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

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