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Civil Rights Contemplative

Contemplative Activists

Civil Rights Contemplative
Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977) is remembered for her strength and courage in the face of an oppressive system. During the Civil Rights Movement, she inspired others to reclaim their God-given dignity and demand full citizenship in the United States. CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes writes:

[Fannie Lou Hamer is] a contemplative exemplar because of her spiritual focus and resolve. Her practices spoke to the depth of her contemplative spirit. In the face of catastrophic suffering, Hamer worked, loved, sang, and resisted the powers that be. She was jailed, beaten, and hunted by the enforcers of the social order after registering to vote. The treatment was so brutal that [civil rights leader] Andrew Young was sent to get her out of jail. Yet, she was kind to jailers who had been beating her for a week. . . .

Hamer was centered; she drew power from the example of her parents in their struggle to transcend the impossible situation of their lives. She faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson. This designation of non-personhood did not deter her, for her contemplative entry into a deeper “knowing” came through her commitment to nonviolence. Adherence to the spiritual disciplines of civil rights activism required that she love the crucifier, bless the torturer, embrace the jailer, and pray for his or her salvation. . . .

According to her friend Virginia Gray Adams, “her back hurt and her spirit waged war without proper food or medicine. So when the movement came, there was rest”—not the rest that pervades the lives of most contemplatives [or what many imagine of monks and mystics], but rest nonetheless. Rest as you tell Congress to let your people go. Rest as you testify and lead a delegation off the floor of the Democratic Convention. Rest comes as rest comes—sometimes in the great feather beds of the wealthy and sometimes just a step away from hard labor. When it comes, it is balm to the spirit and solace to the soul. This is a rest that wafts from a wellspring of intentional justice seeking as spiritual practice. These practices allow one to live in and out of the body and to inhabit hope as an ethereal but more permanent enfleshment. Fannie Lou Hamer was cloistered in an activist movement, finding her focus, restoration, and life in God in the midst of the beloved community already here and yet coming. . . .

Once upon a time there was a contemplative mother, a brave and wise woman of few words who entered the Civil Rights Movement as a [novice] enters a convent—not for retreat but for the restorative love of the community and the space to fight for justice.

Reference:
Adapted from Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 125‒126, 127, 128.

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes

Social Renewal as Spiritual Practice

Wisdom in Times of Crisis

Social Renewal as Spiritual Practice
Friday, July 10, 2020

CAC Faculty member Dr. Barbara Holmes points us to the interwoven nature of love— love of God, of self, and of neighbor. We cannot keep the Great Commandment without fully engaging in all three. In her wisdom, she sees this time of crisis as an opportunity for a great re-imagining of our society and how it might function for the good of all. Barbara says:

The practice I’m focusing on is self-love and love of neighbor. We tend not to be very good at either one, but during this time of isolation, we have equal opportunities to rest and to heal, to love and be loved. . . .

For me a spiritual practice that matters includes social renewal. Instead of blaming others about the state of our union, instead of blaming one political party or another, we actually can reflect on our own complicity and support of systems that abandoned the poor, warehoused our children in failing schools, and failed to provide adequate health care, even under normal circumstances. As a spiritual practice, we can wake up to the possibility of building a new order. We can improvise those possibilities; try them out in the creative microcosm of a shared public life, realizing that our way of life before the pandemic was not perfect. It could be improved so that all members of the society thrive. We’ve received reports that COVID-19 is disproportionally impacting communities of color. There are many reasons for this outcome, including the fact that people of color often have chronic health problems that make them particularly vulnerable to the disease as a result of poverty, poor or nonexistent health care, and economic disparities.

We should reconsider the contours of our national social contract. Our social and economic systems work on a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers. It didn’t have to be that way. We have the opportunity to restructure society, so it works as well for the have-nots and the almost-haves as well as it does for the wealthy. Do we really want a society organized to support the rich with the toiling of an underclass of marginalized laborers? Do we believe that it is every man, every woman for themselves, or do we want a society safety net for those who have fewer options and fewer resources?

From an article I wrote titled “Still on the Journey,” I believe that as a spiritual practice we can imagine and create “a political system responsive to the people and respectful of global neighbors, a health system that is comprehensive in scope and not profit driven, an educational system shaped by innovation, improvisation, technology, and practicality.” [1] The pandemic [and widespread demonstrations for Black Lives] have lifted the veil from our eyes.

Can we be honest now about what is not working? Can we re-envision new options? I believe that we can, if we want to.

References:
[1] Barbara A. Holmes, “Still on the Journey: Moral Witness, Imagination, and Improvisation in Public Life,” Ethics That Matters: African, Caribbean, and African American Sources, eds. Marcia Y. Riggs and James Samuel Logan (Fortress Press: 2012), 238.

From Barbara A. Holmes, “Love of Neighbor and the Practice of Social Renewal,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (May 4, 2020), YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4qfQckPJWE&list=PLiBbqGAOPnXMeKh7QaqCf9HU5ShaAEzeH&index=10.

Image credit: Cueva de las Manos (detail), Cañadón del Río, Santa Cruz, Argentina. Photograph copyright ©️ 2012 Pablo Gimenez.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As a spiritual practice we can wake up to the possibility of building a new order. We can improvise those possibilities; try them out in the creative microcosm of a shared public life, realizing that our way of life before the pandemic was not perfect. —Barbara Holmes

Awakening in the Cosmos

Cosmology and Nature

Awakening in the Cosmos
Wednesday, June 24, 2020

My friend and fellow CAC teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes has the ability to bear witness to the expansiveness of the cosmos, the major systemic shifts taking place in society, and the small and sacred moments of daily life—all at the same time. Her writing is a poetic and prophetic call for us to wake up and pay attention to everything that is happening around us.

It is time to awaken to self, society, and the cosmos, for none of us has the luxury of sleepwalking through impending cultural and scientific revolutions. In the last sermon that he preached before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. urged us to “remain awake through a great revolution.” [1] . . .

Up above our heads, there are worlds unknown and a canopy of grace, light, air, and water that supports our survival. Without realizing it, we expend massive amounts of energy to block out the vastness of our universe. This is to be expected, for, in its totality, this information can be more than human systems can take. However, by riveting our attention on the mundane, we filter out the wonder that is available with each breath.

Although we have a fascination with space and the possibility of life in other realms, we steadfastly refuse to respond when the universe invites us to broaden our lines of sight. We are beckoned by blazing sunsets and the pictures returned by powerful telescopic lenses, yet, on any given day, we court a busyness that beguiles us into focusing on the limited perspectives in our immediate space.

Today, scientific information about the universe is increasing exponentially while ethnic and racial balances within the United States are shifting radically. In the scientific realm, the epistemological foundations for hierarchy, dominance, and rationality are crumbling, while proponents of gender, class, [racial,] and sexual equity have found their public voices. . . .

We are not hamsters on a wheel, waiting to fall into the cedar shavings at the bottom of the cage. We are seekers of light and life, bearers of shadows and burdens. We are struggling to journey together toward moral fulfillment. We are learning to embrace the unfathomable darkness where God dwells with enthusiasm that equals our love of light. Physics and cosmology have metaphors and languages to help us awaken to these and other possibilities. . . . We are not just citizens of one nation or another, but of the human and cosmic community.

Awareness is the moment when we rise with eyes crusted from self-induced dreams of control, domination, victimization, and self-hatred to catch a glimpse of the divine in the face of “the other.” Then God’s self-identification, “I am that I am / I will be who I will be” (Exodus 3:14) becomes a liberating example of awareness, mutuality, and self-revelation.

Barbara teaches us that “everything belongs”—from moments of personal awakening, to mind-bending discoveries with the potential to change everything. Growing in awareness of a “Christ-soaked universe” helps us to awaken to wonder and see the divine in all things.

References:
[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., Sermon at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. (March 31, 1968). See A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James M. Washington (HarperCollins: 1986), 270.

Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently, 2nd ed. (CAC Publishing: 2020), 42, 43, 57.

Image Credit: Una “rete” di rami all’Arte Sella (Wood and Art in the Forest of Italy) (detail), 2008, Arte Sella, Trento, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God is the web, the energy, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship that animates everything that is. —Barbara Brown Taylor

Contemplating Anger

Contemplating Anger

ONEING Vol. 6 No. 1

We are sharing this article from a past issue of ONEING on Anger written by Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) faculty member Dr. Barbara Holmes in hopes that her words will inspire people to step across the boundaries of our comfortable certainties and embrace a communal contemplative moment of racial solidarity.

In these times of suffering and disorder, we look for a path to solidarity with those held down by the hands of dehumanizing systems of oppression. Contemplation is a profoundly transformative tool for discerning right action. As Dr. Holmes writes, “During these times of deep division and unnecessary harm to the vulnerable, the anger of decent people everywhere is appropriate. Public and peaceful expression of that anger is a first step toward creating safe boundaries.”


 

“Anger can actually be an expression of compassion, a willingness to uphold boundaries that are sacred, or stand up for someone who is being oppressed.” —Julie Peters, The Spirituality of Anger

Anger is intense. Often, there is a flash of heat and disorientation and the need to justify or retaliate. When I was a child, anger was my response to hurt feelings. When offended, I would lash out or run crying to my mom. In her arms, and with her reassurances, I could quell a heat of rage so intense that it threatened to overtake me. Anger is an emotion that consumes mind and body—but sometimes anger is necessary for survival.

I remember the anger of my baby sister, when she was only five years old and I was eight. As the eldest of my siblings, I decided that she could not play with us. I guess, from her perspective, my eight-year-old dictatorial mandates were too much to bear. She got angry, in only the way that a five-year-old can. She leaped on my back, wrapped her little legs around my waist, and bit me as hard as she could.

I was shocked by her anger and tenacity. The pain was secondary. There was not much that I could do: She would not let go, so I ran screaming through the house with my sister attached to my back, biting me. My mother tried to pry her loose but she held on tight. In retrospect, I don’t blame her. I was quite the eight-year-old tyrant. When they finally pried her loose, she was completely oblivious to my parents’ chastising or my tears. Instead, she was clapping and laughing, completely delighted with herself.

The next morning, just as I was waking up, she kissed my face. She was no longer angry, but I saw my tiny sibling in a different light and never excluded her again. This little one was not to be messed with. Her anger opened my eyes and made our relationship better. She was angry, and rightfully so. Her expression of anger was personal.

But anger is not limited to individuals. The anger expressed by marginalized communities is both personal and collective. In either context, righteous anger can be a catalyst for change.

 

A Theology of Anger

We should not be ashamed of anger. It’s a very good and a very powerful thing that motivates us. But what we need to be ashamed of is the way we abuse it. —Mahatma Gandhi

Many spiritual traditions warn us against anger. We are told that anger provides fertile ground for seeds of discontent, anxiety, and potential harm to self and others. This is true. However, when systems of injustice inflict generational abuses upon people and communities because of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and/or gender, anger as righteous indignation is appropriate, healthy, and necessary for survival.

Jesus expressed righteous indignation when he encountered the unjust systems of religious and Roman authorities, yet Christian theologies shy away from the integration of anger into their canons. How can churches continue to ignore anger and still be relevant during this era when everyone is angry about everything? People of color are angry about police brutality, white supremacy, white privilege, and economic marginalization.

However, recent polls show that white men are the angriest group in the United States. They feel marginalized although they maintain dominance in the economic and social structures of our society. They feel threatened by immigration, diversity, and their declining percentage of the population. White women are angry about sexual harassment, glass ceilings in their workplaces, and some of the above. With all of this anger permeating society, I am suggesting that we all need a way to channel and reconcile our anger with our faith.

For people of color, we need this outlet to save our lives. We are dying from stress-related diseases and health disorders, with no way to interpret our anger through the lens of faith. Accordingly, I am proposing a theology of anger for communities under siege. A theology of anger assumes that anger as a response to injustice is spiritually healthy. My intent is to highlight three ways that anger can contribute to spiritual restoration.

First, a theology of anger invites us to wake up from the hypnotic influences of unrelenting oppression so that individuals and communities can shake off the shackles of denial, resignation, and nihilism. Cornel West defines nihilism as “the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important) lovelessness.”[i] Second, a theology of anger can help us to construct healthy boundaries. Finally, the healthy expression of righteous anger can translate communal despair into compassionate action and justice-seeking. The Rev. Nelson Johnson reminds us that the dominant culture is also extremely traumatized by its own history of abuse. Many came to the west as bond and indentured servants. The question is whether or not we will recognize our wounds and the source of our anger so that we can heal ourselves and others, and awaken to our potential to embody the beloved community.

 

Staying Woke

Charlottesville was a wakeup call. When angry white men carry torches and march through town chanting Nazi slogans, it’s time to wake up. It was a shock to be reminded yet again that the only nation that I claim as a space of belonging isn’t safe for many of us. To make things worse, the forty-fifth president of the United States openly supported their racism by equating perpetrators and resistors. Perhaps we were naïve when we hoped that the election of one black president would heal our racial tensions.

In the midst of blatant communal oppression, anger wakes us up to the realization that change can only occur when we put our cell phones down and turn off our systems of entertainment. In my book Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently, I offer the following observation,

We weave gossamer webs of habit and familiarity that lull, sustain, and entangle us. But it is difficult to articulate creative solutions to intransigent problems while dazed.[ii]

For people of color, anger wakes us up from our daze and desire to “fit in,” no matter the cost. Writer Lawrence Ware discusses his own journey toward anger, a journey that ignited his love for the community. He says,

I’d spent most of my life worrying if white folks would like me . . . wanting white employers to look favorably upon me. I spoke in a way meant to make white folks see me as intelligent. My whole life was spent centering whiteness. . . . I’d bought into the lie of white supremacy, and I had unwittingly arranged my life around the white gaze.[iii]

He concludes,

Yes, I am angry about the conditions of black, brown and red people in this country. Yes, I do think that the norms of oppression and marginalization need to change. I am radical, and I am angry. I am all these things because I unapologetically love my blackness and yours.[iv]

During these times of deep division and unnecessary harm to the vulnerable, the anger of decent people everywhere is appropriate. Public and peaceful expression of that anger is a first step toward creating safe boundaries.

 

Creating Sacred Boundaries

When the human rights of people of color are violated, it is assumed that they will protest a little and forgive quickly. This grotesque ritual was evident after the murders of unarmed black teens by police and after the assassinations at Emmanuel AME Church of Charleston, South Carolina. One day after Dylann Roof killed the pastor and church members during Bible study, the families of the slain began offering forgiveness. They offered forgiveness without repentance, forgiveness without discussion of the underlying racism in this nation that fueled Roof’s anger.

While we know that forgiveness is necessary, our communities and the nation need time to recognize the horror of these events. This is a communal contemplative moment, a time to sit with our anger and consider the path that we are on. Chaplain Joshua Lazard contends that rushing past anger to reconciliation short-circuits the opportunity to have necessary conversations about cause and effect and pathways toward resolution.

Why does society expect the harmed to forgive before the slain are even laid to rest? When my sister bit me, she was the one who kissed my face the next day to restore our relationship. Even at five years old, she knew that she’d hurt me, so she initiated the first steps toward forgiveness. As actor Jesse Williams noted during the 2016 BET awards, “The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.”[v] Is it the responsibility of the terrorized to forgive quickly, without any acknowledgement of wrongdoing or any attempt to heal the wounds? A theology of anger helps us to move forward when harm is done, but does not require instantaneous forgiveness. Instead, it invites us to create sacred boundaries so that we can express our righteous indignation as the first step toward a process of healing.

If we take a theology of anger seriously, first we come together, then we grieve together, then we consider where we are and where we are going. If there is opportunity, we engage in deep considerations of cause and effect, and we listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness is a process, not a quick antidote to hatred’s slow-acting poison. Our health and wholeness require that we take off our masks of Christian piety and do the difficult work of acknowledging our anger, our vulnerability, and our pain. It is this contemplative work that moves us toward forgiveness, for when we recognize our own human frailty, we can more easily forgive the fragility and failings of others.

 

Channeling Anger for Spiritual Wholeness

This idea of having to explain why it’s racial, while standing in our own blood is silly. It’s racial because it doesn’t happen to white people. —Jesse Williams

Collective and productive anger redirects our attention to the everyday survival and healing of our own community. As Williams notes, we cannot waste our energy explaining our anger when it should be obvious to all. Sometimes the anger of black folks is resistance but, more often, it is grief. During a demonstration in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after the police shot an unarmed black man, pastor Danny Givens of Above Every Name Ministry, publicly and peacefully challenged the Governor of Minnesota. He shouted into a microphone,

Your people keep killing my people. You keep telling me that you are going to do something. I just want you to put some action on it, put some respect on our people’s names. . . . This isn’t black anger. This is black grief![vi]

Pastor Givens wanted the governor to understand that grief, anger, and black joy are hard to separate. At funerals of young people slain by the police, expressions of black joy are common. This is not “joy” in the ordinary sense of the word. This is not the embodiment of the myth of the “happy Negro” dancing mindlessly. This is the communal performance of resistance and resilience through dancing and rhythmic movement. Funeral-car doors fly open, music is thumping, and the community dances its defiance of death and the society that produces it.

We are angry, we are grieving, we are performing black joy as a sign of our determination to survive. When my parents tried to pry my sister off my back, they were, in essence, letting her know that her behavior was inappropriate. My sister refused to respond to their commands because they had not intervened when I was excluding her. She was determined and so are we. She would not let go and neither will the most vulnerable among us. All we have is our tenacity and our refusal to passively submit to aggressions that threaten our existence. Until the killing of black and brown people stops, all peaceful methods of resistance are appropriate. Right now, our anger is our truth, and our anger is a sacred part of our humanity and our faith.

ONEING: Anger features Richard Rohr, Barbara Brown Taylor, Walter Brueggemann, Joan Halifax, Barbara Holmes, Brian McLaren, Mirabai Starr, and others.

 


[i] Cornel West, Race Matters (New York: Vintage, 1994), 118.
[ii] Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently (New York: T & T Clark, 2002), 15.
[iii] Lawrence Ware, “Why I’m Comfortable Being an Angry Black Man,” The Root, November 6, 2016, https://www.theroot.com/why-im-comfortable-being-an-angry-black-man-1790857585.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Jesse Williams, as cited in Veronica Toney, “Jesse Williams gave one of the most memorable speeches in award show history,” The Washington Post, June 27, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/06/27/jesse-williams-gave-one-of-the-most-memorable-speeches-in-award-show-history-full-transcript/?utm_term=.0998340aa995.
[vi] Morgan Winsor and Julia Jacobo, “Pastor Shouts at Governor: ‘This Is Black Grief,’ After Police Shooting of Minnesota Man,” ABC News, July 7, 2016, http://abcnews.go.com/US/pastor-challenges-minnesota-gov-put-action-cop-shooting/story?id=40406186.

Public Action and Contemplation

Contemplation and Racism

Public Action and Contemplation
Friday, June 12, 2020

I was in the seminary when the Civil Rights movement transformed the political and cultural landscape of the United States. While I was more an observer than an active participant, I witnessed the courage and faith of the activists, not yet realizing that contemplation was often its source. Today Dr. Barbara Holmes describes the contemplative dimension present in the marching feet of civil rights activists.   

The civil rights marches of the 1960s were contemplative—sometimes silent, sometimes drenched with song, but always contemplative. This may mean within the context of a desperate quest for justice that while weary feet traversed well-worn streets, hearts leaped into the lap of God. While children were escorted into schools by national guardsmen, the song “Jesus Loves Me” became an anthem of faith in the face of contradictory evidence. You cannot face German shepherds and fire hoses with your own resources; there must be God and stillness at the very center of your being. . . .

Like a spiritual earthquake, the resolve of the marchers affirmed the faith of foremothers and forefathers. Each step was a reclamation of the hope unborn. Each marcher embodied the communal affirmation of already/not yet sacred spaces. . . . The sacred act of walking together toward justice was usually preceded by a pre-march meeting that began with a prayer service, where preaching, singing, and exhortation prepared the people to move toward the hope they all held. This hope was carefully explicated by the leadership as a fulfillment of God’s promises. As a consequence, the movement that spilled from the churches to the streets was a ritual enactment of a communal faith journey toward the basileia [realm] of God. . . .

The end result was that a purportedly Christian nation was forced to view its black citizens as a prototype of the suffering God, absorbing violence into their own bodies without retaliation. By contrast, stalwart defenders of the old order found themselves before God . . . with fire hoses, whips, and ropes in their hands. The crisis created by contemplative justice-seeking guaranteed the eventual end of overt practices of domination, for domination could not withstand the steady gaze of the inner eye of thousands of awakened people.

The killing of George Floyd reminds us that cries for justice and equity continue today; awakened hearts and active bodies are needed to join the cause. Holmes affirms new, creative approaches today in the Movement for Black Lives and other groups led by young people, women, and people of color. I, Richard—like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—believe that “the arc of the universe bends toward justice,” [1] but it depends upon our participation. What is your work to do today to bend the universe a little more towards justice?

References:
[1] Martin Luther King, Jr. used these words (with slight changes) in essays and speeches from early 1958 to his last Sunday morning sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on March 31, 1968.  See A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James Melvin Washington (HarperCollins: 1991), 52, 88, 207, 252, 277, 460.

Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 116–118.

Image credit: Red Azaleas Singing and Dancing Rock and Roll Music (detail), Alma Thomas, 1976, Smithsonian American Art Museum, bequest of the artist, 1980.36.2A-C, Washington, DC.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The question is whether or not we will recognize our wounds and the source of our anger so that we can heal ourselves and others, and awaken to our potential to embody the beloved community. —Barbara Holmes

The Beloved Community

Community

The Beloved Community
Friday, May 8, 2020

A contemplative person is someone who knows that they don’t know everything and trusts that they are being held by something much larger, wiser, and more loving than themselves. It is these very qualities that enable them to act on behalf of others and communities in need. CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes offers some insights as to how and why this is true, particularly in moments of crisis:

The world is the cloister of the contemplative. There is no escape. Always the quest for justice draws one deeply into the heart of God. In this sacred interiority, contemplation becomes the language of prayer and the impetus for prophetic proclamation and action.

Contemplation plugs the supplicant into the catalytic center of God’s Spirit, into the divine power that permeates every aspect of life. In this space, there are no false dichotomies, no divisions between the sacred and the secular. . . .  Through acts of contemplation, individuals and congregations enter the liminal space where the impossible becomes possible.

A community is not always an intentional gathering . . . sometimes communities form because unpredictable events and circumstances draw people into shared life intersections. . . . Communities form when ego-focused concerns recede in favor of shared agendas and a more universal identity. These relationships need only hold together briefly before transitioning into other forms; however, while they are intact, all concerned are aware of the linkages of interior resolve that are at work.

As with all great social justice movements, there came a time [in the Civil Rights Movement] when worship practices and communal resolve coalesced, and an interfaith, interdenominational, interracial community formed. The commonality for this dissenting community was the willingness to resist the power of apartheid in the Americas with their bodies.

The formation of community during the Civil Rights Movement was the quintessential coming-of-age story for Africana people. During a particular time in history, nonviolent initiatives seeded with contemplative worship practices became acts of public theology and activism. Activism and contemplation are not functional opposites. Rather, contemplation is at its heart a reflective activity that is always seeking the spiritual balance between individual piety and communal justice-seeking.

Who could have predicted that America’s apartheid would fall as decisively as the walls of Jericho, when the people marched around the bastions of power carrying little more than their faith and resolve? How audacious it is to take what is given—the remnants of a chattel community, the vague memories of mother Africa, and a desperate need to be free—and translate those wisps into a multicultural, multivalent liberative vision of community. The idea of a beloved community emerged from the deeply contemplative activities of a besieged people.

In the midst of the social distancing necessitated by this pandemic, people have nevertheless come together in creative and loving ways. Some have called this virus a massive “trigger event” with the potential to change everything. As individuals and communities, we can respond with justice and compassion, or we can double down on the pursuit of accumulation and power, with no more than a return to business as usual.

Reference:
Adapted from Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Augsburg Fortress: 2017), 111­–114, 119.

Image credit: Dressing for the Carnival (Detail), Winslow Homer, 1877, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We learn and are healed by committing ourselves to others. —Richard Rohr
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