nature open field sunbeamsMary and Fr. Martinez’s never spoke about her vision, but as she left the mountain he mysteriously advised her to search for a priest to guide her. Eventually she found one in Albuquerque. Under his guidance she and Frank came to understand the phenomenon of spiritual awakening and got their relationship back on track.

Not all spiritual awakenings take religious form or point to a defined god. For many it’s a non-theistic experience of unconditional love, beauty and oneness. Regardless of how one interprets an awakening, the experience of love and oneness is the link between spiritual awareness and social justice.

Awakening and Social Justice

Fr. Martinez died of tuberculosis in 1996, around the time Frank suffered his first heart attack. He could no longer travel but Mary, animated by her experience on the mountain, felt compelled to do more. When she decided to move to Fr. Martinez’s birthplace, Frank gave his blessing. A month after her retirement, Mary set off for Rancho La Colorada in the State of Guanajuato.

Nothing she had experienced so far prepared her for the poverty she found there: no water, staggering mother and infant mortality rates and no education services beyond elementary school. She tried to teach hygiene but cleanliness is not a priority for people who have to dig in the dirt with their hands to find food. So Mary researched water sources. She found a water table they could tap into if only they had submersible pumps.

Back in Albuquerque, Frank raised the money for the pumps and by the following summer eighty-two families were able to feed themselves on crops they grew themselves. Mary turned her attention to education issues while Frank teamed up with St. Anthony’s Alliance, a group of doctors who provided medical supplies to the village.

By 2009, the little Mexican hamlet had a thriving farming sector, health and education services, and a sewing cooperative. But Frank’s health had deteriorated badly. Mary returned to Albuquerque and in 2010 she lost the man who had loved her enough to support her calling, even if that meant living apart.

When asked about her accomplishments, Mary says, “I didn’t do anything… Everything I do is through God’s guidance. He led me to the resources I needed.” For those whose spiritual awakening does not include a concept of god this guidance is often experienced as a succession of synchronicities. Life seems to point the way and provide the resources.

field of flowersMary belongs to a long lineage of mystically inspired activists. The Catholic Worker Community was founded by radicals Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Day often described herself as “haunted by God.” She devoted her life to activism because: “We are one flesh in the Mystical Body…”

Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man says the mystical experience “…is immediately translated into action, sometimes even into political action.” and the history of Mary’s chosen religion, Catholicism, is packed with mystic activists. The ancient Irish saint, Brigid of Kildare, experienced the mystical from an early age and, like Day, became an activist. She founded a monastery and a hospital, provided food for the hungry and education for craftsmen. The lineage continued throughout the middle ages in both Christianity and Islam with John of the Cross, Rumi, Haifiz and others who founded or inspired communities. It lives on through Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu--all motivated by their spiritual experiences. “God's dream,” Tutu said, “is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness.”

Most spiritually inspired community activists don’t become famous. CNN and Oprah never come calling. A few like Mary, a former journalist, have the skills to tell their own story in a memoir. Hopefully her story will stand as a monument to all those unknown people who labor anonymously, quietly transforming their part of the world.