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Center for Action and Contemplation
African American Spirituality and Song
African American Spirituality and Song

Christ Prays in Us and through Us

Sunday, February 7, 2021

African American Spirituality and Song

Christ Prays in Us and through Us
Sunday, February 7, 2021

Although most Sunday church services don’t foster it, the essential religious experience is that we are being “known through” more than knowing anything by ourselves. An authentic encounter with God will feel like true knowing, not just in our heads but in our hearts and bodies as well. I call this way of knowing contemplation, nondualistic thinking, or even “third-eye” seeing. It is quite unlike the intellectual “knowing” most of us have been taught to rely on. This kind of prayer and “seeing” takes away our anxiety about figuring it all out fully for ourselves or needing to be right about our formulations. At this point, God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with us, and we are not afraid of making mistakes.

No wonder all of the great liturgical prayers of the churches end with the same phrase: “through Christ our Lord, Amen.” We do not pray to Christ; we pray through Christ. Or even more precisely, Christ prays through us. This is a very different experience! We are always and forever the conduits, the instruments, the tuning forks, the receiver stations (Romans 8:26–27). To live in such a way is to live inside of an unexplainable hope, because our lives will now feel much larger than our own. In fact, they are no longer merely our own lives and, yet, paradoxically, we are more ourselves than ever before. That is the constant and consistent experience of the mystics.

It is within this context that I offer this week’s Daily Meditations on the healing, liberating, and contemplative power embodied in the African American spirituals of the last three centuries.

One of our Living School alums, Arthur C. Jones, is a scholar and performer of African American spirituals. In his book Wade in the Water: The Wisdom of the Spirituals, he observes that “There are many people today who have virtually no understanding of what the spirituals are and why they are important.” [1] He makes the case that:

the legacy of the spirituals is worth our continued attention now, not only as “museum music” (a phrase often used by the great jazz artist Miles Davis), but also as a broad-ranging cultural tradition that remains relevant to pressing present-day social realities, not just for African Americans, but for people everywhere who are concerned with issues of social justice, community bonding, deep spirituality and—most importantly—the healing of deep wounds surrounding the shameful history of American slavery. [2]

If you are concerned, as I am, with the issues that Arthur Jones mentions—social and racial justice, community bonding, and deep spirituality—I hope we can engage with this material with the “ears” of our hearts attuned to what the Spirit has to teach us.

[1] Arthur C. Jones, Wade in the Water: The Wisdom of the Spirituals, 3rd ed. (Leave A Little Room: 2005), xxiii.

[2] Jones, xv.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad Publishing: 2009), 23–24.

Story from Our Community:
With the help of CAC and Fr. Richard, I am being guided toward loving not judging, including not excluding. I am so grateful to be growing in daily contemplative prayer, which increases my connection to God, self, and others. I am grateful for the wisdom I hear from all of my fellow travelers on this road to healing the hurting world. —Susan M.

Image credit: Gjon Mili, Jamming at Gjon’s (detail), Photograph, copyright, used with permission.
Image Inspiration: Jazz is many things: it is dance music, counter-cultural and a great connector of people. May we hear the Sacred lovingly woven into tone color, rhythmic pattern and collaborative improvisation.
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