Courage, Joy, Generosity: Lessons from Sr. Dot & Navalny

Yesterday we meditated on the sacrifice that Sister Dot and Alexei Navalny paid in their commitment to supporting peasant farmers and defending the Amazon Forest on the one hand, and on struggling for democracy in Russia on the other.

Dasha Navalnaya, daughter of Alexey Navalny, shares the story of her father’s poisoning, persecution, imprisonment, and ongoing message. TED, October 2023.

It is not enough just to honor the story of people like Sr. Dot and Alexei Navalny—and many others—who gave their lives out of love.  

In many ways their and others’ stories are not about them but about us, about how future generations can learn what counts. 

And how to combat evil with good.  And that evil exists and is very powerful and very present.  And that fear ought not have the last word.  Nor denial. 

Three lessons especially leap out to me:  Courage, Joy and Generosity.  We are all capable of growing in all three directions.  

Alexei Navalny with his wife Yulia at a Moscow rally, 2013. Yulia Navalnaya has vowed to carry on her husband’s work. Wikimedia Commons.

Courage is from two French words, a large heart.  A heart that grows larger than fear.  Meister Eckhart says, “God is delighted to watch our souls enlarge.” 

How do we enlarge the heart?  Aquinas says “joy expands the heart” while fear shrinks it.  And “joy is the humans’ noblest act.” 

In yesterday’s video I talked about how both Sister Dorothy and Alexei Navalny had space for joy in their hearts even when circumstances around them were dire.  

Indeed, in the last video we have of Navalny, taken the day before he died and in the notorious prison near the north pole, he was joking, smiling and even laughing with the judge in the courtroom.

All who knew Sister Dot know how much she loved a good party as well as circle dancing, doodling in her books, laughing with the children she helped build schools for.

One of Sister Dorothy’s playful drawings in her book Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen, authored by ICCS student Gabrielle Uhlein. Used with permission.

Joy, courage and generosity are integral to what holiness means.  They give testimony to the inner work of letting go that allows spirit to flood in.  

It is the work of the via negativa that precedes the via creativa.  

Eckhart offers a brilliant sermon on how the Spirit is like a rushing river that fills an empty soul and gives birth there.   

To be continued.

See Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, pp. 66-75.

And Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp 211, 239, 307, 451.

And Fox, “Sermon 26: The Holy Spirit, Like a Rapid River, Divinizes Us,” in Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 363-379.

Banner Image: An alcohol-ink painting by DM reader Jeanette Metler in honor of Dorothy Stang: “If you look at the middle of the earthy foreground section of the image you should see the woman reclined with her head resting on her outstretched arm, with a tear falling from her eye.” Published with permission.

Queries for Contemplation

How do you learn about Joy and Courage from the stories and persons of Sister Dorothy and Alexei Navalny?

Recommended Reading

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.”  — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.  

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5 thoughts on “Courage, Joy, Generosity: Lessons from Sr. Dot & Navalny”

  1. Avatar

    When we act out of joy, our innate fabric, we protect it, honour it and leave all bitterness aside.

    Courage in the face of death in certain situations, when physical death can be avoided, is in the eyes, mind and heart of the beholder. This is experiential and most have not encountered this on their life journeys to-date. The subconscious mind and actions over time builds each of us up to a conscious ‘game-time’ decision. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    I appreciate the link being made between that of fear and love. I believe that fear is the obstacle to overcome, in order for this living essence of love to flow more freely from within.

    Unfortunately religion itself has played a large part of instilling this fear, through the teachings of original sin and the projection of God as a punishing creator; which has deeply wounded humanity for centuries. In addition to this was the political heirarchal systems, which misused and abused their power and authority, invoking and instilling an even greater measure of fear.

    I find myself asking, what is this LOVE that made people like Dorothy, Navalny, MLK, Ghandi, Jesus and many others like them, so fearless? What personal experience of this LOVE did they encounter, that made them surrender so completely to TRUSTING in this LOVE, even unto death? Was it merely faith and hope the size of a mustard seed, that created such an unshakable belief in the transforming power of LOVE?

    I have to admit to myself, that I don’t live my life with that kind of fearlessness, faith, hope and trust in LOVE, although I do keep trying to enlarge my heart, opening myself up to faxe my gears as well as to the experience of the many ways that I am BEING LOVED TO LOVE, through all my relationships with… with Great Spirit/God and the creation of the all and the everything, others and self.

  3. Avatar

    I am inspired by the Faith, joy, and courage of our contemporary martyrs, Sister Dorothy and Alexei Navalny, and many other courageous martyrs in human history who have fought for Peace and Justice to alleviate suffering, violence, and injustices, to continue trying to make this a better more just world for All our sisters and brothers. It has been a continual struggle in human history up to the present day, and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. This is why our Faith and growth in our hearts/Souls, daily lives, compassionate actions with others, including our Beautiful Sacred Mother Earth, — in our own unique way no matter how small or big — of God’s Spirit of Divine Love/Will will always be important and PRESENT on our personal spiritual journeys and evolution together as Sacred Humanity to help bring about Our SOURCE~CO-CREATOR’S QUEENDOM~KINGDOM on Earth as it is in HEAVEN….

  4. Avatar

    I am struck by the peace in Jeanette’s painting, and the beauty, and I really appreciate the rawness, like the quiet dawn of a blood-filled battlefield.

    Your meditation this morning reminded me of your discussions of the Sun Dance. The expanding heart, pierced and one with the Sun, the warrior’s dance as prayer for the growth of creation, the tribe, and the blessings experienced by all, the courage, joy, generosity.

    I imagine as the dancer dances, and spirals or spins around the tree… all the dancer’s people who witness or watch, they are each taking a portion of the wound, astrally. So all rise together. That’s the way I keep envisioning it. One Sun, One Heart, despite the different dancers and all the various tribes. One Sun, One Heart. Our individual hearts can expand as fiercely and limitlessly as the One Sun, One Heart. It really shows what a marvel Humanity on Earth is.

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