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Contemplation and Racism

Contemplation and Racism: Weekly Summary

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Contemplation and Racism

Saturday, June 13, 2020
Summary, Sunday, June 7—Friday, June 12, 2020

We are witnessing the results of centuries of unresolved racial violence in our collective body today. (Sunday)

We largely do not recognize the structural access we enjoy, the trust we think we deserve, the assumption that we always belong and do not have to earn our belonging.  (Monday)

When all hope for release in the world seems unrealistic and groundless, the heart turns to a way of escape beyond the present order. —Howard Thurman (Tuesday)

My journey toward freedom from slaveholder religion has been one of unlearning a hyper-individualized piety. —Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Wednesday)

Indeed, we are hearing the echoing moan of black and brown communities today, crying out “How long, O Lord, must our people suffer?” (Thursday)

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. —Barbara A. Holmes (Friday)


Practice: Crying All the Way

African American theologian and mystic Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman (1899–1981) played a pivotal role in the social and racial justice efforts of the twentieth century. In this passage, he describes a contemplative and healing experience of a friend in the midst of crisis. While reading, I hope we will be moved to consider what we must face, even if we go through it “crying all the way.”

A friend of mine was given an assignment in a class in dramatics. Each time she tried to read her selection aloud before the class, tears came and her strong emotional reaction made it impossible to go through with it. One day the teacher asked her to remain after class for a conference. The essence of the teacher’s words to her was this: “You must read the selection before the class tomorrow. I understand what is happening to you and that is why I insist that you to do this tomorrow. It is important that you realize that you must read this selection through, crying every step of the way, perhaps, if you expect to read it through without crying.”. . .

There are experiences through which we must go, crying all the way, perhaps, if we are ever to go through them without crying, and to go through them without crying must be done. St. Francis of Assisi, in his youth, found it impossible to control his deep physical and emotional revulsion against leprosy. So acute was his reaction that he could not ever run the risk of looking at a leper. Shortly after he had made his first commitment to his Lord, he was riding down the road, when suddenly there appeared a leper. Instinctively, he turned his horse around and went galloping off in the opposite direction, his whole body bathed in nervous sweat. Then he realized what he was doing. Leprosy was one of the things he could not stand—as long as that was true, leprosy would be his jailer, his master. He turned around as abruptly as before, found the leper, and according to the story, remained with him, living intimately with him until every trace of his previous reaction had been mastered. Thus freed, he could be of tremendous service to the victims of the disease. . . .

There are many experiences which we face that are completely overwhelming. As we see them, they are too terrible even to contemplate. And yet we must face them and deal with them directly. . . . To deal with [the problem] without the emotional upheaval is necessary if you are ever going to be able to manage it at all. There can be no more significant personal resolution . . . than this: I will face the problem I have been putting off because of too much fear, of too many tears, of too much resentment, even if it means crying all the way through, in order that I may [learn to] deal with it without fear, tears, or resentment. [1]

[1] Howard Thurman, For the Inward Journey: The Writings of Howard Thurman, selected by Anne Spencer Thurman (Friends United Press: 1984), 259, 260.

For Further Study:
Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom From Slaveholder Religion, (IVP: 2018)

Barbara A. Holmes, “Contemplating Anger,” “Anger,” Oneing, vol. 6, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2018)

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

Barbara Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently, (CAC Publishing: 2020)

Richard Rohr, “Richard Rohr on White Privilege,” interview with Reverend Romal J. Tune (January 19, 2016). Available at

Richard Rohr, What Do We Do About Evil? The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, (CAC Publishing: 2020)

Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathways to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, (Central Recovery Press: 2017)

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
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