Year-end letter from Michael Lerner

greetings friends —

so good to be with you.

it’s an honor to have this time together.

i want to take my brief minutes to say a few things.

first, how grateful i am to be with you after a life-saving surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm four months ago.

the surgery and the recovery have been a life-changing experience.

i have learned so much from a close encounter with mortality, as so many of us have.

second, i am so grateful for commonweal community, for oren and arlene and vanessa and rahmin and all the board, staff, and friends.

third,  i am grateful that our country has returned to some modest measure of sanity. we all have so much work to do to get this right. we can’t sit back and relax.


i’ve thought a lot about the time we are living through.

it has been so very hard for so many people in our community and around the world.

so much suffering, much of it almost unimaginable.


at the same time, we know that unmerited suffering has a profound capacity

to bring out the best in us — to bring us toward the light.

that is true of individuals, of communities, of nations, and even of civilizations.  it is by no means always true.  things can go badly.  but it is possible and we can work toward it.


one of the things we know about suffering is that we heal from suffering best in community. that has been true for 34 years in the cancer help program and it is equally true in anna o’malley’s healing work in the commonweal garden, in our healing circles work with diana lindsay and oren, and many others as they move at the pace of guidance around the world.


the fourth thing i want to talk about is resilience. the simple truth is that covid and all its ramifications are not the only things we face.

the truth is we face a whole web of interacting global stressors — climate change, the refugee crisis, the technology revolution that threatens jobs and freedom, the rise of authoritarian governments around the world, the ever-greater concentration of wealth, and the radical disjunction between our economic system and the natural world.

we count about two dozen of these global stressors — social, environmental, technological, and economic-financial.

these stressors are interacting with ever greater unpredictability and force. so the future shocks are likely to keep getting stronger and more frequent.

this is the world we are living in. this is the truth and we know it. so the true question is: how we can live lives of kindness and compassion, consciousness and wisdom, and joy and service in such dark times?


MLK said: the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice. we can work to make that true. it isn’t a promise but it is a possibility.

it’s also said:  let no good crisis go to waste. the global polycrisis we face is the mother of all good crises. if we are committed to not putting it to waste, we really need to proceed with clarity, courage, and deep compassion as we seek skillful ways to serve.


to speak of the global polycrisis can make us feel paralyzed by the enormity of the challenge.

but the truth is that the real work is at the personal and community level.

the real solutions are emerging among people like us and communities like ours around the world. it’s up to us. no one is coming to rescue us. no government, no corporation, no NGO.


the real question for each of us in these holy days that are upon us, this turning of the light,

is what each of us can do in this coming year to discover better ways to live lives of service and of self-remembrance — no matter what challenges we face.

how can we help ourselves, our families, our friends, our coworkers, and our communities discover what we have in common that brings out the best in us?

so that when our time comes to lay our burden down, we will be able to give thanks for having lived lives of purpose and service, of love and peace and joy.


james taylor, in his beautiful song “shed a little” light, sings,

Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women, living on the earth
Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
With a desire to see the world become
A place in which our children can grow free and strong
We are bound together by the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead, we are bound and we are bound


george fox, the founder of the society of friends, when he climbed pendle hill in lancashire and had his vision, saw that “there is that of god in every person.” to speak less theologically, we could say there is that of the light in every person.

my favorite lines from the hebrew bible is the micah mandate: “what does the lord require of you? to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”


we are each given three things in all great traditions:

the love in our hearts

the wisdom in our minds

and the capacity to live lives of service by the work of our hands.

heart, head, and hands. you find that triad in all traditions.

because it is designed into us.


what i love about the quakers, the society of friends, is that they have never been many —

some 210,000 — half in africa —

yet they — this tiny minority of people on this earth — have been in the forefront of every movement for peace,

for justice, for ending slavery, for prison reform, and for the environment.

they’ve been like yeast for peace, the environment, and justice. a little dab’ll do ya.

they believe it is not enough to witness in our hearts and minds. we must also show our true faith by the work of our hands.


how do quakers worship? they gather in circles. they sit in silence. they speak their truth into the middle of the circle. and they listen, patiently and generously, with astonishment at how many ways the light can manifest in different people.


how do they live? they live kindly. consciously. they live lives of service.

they live frugally.

they speak truth to power.

they live by the power of nonviolence.

the way of tolstyoy, gandhi, martin luther king, and many others in all traditions.


so sometimes i wonder. i just wonder. if whether what we have been creating at commonweal over these past 44 years is simply another nonprofit organization. or whether it might prove to be a community that is destined to transcend any single organization. whether it may not become something like the society of friends — but reimagined freshly for our time. [not that the society of friends needs reimagining — it is a community of great beauty. but imagining something for those not drawn to the quaker tradition.]


i wonder what that would look like.

might its cosmology be something like thomas berry’s story of the universe, which our friend mary evelyn tucker has worked so hard to continue to make available? that would be a science-based cosmology of awe and wonder that all people could agree was beautiful and true.

might its concept of the numinous be constructed so that it could speak to secular and scientific and spiritual people alike of all faiths and beliefs?

might its moral code affirm the radical equality of people of all genders and colors and beliefs? might it simply affirm kindness, consciousness, and service as the values of the heart, the mind, and the work of the hands?

might it have what the catholics call an “option for the poor” – a fundamental commitment to justice?


and — separately from these four precepts —
might it not be a substitute for the religions of the faithful but a way of life that could merge with any sincere way of life?


i just name these four precepts as examples of what might bind a community of friends together.

*  the story of the universe as a cosmology of awe

*  a belief in the light in every person

*  a moral code that affirms kindness, consciousness, service, and the radical equality of all people

*  an option for the poor and an everlasting commitment to justice


a story. a belief. a code. and a commitment to justice.

perhaps those four things.


held in a way that did not ask people to choose between their other paths and this path —

but as a way of understanding what at least some of us — perhaps only a few, like the quakers — have decided that we hold in common.


i deeply believe that we can find within ourselves the light that overcomes all darkness.


as hafiz says, “fear is the cheapest room in the house.

i would see you living in better accommodations.”


i think of this time of the solstice, of the return of the light, as a time

to recognize the cosmological affirmation that the light returns again and again.


i will end with this paraphrase from oscar ichazo, the bolivian mystic

who discovered the enneagram of personality,

about the nature of true Reality.

one could say ichazo builds on thomas berry’s story of the universe

and gives it an element of deep Mystery.


we best understand true Realty when we become aware–

that the cosmos objectively exists —

that it is moving with direction and according to fixed natural laws–

that these laws are not cold since they create life, but are based in love —

that this is true whether we understand it or not —

that we experience this Reality most fully when we experience each moment fresh —

that this Reality flows with a certain force–

and that the easiest way to deal with this force is to move with it.

in other words — my further paraphrase —

the cosmos is the ultimate reality

it unfolds according to immutable laws

those laws are based in love–

this Reality flows with a certain force

whether we acknowledge it or not —

and the best way to deal with this force is to move with it.


this is what i personally have come to believe —

that we,  the commonweal community,  are more than an organization.

that we are a community of friends.

that we share certain core beliefs and values that i have tried to hint at.

and that we have many decades of spirit and service work ahead of us.

at least that is my hope.

i won’t live to see all of that.

but i can hope for it, work for it, and pray for it.

and so can each of you.

as always, your greater wisdom is welcome.

how do you see the path to the light before us?

love and prayers,