Sally Mahé is a founding staff member and Senior Consultant for United Religions Initiative
(URI), a global grassroots interfaith network dedicated to
promoting enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, ending religiously motivated violence, and creating cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.
The United Religions Initiative is made up of grassroots groups of people all over the world who jointly engage in community actions such as conflict resolution and reconciliation, environmental sustainability, education, women’s and youth programs, and advocacy for human rights. Through Cooperation Circles – self-organizing grassroots groups that consist of at least seven members from at least three religions, indigenous traditions, or spiritual expressions (including atheists and agnostics) – participants learn to work together and aim to transform religious tension into positive change, address urgent human and environmental needs, tackle poverty, social conflict, and disease, and build cultures of peace, justice and healing.
Sally Mahé came to this work of nurturing spiritual ties from a background and interest in social justice and democracy building. Born in Atlanta, Georgia at a federal penitentiary where her father was a prison doctor, she moved with her family at age two to Clayton, Missouri, a leafy suburb of St. Louis. In high school and college in the late 60s, Mahé spent much of her free time exploring other realities downtown and she worked summers in the housing projects where she witnessed first-hand the dangers and challenges of living in the projects.
After college, Mahé taught in an inner-city public school in St. Louis, where she and her friend were tasked with teaching civics to 8th graders. Uninspired by the material, the kids were encouraged by Mahé to create a project themselves from which they might benefit. The result was that her students came alive; she could see that each one had a spark. . . a unique song to offer.
This was the start of a passion for teaching civics and democracy that prompted Mahé to obtain a master’s degree in Education with a focus on law from Harvard and to publish a series of five books that detailed a law-related education curriculum for teachers called “Law in Action” (West Publishing 1975, 1980).
A few years later Sally came to the realization that the spark inside her students – and in all of us – had something to do with the Divine, and that she should use her teaching skills to convey this. She and her husband had moved to New York City where she was helping her husband run an elementary school and raising two girls of her own. So she obtained a master's degree in theology and spiritual counseling at General Episcopal Seminary in New York. While she was qualified to become a spiritual director, she was drawn to a bigger vision that went beyond individual counseling. “Generally, as I contemplated being ordained a priest during those years, my conviction to listen to people rather than preach from a pulpit grew stronger. For the next ten years, I experimented with this new area of learning and initiated creative programs in spirituality,” she wrote
Along the way, while reading speeches of Vaclav Havel, she came across the term "spiritual democracy" and felt a bolt of lightning run through her. She started searching for all uses of that term and found a deep affinity for the concept. She read about the Iroquois Confederacy and learned about the Great Law expressed in this native constitution that brought hundreds of years of peace to the native Americans in northeastern America.
Mahé's passions for democracy and spirituality – and for nurturing the “deeper values of democracy” – came together in her decades of work for the United Religions Initiative. "The seeds planted during the years teaching democracy, the seeds nurtured in the years deepening spiritual knowledge, and the seeds cultivated in the daily challenges of building an organization are springing to life" via URI, she recalled. Currently, she writes a weekly blog for URI called Every Voice
that offers the words of people all over the world whose voices provide heart history and wise guidance for the URI.
As an international network which consists presently of more than 965 grassroots interfaith groups (cooperation circles) in 108 countries, URI unites people of diverse faiths into a dynamic web of relationships
for building peace. URI is a horizontal, shared-leadership organization
that engages grassroots communities in a global movement toward collaboration, cooperation, and peace, where people work together for common good to benefit all parts of the world regardless of religion.
Mahé is co-author of The Birth of a Global Community: Appreciative Inquiry in Action
(2003), A Greater Democracy Day by Day
(2004), and the Law in Action series. She holds an M.Ed. from Harvard and a MA in Theology from General Episcopal Seminary.
Join us in conversation with this committed builder of spiritual and global citizenship!
Five Questions with Sally MahÃ©
What Makes You Come Alive?
Coming across remarkable and courageous virtue and creative leadership in people makes me come alive. Long ago, teaching civics in junior high school, an insight dawned in me: civics at its core was not about teaching facts of government, etc.; it was about recognizing the light and potential for creative contribution in each child. My career shifted. I began to explore spirituality and later organizational development. I continue to beam and get excited when I see and engage Divine light in people. Working with the United Religions Initiative, a global grassroots interfaith organization, has given me years of joy as I participate with people from all over the world who step forward to build peace and create a better world.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
In 1994 I was invited to visit an alternative grade school way on the outskirts of Moscow. The teachers wanted to know about "democracy." They asked: "Could it be taught in kindergarten? What does it have to do with creativity? Is it more than a system of governance?" A thrill went through me in the course of that conversation that I can still feel. I didn't know how, but I knew that my destiny had to do with exploring the spiritual qualities of democracy.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
Just before the first planning summit that would lead to the founding of the United Religions Initiative (my work for the past 23 years!) I was invited by a lead organizer to take a "seat at the conference table." To that point I had volunteered as a member of the San Francisco Host Team and was anticipating giving out name-tags, etc. Being seen to have value and invited to participate as a member at this high level meeting, may have been more than an act of kindness, but at that time it felt to me, like a huge act of kindness that changed my life.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
I love the beauty in people and in the world and have so many things I want to do! At the top of the list is to immerse for a time in southern Spain with my family - my daughter, her husband and my three grandsons who are Muslim. I want us to learn about and enjoy the rich Islamic history and the contributions of the era of "convivencia" - when Jewish, Islamic and Christian cultures intermingled in positive ways.
One-line Message for the World?
Take heart, the human race is divine! Pythagoras