Digging a Well in the Desert; Social Justice as Spiritual Sustenance

I moved to Southern California about two and a half years ago to begin my seminary journey, during the worst drought on record. The rich California soil was all dried up, raging waterfalls were reduced to a trickle, and massive 100-year-old trees were dying from the inside out due to lack of water and nutrients to defend against bark beetles.


Water that used to fall from the heavens to replenish the land was no longer falling. And, ironically, this was exactly how my soul felt.

I was dried up spiritually. All my memories of the ways God used to move in my life used up. That “grace like rain” that used to tangibly fall on my soul to replenish me was nowhere to be found. The landscape of my heart changed from a dense forest to a barren desert.

I searched for years, seeking to feel God like I used to, approaching new spiritual disciplines like a thirsty man approaches promised lakes and streams. Only, each lake I went to was bone dry, even the lakes that many claim are the ol’ faithfuls (i.e. reading scripture, fasting, and praying) were coming up empty. For years I stumbled around in this desert, blaming myself for wandering and blaming God for not delivering me (*wash, rinse, repeat*).

Have you ever felt this spiritually dry and unable to find sources of life?

One day, I sat down with a friend and told him about all of this, and he asked me a very simple question: “When do you feel like your soul comes alive?”

I replied something like, “I feel alive when I do acts of justice, when I march against police brutality and when I talk with my friends experiencing homelessness.”

He then asked me a life changing question, “How are those not spiritual? Why not approach acts of justice as spiritual disciplines?”

I had never thought of that before! I was wandering around this spiritual desert searching for existing bodies of water promised to me, never thinking that, perhaps, the water I needed was just below the surface.

Doing acts of justice became the well that I dug in the desert, providing the spiritual sustenance I needed each day. Perhaps this is why God commanded acts of justice in the Law (Deut 24:14-22), Prophets (Amos 5:24), and the Gospels (Matt 25). It is no coincidence that Jesus teaches his disciples in Matt 5:6 that those who do justice (another valid way of translating “the righteous”) will be filled.

Pastors, non-profit leaders, or any other Christians, do you need to dig wells of justice in the deserts of your souls so that you may be filled? Maybe feeding those experiencing homelessness in your neighborhood or fighting against oppressive immigration laws can be the very way you experience the love and presence of God, not as a way of earning God’s love, but by experiencing the love of God that has always been there just beneath the surface.

What if doing acts of justice in your neighborhood became part of your spiritual discipline, working in tandem with prayer and the reading of scripture? It has sustained me in the desert, and I pray that it sustains you as well.

Colton Curry reports on and participates in local and global Social Justice issues. He holds a B.A. in Practical Theology from Howard Payne University, and has a MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary with an emphasis in Christian Ethics. Contact: colton@togetherla.net.



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