Thoughts, prayers and protests: reflections on “spirited” action

by Bob Worcester

“Thoughts and prayers” are a common response to tragedies like hurricanes and school shootings.

For some it is merely perfunctory, for some it is genuinely heartfelt, and for others it seems to be a pale substitute for substantive action to address the problems at hand. Environmentalists who identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious” often accept the public prayers of native elders and well-meaning words from mainstream clergy but are probably more comfortable with the “action” of chanting, singing and marching in support or opposition to the causes of the day. More militant agnostics and atheists may accept these public performances as a nod to “diversity” but may also see them as merely a meaningless vestige of our pre-modern history.

Our noted Elder, Sallie McFague, has written extensively on the relationship between beliefs and action as expressions of personal, social and ecological identity and has encouraged us to think more deeply about them. Such beliefs are both the basis of conflicts and controversies, but they also bring together large communities with shared values. Beliefs both unite and divide us as do the actions flowing from those beliefs.

Priuses and Pickup Trucks advanced the idea that political persuasions reflect worldviews that can be categorized as red, blue or green according to a system developed by Ken Wilber, a “scientific” Buddhist with a good knowledge of history and human psychology. To greatly oversimplify his system, RED is a primal, instinctive orientation – “blood and soil.” BLUE is a more inclusive, rational orientation – “the marketplace of ideas.” GREEN is a deeper more holistic integration of both red and blue, – “multi-perspectival.” Wilber’s best point is to show that each perspective has both strengths and weaknesses but also each contains an underlying “arc of growth” that tends to move from less to more complexity, integration and depth.

I would like to suggest that these colour categories also apply to spiritual/religious beliefs as well as to political ideologies. There will be red, blue and green threads to most spiritual traditions including those currently popular non-religious agnostic and atheistic orientations.

RED is grounded in myth and folk traditions and is oriented toward defending and preserving the past – faithfulness and fidelity to rules and customs are its primary considerations.

BLUE is more of a cross-cultural, rational “modern” perspective where autonomy and authenticity are primary considerations.

GREEN is a more global, intuitive, integrated orientation where interdependence and transcendence are primary considerations.

The ”shadow” of RED is its exclusivity and blind loyalties. The shadow of BLUE is its reductive “objectivity” and rational detachment. The shadow of GREEN is its lack of clarity and firm boundaries which brings paralysis from paradox and moral dilemmas. When these “primary” colours are mixed together an entire spiritual spectrum emerges like a tapestry.

Whether indigenous, axial or esoteric, all religions and “spiritualities” can be viewed through these lenses to illuminate the many issues at hand. Indigenous practices call to land and culture with powerful stories from the past. Mainstream churches, synagogues and mosques call for hospitality, charity and social justice couched in wondrous music and pageantry. Eastern mystic traditions call for a higher consciousness and deeper insight into the recurring cycles of past, present and future – a still point in a turning world. Together ALL contribute to a call for “mindful” action in the interests of “all our relations.”

Respect for the palette of beliefs moves us closer to a clearer view of where we need to go and what will serve us well on that convoluted path. Belief without action is sterile – action without thought is blind. Wilber believes that hidden in the various systems of religious and spiritual wisdom are four simple imperatives: wake up! grow up! clean up (shadows)! and show up! If our “beliefs” prepare us with clarity of purpose and generosity of spirit then it is time for a 5th imperative – action!




  1. Thanks to your colourful writing, Bob, I am starting to appreciate the Red/Blue/Green trichotomy on several levels. As I let your guiding explanation sink in, I can only say that I sense a deeper meaning is below the surface which I am hoping to uncover with deeper thought. . . and prayer. Meanwhile I embrace the wisdom of mindful action based on beliefs. As a “spiritual” person, that is how it has always been for me.

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