the group and encourages the same perspective in others. This example is most notable in the work of the late Reverend Gordon Cosby and his wife Mary, the founders of the Church of the Savior network of churches, retreat center, and the Festival Center located in Washington, D.C. By establishing non-hierarchical structures and practicing servant leadership, The Way of Jesus, these communities continue to evolve, deepen, grow, and flourish, even providing direct assistance and education to marginalized communities as ministries and offering a healing and liberatory process for all participants.
“The Oneness of the Universe is Love.” – Ram Dass
The same “bottom up” approach is present in the theology of liberation. In sum, the premise of liberation theology is that God holds a preferential option for the poor, and firmly stands with thepoor and all oppressed amid their oppression. It is within this inner and outward stance that one may find social and spiritual salvation or liberation. In fact, liberation theology holds that it is the very work of churches and spiritual spaces to reinforce this stance as a catalyst for liberation. The late Rev. Dr. James H. Cones, the progenitor and preeminent scholar of black liberation theology, declared that “any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not a Christian theology” (A Black Theology of Liberation). Dr. Cone later insisted that this theology requires a humble spiritual kenosis, which is demonstrated in scripture.
”The Gospel of Jesus is not a Gospel of success …the Gospel of Jesus is ultimate success through obvious failure… that is why the Cross is at the center of the Gospel. The Cross is not a Gospel of success. Jesus did not succeed. He failed. But God took that failure and transformed that failure into success. When you talk about ultimate success, it’s not obvious…because when success becomes the focus, it loses its message and loses its mission. Because the Gospel said when you lose your life for the least of these, then you’ll find your life. ”
— Rev. Dr. James H. Cone, The State of the Black Church,’ C-SPAN, 2015
Cone urged that his spiritual communities must be vigilant not to accept the notions and appearances of success promoted by dominant culture – so, too, must legal practitioners by holding an intentional proximate orientation of the profession away from the position of empire. The murder of George Floyd revealed the long entrenched systemic evil of racism. From a necessary righteous anger born in the Soul, millions took to the streets the streets demanding change. Let us continue this holy and sacred work in this profession by extending our inexhaustible Light, which blazes from the Soul. If we will but do it, Grace will emerge, and mend our Beloved Community.
JENIPHER JONES : is a Clinical Fellow at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law – Student Law Office – Civil Rights Clinic.
Jenipher studied at Bennett College for Women and earned a B.A. in Political Science. She then attended law school at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law with membership to the Loyola Maritime Law Journal, The International Legal Honor Society of Phi Delta Phi, and legal clinical study. Jenipher began her career in civil rights as a Fellow at the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, Southern Poverty Law Center.
Jenipher has worked on law enforcement accountability issues, including a clerkship at the civilian law enforcement oversight agency, the City of New Orleans Office of the Independent Police Monitor (OIPM), and a landmark federal consent decree involving the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). She has also practiced at the National Employment Litigation Unit (NELU) of the United States Postal Service handling class action employment discrimination matters.
Jenipher has more recently litigated complex civil litigation cases involving prisoners’ rights, law enforcement misconduct, and employment discrimination at a civil rights law firm. She has been published in both domestic and international publications. Jenipher has also advocated for the rights of prisoners in the United States before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the United Nations Association, and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. None of the views or opinions expressed herein represent the University of Denver and/or University of Denver Sturm College of Law.