1. You described yourself as an ex-nun queer activist mystic. Can you share a little bit more about each piece of those identities and how they all interact with each other.
I entered convent because a nun saved my life when I was contemplating suicide over being gay in 6th grade. I was dismissed after 2 years because I was gay. I became an activist after confronting such much homophobia in my life—first became gay activist, then feminist, then anti-nuke then overall social justice advocate. Made peace pilgrimage around the world 1984-5 and encountered major world religions which led me to contemplative spirituality and eventually to mysticism (No where to go. Nothing to seek)
2. Can you please elaborate on your work as an activist mystic? What does that mean that you are a mystic and how have you incorporated that into work as an activist?
Spiritual practice of daily meditation (30-45 minutes a day) grounds me in the ways I’m connected to Earth, animals, people. What I do for others, I do for myself. There is no illusion of separateness. I am part and parcel of the whole. If it’s not good for the Blacks, the Jews, the poor, the immigrants and refugees , it’s not good for me. As Nigerian chief said, ‘if you don’t share your wealth with us, we’ll share our poverty with you.”
Every thing I do is prayer in action: poetry, teaching, protesting in streets, writing books.
3. Tell us about your spiritual memoir. What is that about and why did you write it?
Covers trajectory of Catholic lesbian through terrible rejection, homophobia to her finding her own voice and becoming a force for good and cultural creator. Writing it to show that one need not believe in a GOD in order to have rich spiritual life. Redefining mystic, prophet, spirituality for these times.
4 . Can you talk about the LivingKindness Foundation. What is that and what sort of work do you do?
I went to Nigeria to lead weekend retreat for Dominican nuns and while there visited a village where kids had small schoolhouse but no teachers. It broke my heart. They waited all day every day for a teacher who never came. One of the Dominicans and I collaborated on a fix for that: get land from tribal chief, ask villagers if they’d like to build an educational center with an apartment on both ends, then I’d write grants and get solar power and computers. We did it all in three years, then I turned my attention to US social problems and identified racism as the one to get my time and attention. Livingkindness provides scholarships to Black women who are using creative means to restoring racial awareness and harmony.
5. How do you feel close to God and connect with God now? Is that different than when you were a nun?
Quite different. Think of God as verb now—not a being, but a becoming—as the entire cosmos unfolding, expanding—so that makes me a part of the whole divine experiment—I might be a cell in the right brain of God..in convent, God always thought of as external, floating on cloud, intervening in human events. Not my God anymore. “We’ve got the whole world in our hands.”
6. Do you have any advice for people who feel a calling to serve God or be in a community of people who serve God, but do not feel comfortable with organized religion?
Lots of opportunities for spiritual community—home church is a big thing now- non denominational churches like Unity and Center for Spiritual Living—great communities with social outreach and lots to offer for members. And each of us can always call a circle anytime and create what we need in real time.
7. Anything else?
Thanks for your good work!
For more information about Jan please visit her website at https://janphillips.com