Living Mysticism

Interspiritual Mystics

Living Mysticism
Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Mysticism is a special consciousness of the presence of God that by definition exceeds description and results in a transformation of the subject who receives it. —Bernard McGinn [1]

It’s not enough to have wonderful theories about God. Authentic mystical encounter radically changes us and our way of living—our politics, relationships, economics. Otherwise so-called mysticism is just metaphysical rumination. Beverly Lanzetta, a contemporary theologian and monk within universal spirituality, shares the practical implications of mysticism:

We may imagine mysticism or contemplation to be the privilege of monks and mystics, saints and prophets, and of the cloistered and the devout. But, to this I add: you are made both of and for contemplation. It is the secret longing of your being. And because this is so, each and every one of you contains the seed consciousness and the archetypal reality of its hidden ways. . . . It is in the wilderness of your heart that you discover a reality beyond every religious form.

In the world’s religions, mysticism is variously described as an experience of Divine Presence that is accessible to us in the fully actualized depths of consciousness itself. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life and the infused presence of Mystery in one’s inner depth. In fact, mysticism is defined more truly as the intrinsic capacity of each self to touch and be touched by the Source—to know the Source through certitude too deep for words or images. This touching is the mystical heart of the monk, and every aspect of his or her journey is directed toward this inner discovery.

And then living its truth.

Mysticism also refers to a universal and unifying view of the world. One of the quintessential insights of the mystics through the centuries is that the entire cosmos is intersubjective—all beings are embedded in webs of relationship that are interconnected, interdependent, and constantly being co-created and reinvented. Today, mystical awareness expands to incorporate our relationships, and also our collective religious and spiritual inheritance, the whole of humanity, creation, and the cosmos. It extends to the suffering of the planet, wounding of the soul, and violence caused by religious superiority, national self-interest, poverty, homelessness, starvation, and war. The theme of oneness is so common in mystical literature that I consider it to be a fundamental attribute of consciousness.

Mysticism, however, is not merely a shift in perception or how one knows. It is not disembodied or relegated to rarefied states of being. Instead, mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. Further—in contemporary thought—mysticism is in service of and the means by which we discover the unification of spirit and matter, male and female, intuition and reason, mercy and justice. It is not a goal to be reached at the endpoint of the religious life. Rather, mystical perception is the starting point, the power that un-forms and then reforms knowledge, love, and perception.

References:
[1] Bernard McGinn, The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism, 1200–1350 (Crossroad: 1998), 26.

Beverly Lanzetta, The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life (Blue Sapphire Books: 2018), 49-50.

Image credit: Sacred Heart (detail), Odilon Redon, 1910, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mysticism . . . is not merely a shift in perception or how one knows. It is not disembodied or relegated to rarefied states of being. Instead, mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. —Beverly Lanzetta

Feast of the Transfiguration

Interspiritual Mystics

Feast of the Transfiguration
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima

Dom Bede Griffiths (1906–1993) was born in Britain and lived the latter decades of his life in India. Some of our Living School students have been deeply moved by studying his work which sought to make connections between Christianity and Hinduism. It has not diminished but rather expanded their faith. Robert Ellsberg describes Griffiths’ journey to God through both Western and Eastern spirituality:

In his old age [Griffiths] looked every bit the part of an Indian holy man—with long beard, flowing white hair, and saffron robe. But while he felt equally at home in the [Hindu] Vedas and Upanishads as in the Christian Scriptures, he remained thoroughly rooted in the church. He had come to the point where all religions, indeed all creation, spoke to him of Christ. . . . [A theme I explore in my book The Universal Christ.]

After his graduation [from Oxford] . . . Griffiths began to explore the world of faith, stimulated at first through his reading of Dante, St. Augustine, and the Bible. . . . Eventually he visited Prinknash Priory, a Benedictine monastery, where he believed he had found his true home. . . . Upon receiving the robe of a novice he took the name Bede and went on to spend the next twenty years in conventional monastic life.

In 1955, however, . . . an invitation arrived to help establish a Benedictine monastery in southern India, and Griffiths impulsively volunteered. Some instinct had made him believe that in India he would discover what he called “the other half of my soul.” . . .

What struck Griffiths [about India], apart from the staggering poverty, was the profoundly religious atmosphere—what he later called “a sense of the sacred”—that seemed to permeate the air. He had come in some sense as a missionary. . . . But he soon came to believe that the secularized West had much to learn from India. Increasingly, his mission was to witness to the “marriage of East and West”—attempting to facilitate an encounter between Western rationality and the intuitive spirituality that remained so much a part of the Indian soul. . . .

In Kerala Griffiths helped to establish a monastic ashram—a community faithful to the monastic tradition, while adapting its form to Indian culture. . . . He experimented with yoga, meditation, and other Indian spiritual disciplines. He also immersed himself in the study of Vedanta and the Hindu religious classics. His study confirmed his faith that Christ represented the fulfillment of the religious quest. But just as the church had discerned the mystery of Christ hidden in the religious history of Israel, so it was possible and necessary to discover the face of Christ hidden within all the religions of the world. . . . This was Griffiths’s life project and his passion.

At the same time, Griffiths believed, the Hindu world had much to teach the West. India had preserved a religious depth, an appreciation for interiority, that was so often effaced in Western culture. A true dialogue between East and West would help seekers in both cultures to travel “upstream,” [to what Cynthia Bourgeault calls the “headwaters” of the world’s religions—RR] to find their way to a deeper dimension of reality in which all religious paths might ultimately converge.

Reference:
Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1997, 1998), 549-550.

Image credit: Sacred Heart (detail), Odilon Redon, 1910, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mysticism . . . is not merely a shift in perception or how one knows. It is not disembodied or relegated to rarefied states of being. Instead, mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. —Beverly Lanzetta

Transformative Spirituality

Interspiritual Mystics

Transformative Spirituality
Monday, August 5, 2019

Catholic monk and mystic Wayne Teasdale (1945–2004) recognized the wisdom in many religious traditions and helped to cultivate respect and understanding between faiths. Though I did not know him personally, Teasdale had an early, long-standing relationship with a community of Franciscans in Massachusetts. He worked tirelessly until his death (at the too-young age of fifty-nine) to promote deep conversations among the mystics of the world religions. I am grateful for his efforts.

Each great religion has a similar origin: the spiritual awakening of its founders to God, the divine, the absolute, the spirit, Tao, boundless awareness. We find it in the experience of the rishis in India; the Buddha in his experience of enlightenment; in Moses, the patriarchs, the prophets, and other holy souls of the biblical tradition. It is no less present in Jesus’ inner realization of his relationship with his Father, who is also our Father. And it is clear in the Prophet Mohammed’s revelation experience of Allah through the mediation of the Archangel Gabriel.

Everything stems from mysticism, or primary religious experience, whether it be revelation or a personal mystical state of consciousness. . . . We need religion, yet we need direct contact with the divine, or ultimate mystery, even more. Religions are valuable carriers of the tradition within a community, but they must not be allowed to choke out the breath of the spirit, which breathes where it will.

For example, most Christian churches barely mention the mystical life, keeping the focus of prayer on the level of worship and devotion. The same is true in much of the Jewish and Islamic traditions, the Kabbalah and Sufism being exceptions. The religious life of the faithful is decidedly on the corporate, devotional level, while the contemplative and mystical are neglected.

By allowing inward change, while at the same time simplifying our external life, spirituality serves as our greatest single resource for changing our centuries-old trajectory of violence and division. Spirituality is profoundly transformative when it inspires in us the attitude of surrender to the mystery in which “we live, and move, and have our being,” as the New Testament reminds us [Acts 17:28]. . . . People’s hearts must change before structures can change. This change is the basis of genuine reform and renewal.

We need to understand, to really grasp at an elemental level, that the definitive revolution is the spiritual awakening of humankind. This revolution will be the task of the Interspiritual Age. The necessary shifts in consciousness require a new approach to spirituality that transcends past religious cultures of fragmentation and isolation. . . .

In this . . . age of interspirituality, all forms of spirituality are accessible to us, allowing creative crossover and borrowing among members of the world’s religions. . . . We don’t need to enter monasteries to become mystics or to cultivate our spirituality: We are all mystics! The mystic heart is the deepest part of who or what we really are. We need only to realize and activate that essential part of our being. . . .

We require a spirituality that promotes the unity of the human family. . . . At the same time, this interspiritual approach must not submerge our differences. . . . The truth itself is big enough to include our diversity of views. They are all based on authentic inner experience, and so are all valid.

Reference:
Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions (New World Library: 1999), 11-12.

Image credit: Sacred Heart (detail), Odilon Redon, 1910, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mysticism . . . is not merely a shift in perception or how one knows. It is not disembodied or relegated to rarefied states of being. Instead, mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. —Beverly Lanzetta

Foundation of Respect

Interspiritual Mysticism

Foundation of Respect
Sunday, August 4, 2019

At their most mature levels, religions have a common goal: union with all beings and with God. Unfortunately, many religions and Christian denominations have over-emphasized differences and claimed that their particular brand is superior to others. Jesus didn’t come to start another religion but to reveal God’s presence in all of us. The Christian name for the universal incarnation is Christ, but it is known by innumerable other names.

Leaders of the Catholic Church have acknowledged the perennial and pervasive nature of truth. For example, the Second Vatican Council teaches that all peoples comprise a single community and share the same origin, “for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal: God.” [1] The declaration goes on to praise indigenous religions, Hinduism, and Buddhism as they “reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all [people],” and states “the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.” [2]

Continuing our exploration of mystics, I want to share some insights from several Christians who have found deep wisdom in other faiths that affirms truth in Christian texts and tradition. Today’s meditation is a bit longer than usual to lay some ground work.

Dr. Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014) was a pioneer in integrating science, mathematics, philosophy, and religions, especially Hinduism and Christianity. While she may not be a household name, her ideas have deeply influenced CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault. Though Bruteau lived what some might consider a quiet life, her mind was busy expanding the world’s ideas of consciousness and evolution. She believed that mysticism was foundational to transforming the world. I offer you this very clear and compelling passage from Bruteau:

A “better” world is one in which we recognize that all people possess an incomparable value that we are morally obliged to respect . . . in social, political, and economic terms. Honoring the humanity of your fellow beings means that if they are hungry, ill, or oppressed, you must exert yourself to help them. . . . But this . . . runs up against our inherited instincts of self-protection, greediness, and desire to dominate others. . . . If we could rearrange energy from within—if we more often nurtured our companions and promoted their well-being, we would suffer much less. Rearranging energy from within is what mysticism does.

How does mysticism do this? Consider that domination, greed, cruelty, violence, and all our other ills arise from a sense of insufficient and insecure being. I need more power, more possessions, more respect and admiration. But it’s never enough; the fear always remains. It comes from every side: from other people; from economic circumstances; from ideas, customs, and belief systems; from the natural environment; from our own bodies and minds. All these others intimidate us, threaten us, make us anxious. We can’t control them. They are, to varying degrees, aliens. Our experience is: where I am “I,” they are “not-I.”

At least this is our experience insofar as we are not mystics. But, fortunately, everyone is a mystic. At some deep level, we know that we are not mutually alienated from each other and that we do have sufficient being. . . . The practice of raising this knowledge is the process of becoming a mystic in experience as well as in potentiality. . . .

There are exercises for cultivating this transition in every culture and tradition. We can learn from any or all of them. . . .

In talking with one another, sharing experiences, teaching and encouraging one another . . . we are helping each other know that we are deeply related, that we are all precious and deserving, that the universe is our home, that we can feel safe on the deepest level of our being. In this mutual support, the sense of oneness that is the hallmark of the mystic is increasing. . . .

Mutual respect is the only possible foundation for a free, just, equal, and responsible society, and mystical experience is the ultimate ground for that respect. With freedom from the need to promote oneself—or one’s nation, tradition, or religion—by devaluing others comes a great release of energy. What had been invested in protection is now available for caring for and rejoicing in others. [3]

References:
[1] Second Vatican Council, “Nostra Aetate (In Our Time): Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” (October 28, 1965), 1. Full text at http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html.

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Beatrice Bruteau in her preface to Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions (New World Library: 1999, 2001), xvii-xix.

Image credit: Sacred Heart (detail), Odilon Redon, 1910, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mysticism . . . is not merely a shift in perception or how one knows. It is not disembodied or relegated to rarefied states of being. Instead, mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. —Beverly Lanzetta

Black Women Mystics: Weekly Summary

Black Women Mystics

Summary: Sunday, July 28—Friday, August 2, 2019

God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church, and in the Eucharist—everywhere. —Thea Bowman (Sunday)

When the word contemplation comes to my mind I want to think of Thomas Merton . . . [and] Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . I want to present Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan and all the black congregations that sustained whole communities without fanfare or notice. —Barbara Holmes (Monday)

And if “God is all in all,” and “worketh all in all,” as I have heard them read, then it is impossible he should rest at all; for if he did, every other thing would stop and rest too; the waters would not flow, and the fishes could not swim; and all motion must cease. —Sojourner Truth (Tuesday)

Again I listened, and again the same voice seemed to say, “Preach the Gospel; I will put words in your mouth, and you will turn your enemies to become your friends.” —Jarena Lee (Wednesday)

I know Thee by revelation, Oh Thou Mother, Thou Spirit of Wisdom, I was begotten in Thee and brought forth, though I knew Thee not. They that have revelation must live it.Rebecca Cox Jackson (Thursday)

This is our calling as Christian faithful: to recognize the Christ in everyone. And to reach out a hand of hope, to speak a word of love, to sing a song of happiness, to share a tear of joy or pain, to speak a word of praise, to murmur a prayer, to stand together against those forces that would divide us, isolate us, and block our flow toward home. —Diana Hayes (Friday)

 

Practice: Do No Harm

Ruth King is a Buddhist teacher and founder of Mindful Members Meditation Community in Charlotte, North Carolina. In Buddhism, mysticism is defined differently than it is in Christian context, but it shares a focus on contemplation and direct, embodied experience. Below, Ruth King invites us to begin to heal the racism that divides us through a practice of doing no harm.

Uncertain times are all we have. We never know what’s going to happen—and many of us are afraid, afraid of what’s happening or what might happen to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to other people in the world that are suffering from racial distress, injury, separation, and fundamental hatred that’s really pervasive right now in the world. . . .

The challenge we have now is how to navigate the certainty of racism in these uncertain times. Racism is a heart disease. And it’s curable. It requires a transplant, a surgical intervention of mindfulness and heartfulness. To heal the heart, we must understand the mind. Jiddu Krishnamurti [1895–1986] said it this way:

If you don’t know how your mind reacts, if your mind is not aware of its own activities, you will never find out what society is . . . because your mind is part of society; it is society. . . . It is not distinct from your culture, from your religion, from your various class divisions, from the ambitions and conflicts of the many. All this is society, and you are part of it. There is no “you” separate from society. [1]

We must therefore ask ourselves: How do we work with our thoughts and our beliefs in ways that nurture the dignity of all life? How do we ensure justice without fostering generations of harm and hate internally and externally? How do we comfort our own raging heart in a sea of racial ignorance, ill will, and violence? And how can our actions reflect the world we want to live in and leave to future generations? These are questions about how to respond with both heart and mind, while being awake and wise.

I like to offer practices that support racial awareness and well-being. This practice is the practice of doing no harm. It has to do with conduct and it has to do with us setting an intention; it’s not just words that we speak, as if it were a New Year’s resolution. It’s actually a life practice that supports us in regularly aligning our heart and mind with our actions. So, it’s important to set an intention and reflect on it often. This intention is about doing no harm in our speech, our actions, or in our thoughts.

Maintaining a contemplative practice like this is a first step in investing in a culture of care and contributing to an atmosphere of kindness.

References:
[1] Jiddu Krishnamurti, Think on These Things, ed. D. Rajagopal (HarperPerennial: 1989, ©1964), 83-84.

Ruth King, “Teachings for Uncertain Times: Racism Is a Heart Disease,” Tricycle (February 17, 2017), https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/ruth-king-uncertain-times/.

For Further Study:
Joy Bostic, African American Female Mysticism: Nineteenth-Century Religious Activism (Palgrave Macmillan: 2013)

Can I Get a Witness?: Prophetic Religious Voices of African American Women: An Anthology, ed. Marcia Y. Riggs (Orbis Books: 1997). This book includes biographical sketches and a bibliography provided by Barbara A. Holmes.

Diana L. Hayes, No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality (Orbis Books: 2016)

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

Rebecca Jackson, Gifts of Power: The Writings of Rebecca Jackson, Black Visionary, Shaker Eldress, ed. Jean McMahon Humez (University of Massachusetts Press: 1981)

Jarena Lee, Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel (Pantianos Classics: 2017, 1836)

“Thea Bowman: A Gift to the Church,” Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 2008), 131-142.

Sojourner Truth, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Digireads.com Publishing: 2018)

Image credit: Sister Thea Bowman (detail), TheArthur Wright. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church, and in the Eucharist—everywhere. —Thea Bowman, FSPA

The River Flows

Black Women Mystics

The River Flows
Friday, August 2, 2019

As we’ve seen through the perspective of black women mystics this week, our experience of God is not for its own sake or an end in itself. Unless we share the love we’ve been given we’ll become spiritually constipated!

Modern mystic Dr. Diana L. Hayes is an author and professor emerita of systematic theology at Georgetown University. She was the first African American woman to earn a Pontifical Doctorate in Theology. In her book No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality, Hayes writes about the never-ending dance of giving and receiving:

We are not alone in this world, nor have we ever been, no matter how much we may feel otherwise. Many have come before us and will come after us feeling the same way, seeking as we are, searching for the “light.” And it is in coming together—one by one, two by two, and on and on—that we form the converging tributaries that make up the mighty stream of just and righteous people flowing home to God. We are and can be that justice that “rolls down like water,” and that righteousness that “flows like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).

This is our calling as Christian faithful: to recognize the Christ in everyone. And to reach out a hand of hope, to speak a word of love, to sing a song of happiness, to share a tear of joy or pain, to speak a word of praise, to murmur a prayer, to stand together against those forces that would divide us, isolate us, and block our flow toward home.

We must seek to become the righteous of God, recognizing that the path is neither short nor easy, but rock-strewn, obstacle-laden, sometimes even seeming to flow backwards and uphill! But as the prophet Micah proclaims:

You have been told . . . what is good
And what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do the right and to love goodness,
And to walk humbly with your God. (6:8)

This is the Christian vocation of the laity in the world. Today and every day. It is not an easy vocation for there are temptations to flow in other directions, to leave our own course and follow the so-called “main-stream,” a stream that appears large and exciting but eventually peters out into nothingness. . . .

The black scientist George Washington Carver [1864?–1943] . . . stressed that “how far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.” [1] . . .

The river is still flowing. We can accept the grace to be part of that flow . . . if we truly are to be followers of Christ, imitators of him, then we must leap with faith into that torrent knowing that we are . . . in the bosom of God, our Creator, our Sustainer, our Liberator, our Mother and Father.

References:
[1] George Washington Carver, as quoted in Christina Vella, George Washington Carver: A Life (Louisiana State University Press: 2015), 291.

Diana L. Hayes, No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality (Orbis Books: 2016), 35-36.

Image credit: Sister Thea Bowman (detail), TheArthur Wright. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church, and in the Eucharist—everywhere. —Thea Bowman, FSPA

Gifts of Power

Black Women Mystics

Gifts of Power
Thursday, August 1, 2019

Rebecca Cox Jackson (17951871) was born into a free family in Pennsylvania. After a mystical encounter, she divorced her husband and became an itinerant preacher. She discovered the Shakers and eventually founded the first black Shaker community in Philadelphia. Jackson’s spiritual awakening was catalyzed by what Joy Bostic describes as an “emotional and spiritual crisis” when Jackson faced her deep fear of lightning. Jackson wrote in her journal that, as she was praying in despair for the storm to end: “The cloud bursted, the heavens was clear, and the mountain was gone. . . . And I rose from my knees, ran down stairs, opened the door to let the lightning in the house.” [1]

Bostic explores how this prompted Jackson to share her gifts:

Within this mystical space, Jackson experiences intimacy with the divine and is overcome with feelings of peace and protection. . . . The obstacles and burdens that previously seemed to stand in her way vanish. . . . In fact, she writes, “at every clap of thunder I leaped from the floor praising the God of my salvation.” [2] . . . This ecstatic encounter consoles and frees her soul. The love and joy she feels wells up into a yearning that everyone in the world could experience that same love . . . particularly those whom Jackson believes have injured or wronged her. . . .

Issues of power and authority loom quite large for black women who are most often marginalized from the centers of power recognized by cultural and social institutions. However, African American women transformed from objects to Subjects through their mystical experiences have been able to establish a sense of inner authority that extends to their active lives. Rebecca Cox Jackson understood her authority to be rooted in the “gifts of power” she received from God. These gifts included healing, foreknowledge, and . . . literacy.

Jackson believed that God had bestowed these gifts upon her so that she could minister to the needs of others. . . .

God makes it clear to Jackson that . . . she is engaging in a process of recreation that meant deconstruction and reconstruction not only of an oppressive worldview but also of the self. The fact that she is being “unmade” and “made again” places her life and ministry in humble perspective. . . .

Jackson is adamant about acting and speaking according to her inner authority rather than adhering to the dictates of church doctrine and institutional protocol. In rejecting the patriarchal traditions of the churches, Jackson recovers the female aspect of the divine. . . .

I received word of understanding how the Spirit of Wisdom was the Mother of children. . . . I was in the spirit speaking these words to the glory of God: “I know Thee by revelation, Oh Thou Mother, Thou Spirit of Wisdom, I was begotten in Thee and brought forth, though I knew Thee not. They that have revelation must live it, that they may see the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Oh, how I love thee, my Mother!” [3]

Through mystical encounter, Jackson engages in a profound act of unsaying, a decolonization of mind and spirit.

References:
[1] Rebecca Jackson, Gifts of Power: The Writings of Rebecca Jackson, Black Visionary, Shaker Eldress, ed. Jean McMahon Humez (University of Massachusetts Press: 1981), 72.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 174-175.

Joy Bostic, African American Female Mysticism: Nineteenth-Century Religious Activism (Palgrave Macmillan: 2013), 96-97, 102, 117.

Image credit: Sister Thea Bowman (detail), TheArthur Wright. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church, and in the Eucharist—everywhere. —Thea Bowman, FSPA

Gift of Heaven

Black Women Mystics

Gift of Heaven
Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Jarena Lee (17831864) was the first authorized woman preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her spiritual autobiography—the first by an African American woman published in the United States—describes her childhood and her journeys across the United States. Though born to free black parents, she was hired out from the age of seven and worked far from her family and home in Cape May, New Jersey. A mystical encounter gave Lee the courage and calling to preach.

An impressive silence fell upon me, and I stood as if some one was about to speak to me . . . to my utter surprise there seemed to sound a voice which I thought I distinctly heard, and most certainly understand, which said to me, “Go preach the Gospel!” I immediately replied aloud, “No one will believe me.” Again I listened, and again the same voice seemed to say, “Preach the Gospel; I will put words in your mouth, and you will turn your enemies to become your friends.” . . .

I . . . told [the minister] that the Lord had revealed it to me that I must preach the gospel. He replied . . . as to women preaching, he said that our Discipline . . . did not call for women preachers. This I was glad to hear . . . but no sooner did this feeling cross my mind, than I found that a love of souls had in a measure departed from me; that holy energy which burned within me, as a fire, began to be smothered. This I soon perceived. O how careful ought we to be, lest through our by-laws of church government and discipline, we bring into disrepute even the word of life. . . . And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach? Seeing the Saviour died for the woman as well as for the man. . . .

Did not Mary first preach the risen Saviour . . . and the gospel? . . . But some will say that Mary did not expound the Scripture, therefore, she did not preach, in the proper sense of the term. To this I reply . . . perhaps it was a great deal more simple then, than it is now—if it were not, the unlearned fisherman could not have preached the gospel at all. . . .

If then, to preach the gospel by the gift of heaven, comes by inspiration solely, is God straitened; must he take the man exclusively? May he not, did he not, and can he not inspire a female to preach the simple story of the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord? . . . As for me, I am fully persuaded that the Lord called me to labor according to what I have received, in his vineyard. . . .

Reference:
Jarena Lee, Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel (Pantianos Classics: 2017, 1836), 14, 15, 16.

Image credit: Sister Thea Bowman (detail), TheArthur Wright. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church, and in the Eucharist—everywhere. —Thea Bowman, FSPA

All in All

Black Women Mystics

All in All
Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Mysticism is not all ecstatic visions. People who have endured great suffering and let it open them to a new consciousness or perspective are often mystics. They discover that they are always sustained by Love’s presence. James Finley has a beautiful image for this unceasing support: Imagine, if at the count of three, God would stop loving you into your chair; at the count of three, your chair would be empty. Moment by moment you are loved, chosen, invited into being. So lived Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth (17971883)—an abolitionist and advocate for women’s rights—was born “Isabella” to an enslaved couple in New York. When she was nine, Isabella was sold to another slave-holder that brutally beat her. Joy Bostic describes how Isabella’s mother taught her children strategies to survive “within the oppressive system of slavery. Mau-Mau Bett would sit with her children during the evening under the stars and teach them how to call upon God to help them in times of crisis.” [1]

Isabella gradually came to know God as what I might call “the eternal now,” beyond human comprehension. God is only known by loving and experiencing God. Sojourner Truth wrote of her own mystical encounters with God in the third person:

As soon as Isabella saw God as an all-powerful, all-pervading spirit, she became desirous of hearing all that had been written of him, and listened to the account of the creation of the world . . . with peculiar interest. For some time she received it all literally, though it appeared strange to her that ‘God worked by the day, got tired, and stopped to rest,’ . . . after a little time, she began to reason upon it, thus—‘Why, if God works by the day, and one day’s work tires him, and he is obliged to rest, either from weariness or on account of darkness, or if he waited for the “cool of the day to walk in the garden,” because he was inconvenienced by the heat of the sun, why then it seems that God cannot do as much as I can. . . . If I had been God, I would have made the night light enough for my own convenience, surely.’

But the moment she placed this idea of God by the side of the impression she had once so suddenly received of his inconceivable greatness and entire spirituality, that moment she exclaimed mentally, ‘No, God does not stop to rest, for he is a spirit, and cannot tire; he cannot want for light, for he hath all light in himself. And if “God is all in all,” and “worketh all in all,” as I have heard them read, then it is impossible he should rest at all; for if he did, every other thing would stop and rest too; the waters would not flow, and the fishes could not swim; and all motion must cease. God could have no pauses in his work, and he needed no Sabbaths of rest. Man might need them, and he should take them when he needed them. . . . As it regarded the worship of God, he was to be worshipped at all times and in all places; and one portion of time never seemed to her more holy than another.’

References:
[1] Joy Bostic, African American Female Mysticism: Nineteenth-Century Religious Activism (Palgrave Macmillan: 2013), 70.

Sojourner Truth, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Digireads.com Publishing: 2018), 64-65.

Image credit: Sister Thea Bowman (detail), TheArthur Wright. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church, and in the Eucharist—everywhere. —Thea Bowman, FSPA

God’s Abiding Presence

Black Women Mystics

God’s Abiding Presence
Monday, July 29, 2019

Today, I’d like to feature the words of a modern mystic I am honored to know. Dr. Barbara Holmes is a teacher in our own Living School, a former lawyer, professor, and author of several books. She has taught me, our staff, and students so much. I hope you will go deeper with her work beyond today’s excerpt from Joy Unspeakable. I have been telling folks that there are people who talk about God and there are people who know God. Barbara is the latter:

Holiness is a concept that makes ordinary people nervous. . . . The holiness that Jesus describes has less to do with pious character traits and more to do with the hosting of God’s abiding presence. It is not effort but invitation that opens the human spirit to the possibility that God may sojourn with us.

Receptivity is not a cognitive exercise but rather the involvement of the intellect and senses with a spiritual reunion and oneness with God. When this oneness occurs, it is accompanied by heightened spiritual awareness and insight. Contemplative moments also carry with them the potential for mystical encounter which only compounds the difficulty of describing the experience in words. C. S. Lewis’s attempt to describe his own mystical event is a prime example. He says, “I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. The melting was starting in my back—drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle. I rather disliked the feeling.” [1] His wry comments are clearer than any somber attempt to describe the event with exactitude. Rather, this contemplative moment is a spiritual event that kisses the cognitive but will not be enslaved to its rigidities.

Our twenty-first century ideas about contemplative practices are borrowed from a Christian heritage that relegates contemplation to desert mothers and fathers, anchorites and monastics. Although we have learned much from our Catholic brothers and sisters, there is a rich but neglected legacy in the Protestant tradition. When the word contemplation comes to my mind I want to think of Thomas Merton . . . [and] Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . I want to present Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan and all the black congregations that sustained whole communities without fanfare or notice. Like Christianity, contemplative practices come in many forms; these practices have survived and thrived through inculturation and ethnic adaptation. . . .

The human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth.

References:
[1] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Geoffrey Bles: 1955), 22.

Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 3-4.

Image credit: Sister Thea Bowman (detail), TheArthur Wright. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church, and in the Eucharist—everywhere. —Thea Bowman, FSPA

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