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
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