Click here to read Winter 2021 Mendicant. This issue features:
- “Order, Disorder, Reorder: A Time of Unveiling” by Mark Longhurst
- “Order, Disorder, Reorder: Embracing Disorder” by Tisha Ford
- “Order, Disorder, Reorder—and Resolution” by Doug Murrell
Click here to read Winter 2021 Mendicant. This issue features:
Click here to read Fall 2020 Mendicant. This issue features:
Explore the transformational journey of order, disorder, and reorder with the five faculty members of the Center for Action and Contemplation — Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, Barbara Holmes, and Brian McLaren — within the context of their unique ways of teaching and their own “vocabularies, symbols, and metaphors.”
Oneing: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Fall 2020)
Click here to read Spring 2020 Mendicant. This issue features:
Explore the Mystery and Transformation of Liminal Space in the new issue of Oneing
A liminal or threshold experience can take many forms: a time of birth, a transition from life to death, or even a global pandemic that shuts down the status quo, forcing us into silence and solitude. As Richard Rohr writes in his introduction, Liminal spaces enable us “to see beyond ourselves to the broader and more inclusive world that lies before us.” By embracing liminality, we choose hope over sleepwalking, denial, or despair.
Oneing: Liminal Space (Spring 2020)
Eight days after each of our boys turned thirteen, my husband and I held a rites of passage ceremony for them. Though we are an African-American family— several generations beyond the atrocities of enslavement our ancestors suffered—when I crafted the details of these ceremonies, I did not reach back to Short Journey Plantation in rural Johnston County, North Carolina where my Nigerian/Cameroonian descendants rooted in this land, nor did I look to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina where my husband’s Ethiopian descendants were enslaved. I developed a rites of passage ceremony filled with Jewish symbolism ripped from bar mitzvahs because my colonized Pentecostal Christianity taught me to see everything African as demonic (of dark origin), and everything Jewish as chosen. So, I offered our sons what I knew, and what I believed to be true at the time, because it was important to me that we usher them into the new stage of their lives with a significant demarcation between the frolicking innocence of boyhood and the perils and responsibilities of growing into their identities as Black men in America.
Leading up to each ceremony, we invited a young Black man to serve as a mentor for our sons, ensuring they had a few hours together each week. (We wanted our sons to have other voices in their lives and a safe place to ask questions and share thoughts and feelings they might not have felt comfortable sharing with us.) This young adult, along with my husband and chosen elder statesmen in our community, was asked to participate in the rites of passage. There were readings by our son and blessings offered by the elder statesmen. At the end of the ceremony, all the men formed a line and ceremoniously passed a newly engraved leather Bible from one to another until it reached my husband, who then presented it to our son as the men huddled around him. All I knew to offer my sons was what had been passed down to me—a Christian faith rooted in Jewish customs and traditions.
As a Black person in America, the past few years have felt a lot like a passage from sleeping to awakening, from burial to rebirth. There’s been a resurgence in public readings of Black literature, a renaissance of pride as Black citizens, young and old, are discovering or rediscovering authors like James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Howard Thurman, James Cone, and others. Intelligent, witty, and wise mentors and thought leaders like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram Kendi, Andre Henry, Brittney Cooper, Christena Cleveland, and Layla Saad have emerged. There’s been a solemn and reverent sharing of information. Where we once only had a colonized version of our history to hand down—a sanitized remembering that kept our Black bodies safe and our necks unhung—there is now an avalanche of retelling that’s a lot less tidy.
What do we do with what we know now when what we’ve known before stands in stark contrast to the truths we’ve recently uncovered? How do we marvel with awe at the transcendent staring into the bowels of hell? How do we resolve the tension?
This, I believe, is the invitation of liminality. Like the solemn pause between the barren winter and spring’s first buds, the threshold offers room for recognition and acknowledgment while making space for what is not yet known. In the stark emptiness of winter, all that has been gussied up to be palatable and presentable is shown for what it is. The truth of our checkered past stares at us boldly, nakedly, unhidden. And yet, underneath the surface of this harsh, blistery reality, another truth is incubating, waiting to yield its fruit. Can we trust what’s there to offer us something we have not yet seen?
In liminal space…the place of mystery,
the unknown…we offer ourselves
what we’ve longed to have
given to us.
Our history of atrocity, lived experiences, and hope converge, rising collectively as an easily identifiable internal pain that begs for acknowledgment by someone outside of ourselves—even though our hearts know it’s not quite spring. It might feel good, after years of being shackled to scarcity, victimhood, poverty, suspicion, and inferiority, to project onto a scapegoat (holding the system complicit by association) the burden of hundreds of years of pain. We feel righteous. We long for someone else to feel what we feel or, at the very least, to validate that it’s okay for us to feel what we feel. Heavily laden with years and years of collective racial anger, misuse, and abuse, we lumber into liminality with all these feelings, these shackles of oppression.
And there, in liminal space—the space of sitting with our truths; the place of mystery, the unknown; the place where we let go of our injured expectations to be seen, to be known, to be welcomed—we offer ourselves what we’ve longed to have given to us. We acknowledge our feelings—the power and depth of each one—giving them space to roll through us, to breathe and take on life.
Instead of projecting outward or looking for resolution, we sit with them, breathe through them —allowing them to be as they are within us. We cry the tears our ancestors could not. We feel the fatigue they were not allowed to feel. We give in to the vulnerability that would have cost them their lives—not blaming, not finger-pointing, but honest truth-telling of our dehumanizing, painful history. On the threshold between what was and what will be, we unburden ourselves of our fierce, dogged determination to control the outcome of other people’s opinions of us, and there the alchemy happens.
With transformation comes power. As much as the rites of passage is about letting go of life as we once knew it, it is also about the recognition of power. What will we do with our power? What will we call forth? There at the threshold, we decide. Do I wield my power to force control, to shape the narrative and determine what will be and how it will be? Do I allow myself to be honest about humanity’s failings and the abuse of power, seeing the ways in which I too could become like that which I oppose? Can I acknowledge the monster side of my humanity: lament it, forgive it, and let it go, realizing that it may cycle around again?
In the sitting, in the feeling …in acknowledging our pain and our truth, we surrender control. We surrender ourselves to mystery, trusting that Divine Love is for us. Love is with us. We trust in the image from Julian of Norwich (1342–1416), that we are oned in love. In that oneing, we fall into the seamless sense of ourselves as one with the larger flow of humanity.
We are a people diverse and beautiful, a people of colorful hues and brilliant, intelligent minds. We are a people as radical as Stokely Carmichael and as nonviolently peaceful as Martin Luther King, Jr. We are a people distinct and unique, from the shape of our lips and the curve of our hips to the curl of our hair. We are a people of form, bound by our beginning, by our history, with varied lived experiences spread across vast and numerous terrains. There is no one opinion or voice that speaks for the totality of who we are. Isn’t that true of all people?
In liminal space, I discover a formlessness that blurs the intersection of diversity and unity. The ambitious cry of, “’til all are one!” somehow morphs in liminal space and I realize we all are already one. We are and have always been one, held together in the oneing of Love.
This does not deny the pain that our collective blindness to this truth has wrought on humanity, nor does it mitigate the complexities of the issues that our communities continue to face. But it does free us to say yes to what we already are. I am the monster and the hero. I am the slayer and the healer. This is the beauty of liminality. I stare so long that what once seemed so black and white, so certain and separate, melds together into a kaleidoscope of muted colors. There in the oneing of love, I hold the paradox of these opposites.
Is there a place for kindness amongst resistance? If anything clenched can dam its flow, can love flow freely through a posture of resistance? If “what you resist, persists,” what does it look like to move through transformation without resistance? How can I be aware, awake, vocal, fully participating in life and social justice issues from a place of love—a posture of awareness, receptivity, and openness—instead of resistance? How do I show up without being mean or condescending? Does my disagreement with particular policies, politics, and perspectives mean I lose my empathy for humankind? How can I expect change, expect to be seen, if I join in the same hate and disregard for human dignity? Are my needs being weaponized to control outcomes, pitting me against my fellow humans because of what I think is best? This is the threshold, the precipice upon which I believe we stand. This is our rites of passage. Gone are the days of imaginary innocence, sanitized by half-truths and whitewashed versions of history.
Eckhart Tolle writes, “Whatever action you take in a state of inner resistance [or hostility] will create more outer resistance and life will not be helpful. If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in.” Pain happens when suffering goes unacknowledged, which is why my husband and I felt that mentors and elder statesmen were crucial to the rites of passage. We wanted our sons to know there were men who had been where they were going, men who had similar questions and experiences, men they could trust with their questions and whose wisdom they could heed. Even more importantly, we wanted them to know men who could validate and hold their pain because of their own experience of suffering.
Apart from the metanarrative, we fail to understand that all suffer. Although suffering is inevitable in the rhythm of life, torment arises when others fail to honor the severity of our suffering and the generational trauma it has caused.
Liminality is the space where we
experience both affirmation and
denial, but remain uncertain about
how to reconcile the two.
Liminality is the space where we experience both affirmation and denial, but remain uncertain about how to reconcile the two. It is the place of mystery that we embrace or embark upon after letting go of attachments, validations, securities, illusions, prejudices, and the desire for revenge and retributive justice. Perhaps it is the simple beckoning from within that invites us to journey where we haven’t ventured before. Like myself all those years ago, wanting to give my sons an experience to mark the significance of their transition from boyhood to manhood, the only wisdom I had was what I had known up until the very moment that I knew something different. The tension can create angst and animosity, stirring up a desire to lash out and respond ruthlessly—or it can create opportunity.
In the quiet, staring into the vast unknown, I stand on the threshold, no longer attached to what was and unsure of what is to come. Solemnly I acknowledge. I feel. I breathe. I trust. I allow life to be. I choose not to seek resolution. Like the Bible that was passed from person to person at our sons’ rites of passage, I honor the moments, allowing what was, with all of its complexities, together with the truth of our oneness that has always existed. I open my hand. I open my heart. I allow them both to exist within me, to pass through me, to morph and meld. I am my past. I am my now. I am my history. I am my lived experience. This is the life I have been given. This is the ever-unfolding mystery of liminality. I am.
I am Jewish.
I also love Jesus.
This has not been uncomplicated for me.
Jews have a fascinating relationship to Jesus. By “fascinating,” I mean that we act like he never really happened. I’ve always found it odd that there could be a historical figure of such deep world significance, who emerged from our tradition—someone considered one of the finest, clearest, most affecting spiritual voices the planet has ever known—and Jews kind of plug their ears when his name is mentioned. The reasons for this are varied and complicated. Chief among them, I suspect, is the ugly history of anti-Semitism perpetrated—falsely, horrendously—in the name of Christianity. Jesus’ name came to be linked in the collective Jewish imagination with oppression, forced conversion, and genocide.
The Christian story, as I understand it, goes something like this: God incarnated as a human being two thousand years ago, taught and performed miracles, upset the powers that be, was sentenced to death by the state, was crucified, and, three days later, bodily resurrected. A belief in the exclusive divinity of Jesus is, as far as I can tell, the big ask in Christianity, the price of admission. That he died for our sins is the doorway to salvation and everlasting life.
Though my admiration for Jesus is deep and sincere, I am not a Christian, nor do I have any intention of becoming one. When it comes to Jesus, I tend to throw my lot in with the Romantic poet William Blake (1757–1827), who said Jesus Christ “is the only God. And so am I and so are you.” Heresy to some, good common sense to others.
I’ve come to think of Jesus as a friend, brother, teacher, rabbi, and prophet—an awakened man who walked among us, but a man nonetheless. Jesus was not God-in-a-body, but rather an ambassador for divine truth. Jesus for me is a stark reminder of what is possible on this earthly plane through awareness and surrender. He offers an unending invitation to awaken my consciousness and reactivate the wisdom of my heart.
Whenever I feel squirrelly about this or worry that my Hebrew Day School teachers would be utterly horrified by the preceding paragraph, I remember that this man was a Jew! He was not trying to start a new religion, but, rather, to purify his own. His critique that people were mistaking the letter of the law for the spirit of the law—missing the forest for the trees, as it were—is as true today as it was two thousand years ago. We’ve all encountered “religious” people who are outwardly pious and faithful but highly unethical and cruel behind closed doors, or people who cloak themselves in the robes of religion while pushing the most unethical and immoral of agendas. All that religious custom and practice seems to have left their hearts unaffected. Nothing enraged Jesus more than hypocrisy, the failure to admit one’s own folly and imperfection. His critique of the Pharisees—those gate-keeping, finger-wagging, detail-obsessed types who come to dominate much of organized religion—is perennial and universal, as relevant and potent as ever.
Judaism is the tradition into which I was born, the one that served to define and shape my worldview more than any other. I could never undo any of that, nor do I wish to. But my spiritual appetite is omnivorous. Theological monogamy feels antithetical to my nature somehow. If something stirs my heart, I run with it, no matter the tradition from which it emerged. From Judaism, I’ve loved and been affected by the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Jonathan Sacks, and Viktor Frankl; from Christianity, C. S. Lewis, Henry Nouwen, A. W. Tozer, Rachel Held Evans, and Richard Rohr; the Buddhists Alan Watts, Pema Chödrön, and Jack Kornfield; the Sufis Rumi, Hafiz, and al-Ghazali; and from the Hindu/Vedic tradition, Swamis Sivananda and Yogananda, Ram Dass, and Ramana Maharshi.
I’ve come to think of Jesus
as a friend, brother teacher,
rabbi, and prophet.
It would be foolish to think that the entire storehouse of theological wisdom could have been exhumed and mapped by one single tradition. There’s not a Christian alive that couldn’t gain spiritual nourishment from an encounter with the Sufi poets, no Jew who couldn’t be fundamentally altered by Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. When the borders are too defined and the walls too high, we miss out on so much wisdom, beauty, and truth.
Not to paint with too broad a brush, but it seems to me that different religions excel at different things. Buddhists—again, broadly speaking—are very good with karma, suffering, liberation, and impermanence. Jews are wonderful with text, debate, doubt, question, and education; Christians with forgiveness, mercy, and grace. Hindus are uniquely skilled at mapping the varieties of divine expression. Islam means surrender and we can assume Muslims have much to teach us about this spiritually vital principle.
None of this is to say that these things are exclusive to these religions. Surely Jewish scholars and sages have written extensively on the virtue of forgiveness, to take one example. But some traditions have taken a deeper dive into certain areas. If there’s a bright spot in our deeply connected world, it’s that all this richness is available to us. We need no longer travel to far-off lands or wait for a vagabond master to stroll into our village. A visit to a library or a simple Google search can unlock so much. It feels valuable to me, as a spiritually curious and thirsty person, to try to get at least some sense of the whole.
Carl Jung (1875–1961) said religion was designed to keep people from having spiritual experiences. He has a point. Religion is very good with what Richard Rohr would call “first half of life” concerns—moral foundations and a sense of belonging—but it has a spotty track record when it comes to transformation. A true spiritual experience is anarchic, off the beaten path, often disorienting, and asks for the deepest kinds of faith and surrender. It asks us to give up what we know, that which may have given us deep comfort and a sense of safety. I think this is what Jesus meant by his startling statement in Luke 14:26: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
I began working with the Amazonian plant medicine ayahuasca back in 2007. Tribes in the Amazonian basin have been using ayahuasca—a foul-tasting brown brew—as a tool for personal transformation, physical healing, and spiritual growth for thousands of years. When ingested, ayahuasca catapults you into some overwhelmingly odd trans-dimensional space. You might vomit, your body might contort itself in spasms, you might be forced to stare into some deeply dark corners of your psyche—or none of that could happen and you can spend hours saturated in bliss. The menu of options is quite vast and the unpredictability of what lies ahead is part of what makes the start of each ceremony slightly terrifying. Whatever the course of your particular journey, when the effects wear off—for reasons I struggle to explain—you feel vastly more connected to the earth, to nature, to other human beings, and to yourself.
I did over a hundred ayahuasca ceremonies over a ten-year period, always led by a shaman and undertaken with great seriousness of purpose. I’m not sure why I took so ferociously to it, but I suspect it was partly due to being rattled by the success of a television show I was on and the attendant newfound visibility and erosion of anonymity. Ayahuasca became my refuge, a thing that felt meaningful and true at a time when meaning and truth felt in short supply. I ran into its arms and vomited up—oftentimes quite literally—my fears, obsessions, regrets, and insecurities. And the medicine, or whatever force dwells therein, held me. I never felt unloved, punished, or rejected by it. I continue to feel that ayahuasca is, in many ways, an antidote to what ails the modern soul, a fiercely deep teacher of generosity, selflessness, and forgiveness. It offered me a glimpse of my best and bravest self.
One of the great benefits of working with ayahuasca is that it demands that you assume the role of the protagonist in the spiritual drama. No more delegating the heavy lifting to others. No more worshipful reverence of the great masters from a distance. When you ingest that medicine, you are Jesus in the desert, you are Buddha beneath the Bodhi Tree, and you are forced to make choices of deep consequence. We speak in hushed tones about these sages and prophets. We honor their journeys, but we’re rarely encouraged to go on our own. Why should we rely on the testimony of others? Nothing is truly ours until we have experienced it for ourselves.
It was through ayahuasca that my relationship with Jesus began in earnest. During a ceremony one night in 2009, I experienced a vision of myself at the crucifixion. Jesus was on the cross, near death. My heart was heavy with grief. Soon, I was in a small hut with a few people as we laid Jesus’ lifeless body out on a stone bench. My grief deepened and tears began to fall. Then, very suddenly, I was inside my chest and, in the darkness of my heart, there appeared a tiny light which began to grow and grow. I knew this light to be “Christ.” This Christic light then began growing brighter and brighter, spreading throughout my heart, slowly occupying every last nook and crevice.
The prophecy is that the compassion,
wisdom, and healing capabilities of
Jesus will one day be available
to all of us—
I recall a moment of panic as the light began to spread, horrified at the thought that I was undergoing a conversion. How was I going to tell my parents that I was now a Christian? But the next thought calmed me. This vision, I came to understand, was not about tribe or sect or religion. It was bigger and more transcendent. Christ—as Richard Rohr so beautifully maps out in his recent book, The Universal Christ—is distinct from Jesus. I saw that the “Second Coming of Christ” is not a literal, material event. Rather, it will be taking place in the realm of consciousness, in the hearts and minds of human beings. The prophecy is that the compassion, wisdom, and healing capabilities of Jesus will one day be available to all of us—or could be. What else could Jesus have meant when he said, in John 14:12, “All these works I do you shall do, and greater works than these you shall do”?
It seems that the history of Christianity has separated Jesus from us. He was God while we are mortal sinners, redeemed only through the blood of Jesus on the cross. But, as I read the above statement, I hear a man saying, “You can do this too. Let me show you how.”
Like so many others, I have some wounds around my religious upbringing. I am also supremely grateful for the order of my early life, in the strong delineation between right and wrong. I now know the world to be an infinitely complicated place, that life is fraught with paradox and mess. But the ethical foundation of my youth remains. Though I make countless missteps, I hope and pray that I can walk a path toward truth.
I don’t believe anyone has done anything for me that exempts me from my own process. But there are those who came before us that have illuminated the path and shown us how to walk. There are few finer examples of how to surrender and cultivate faith at the deepest, most intimate levels than Jesus.
Jesus—a Jew—is a lighthouse for me—a Jew—in the dark thickets of life. He urges me to let go of attachment, slough off the robes of piety, and admit my imperfection and error. He reminds me that it is my wounds and not my worthiness which are the doorway to the divine. He says: I walked this path and so can you. I am with you.
Trillium have been used traditionally as uterine stimulants.
The feel of dune grass sawing
against my bare child feet has circled
away like a hawk climbing
beyond sight, but I remember
the winters: bare branches marking
their crooked intentions against
a white sky unchanging. The deer
out back grown thin, having stripped away
all available bark. Yes, winter’s length
clings and aches the way
a long or wrong marriage may. But
spring, when it arrives, is clever. The birds
crowd back in droves to chatter
about its cunning, how it reaches in
just as the mind could tatter
to threads. Suddenly mud will lace
snow with tangled assertions
of a new conversation about contrast
and change. Farmlands re-green
with tentative slips and even the cows
skip through pastures, so large
their relief. Everywhere a thawing
lake awaits nearby, edged with trillium.
And though we know it won’t last we want
to pick this fleeting, endangered bloom
that fades soon, fades soon.
Click here to read the Fall 2019 Mendicant. This issue features: