Ian Hughes, New South Wales Regional Meeting.
Review of Heron, J. (2006). Participatory Spirituality: A Farewell to Authoritarian Religion. Morrisville: Lulu Press.

This book, first published in 2006, remains innovative and creative. John Heron has constructed a collage of overlapping texts, each presenting a view of human spirituality as participating co-creatively in the life divine. We are invited to explore the text like a conceptual virtual reality, roaming among chapters and pages, progressively growing our comprehension of the whole. Presentations include manifesto, personal story, theology, metaphysics, epistemology, pathology, psychology, and practice.

John Heron gifts his intellectual property rights, inviting us to appropriate and adapt his ideas integrating them into our own spiritual vision. In this spirit of co-creation, I open the book at the ninth perspective to engage with ‘situational spirit’. I read that feeling the presence here and now is the root of participatory awareness, that ‘we directly sense our interconnectedness with whom and what is in our world’ (p. 42) and share presence to engage divinity in this local time and place. Heron is describing my experience of Quaker Meeting for Worship.

Heron goes on to explore the way participatory decision-making integrates autonomy, co-operation and hierarchy; how each person integrates their individual experiences and preferences; how people start to think and speak integral proposals that honour diversity-in-unity; then the co-operative phase of expressing an agreed decision. He could be describing Quaker decision making process (at least when we do it well). He writes: ‘this is a profound practice: exhilarating, liberating, and challenging participants with intermittent discomforts of ego-burning’ (p. 45).

Heron sees himself as part of a participatory turn in spiritual praxis which is an expression of an emergent participatory worldview. In my view Quakers started on our journey towards this participatory worldview more than 300 years ago when Quakers rejected spiritual authority vested in a human hierarchy. We turned from indoctrination by teachers, traditions or texts to a spiritual seeking guided towards transforming outcomes by the inner light in a gathered presence of collaborating peers. Heron describes the participatory turn away from one-sided revelation through grace or scripture towards spiritual knowing as a co-creation between person and spirit; away from individual personal salvation towards collaborative transformative action for the flourishing of human and planetary life; and a turn away from knowing that spirit as wholly transcendent to a knowledge of spirit as immanent in embodied life, transcendent in the more-than-human world, and simultaneously situated in a co-created presence between immanent and transcendent.

We started making this turn more than 300 years ago, but I don’t think we are there yet. I am not sure that John Heron has fully realised the peaceable kingdom either. This book places a welcome and challenging emphasis on co-operative inquiry to realise participatory spirituality. He calls for a holistic praxis, overcoming the dualities grounded in the enlightenment and modernism, but maybe he, and we, are still caught in a cultural and psychological split between the inner sacred realm and an outer realm of practical action. Perhaps we face a challenge to overcome this duality, bringing our ethical action for peace, social justice and earthcare and participatory spirituality into a single domain.

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