Enneagram Part One: Body Center

February 26th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Type Eight: The Need to Be Against
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
(Ash Wednesday)

Holy Idea: Holy Truth 

Virtue: Innocence 

Passion: Lust [1] 

My friend Chris Heuertz has a type Eight personality. Here’s how he describes Eights in his book, The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth: 

Eights are a source of strength and determination, an initiating and intimidating force of vitality in the world. . . .  

You’ll observe Eights being rude or offensive, trying to get a reaction out of people to see what they’re made of. This behavior is partly due to their Childhood Wound, an acceleration of maturity as a result of conflict or harsh environments where they felt they needed to be strong in order to survive.  

The self-survival instinct of Eights informs their Basic Fear of being destroyed—though I think more accurately it is the fear of not being in control. . . .   

Eights are intense. Eights hate bullies but are the biggest bullies. Though Eights use their force of personality to try to convince people of their strongly held opinions, they are not so much emotional as they are impassioned. Passionate and forceful, Eights are extremists in the positions they hold, the vocations they’re called to, and the causes they champion.  

The traditional passion of the Eight is lust, not necessarily sexual lust but more like a lust for intensity, which is aimed toward everything. . . . Because Eights fear that they will be destroyed, they overdo everything to make themselves feel alive—even overdoing things that are harmful to themselves. This often leads to tremendous pain for themselves and those they love.  

Traditionally, the Fixation of the Eight is vengeance, which is first aimed at themselves. No one can be harder on Eights than themselves, and in turn Eights can be extremely hard on others—demanding more than is fair or realistic and making people pay for the ways Eights feel betrayed by them.  

They are intimidating and they know it, but it surprises even them because inside they know they are using their strength to protect the vulnerable child within them who never seemed safe enough to grow up. [2] 

Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson describe the emergence of Essence in the Eight: 

When Eights give up their own willfulness, they discover the Divine Will. Instead of trying to have power through the assertion of their egos, they align themselves with Divine Power. . . .  

Eights also remember the omnipotence and strength that comes from being a part of the Divine reality. The Divine will is not the same as willfulness. As Eights understand this, they end their war with the world and discover that the solidity, power, and independence that they have been seeking are already here. [3] 

Richard again: Because of their passion for justice and truth, healthy Eights often take the side of the weak and defenseless. For the sake of justice, Eights are willing to fight the powers that be with every available weapon, and our world is a better place for it.

Enneagram Part One: Body Center

February 25th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

The Belly Center
Tuesday, February 25, 2020

My friend Russ Hudson of the Enneagram Institute has spent his life studying and teaching the Enneagram. I will be sharing many of his insights over the next three weeks, because he has such compassion for each Enneagram type, and he helps us have compassion for both ourselves and others. He has a gift for teaching the Enneagram as a tool to help us live in the Presence of God. Today Russ introduces the Body or Gut Center—what he calls Belly—which is home to types Eight, Nine, and One.

The body plays a crucial role in all forms of genuine spiritual work, because bringing awareness back to the body anchors the quality of Presence. The reason is fairly obvious: while our minds and feelings can wander to the past or the future, our body can only exist here and now, in the present moment. This is one of the fundamental reasons why virtually all meaningful spiritual work leads back to the body and becoming more grounded in it. [1]

Being in the Belly has to do with first of all the direct experience of our existence; in spiritual traditions and philosophical traditions [this] is often called “being.” The ability to be. This being is not dull. It’s the sense of being alive, of being connected, of being at one with things. If you’re actually fully here in your body, the spiritual rumors that we’re all one cease being rumors. It’s a little counter-intuitive. We think that if we get inside our body we’re going to be stuck inside this sack of skin. We’ll be cut off from everything. The opposite is true because your body is already connected with the whole sacred reality that God’s expressing right now. . . .

So this whole [Body or Gut] part is teaching us what it means to actually live in the here and now, to feel our existence, and to operate from that, which gives us a sense of confidence, fullness, aliveness, being. In religious language, it’s like you feel held in the Presence of God. And it’s like feeling the solidity of spirit, the fullness, the gutsy vibrancy of presence, spirit, life, right now. To whatever degree we’re not present, we lose that sense. We lose the confidence, we lose the fullness, we lose the sense of existing. [2]

When we lose contact with our Essence, the personality attempts to “fill in” by providing a false sense of autonomy. [3]

Once we’ve got our egos up and running and we have this sense of intactness . . . , we don’t want anyone messing with it. We call the Eight, Nine, and One the “I-don’t-want-to-be-messed-with” types. Show me an ego, and I’ll show you a structure that does not want to be interfered with. [4]

Mind, Body, Heart

February 21st, 2020 by Dave No comments »

Wisdom Is Loving 
Friday, February 21, 2020

The first principle of great spiritual teachers is rather constant: only Love can be entrusted with Wisdom or Big Truth. All other attitudes will murder, mangle, and manipulate truth for their own ego purposes. Humans must first find the unified field of love and then start their thinking and perceiving from that point. This is the challenging insight of mature religion.  

All prayer disciplines are somehow trying to get mind, heart, and body to work as one, which entirely changes one’s consciousness. “The concentration of attention in the heart—this is the starting point of  all true prayer,” wrote St. Theophan the Recluse (1815–1894), a Russian monk, bishop, and mystic. [1] Apart from Love, any other “handler” of your experience, including the rational mind or merely intellectual theology, eventually distorts and destroys the beauty and healing power of Wisdom. 

The second principle is that truth is on some level always beautiful—and healing—to those who honestly want it. Big Truth cannot be angry, antagonistic, or forced on anyone, or it will inherently distort the message (as the common belief in a punitive God has done for centuries). The good, the true, and the beautiful are their own best argument for themselves, by themselves, and in themselves. Such deep inner knowing evokes the soul and pulls the soul into All Oneness. Incarnation is beauty, and beauty needs to be incarnate—that is specific, concrete, particular. We need to experience very particular, soul-evoking goodness in order to be shaken into what many call “realization.” It is often a momentary shock where we know we have been moved to a different plane of awareness. 

This is precisely how transformation differs from simply acquiring facts and information. Whereas information will often inflate the ego, transformation utterly humbles us. In that moment, we know how much we have not known up to now, and still surely do not know! Such humility is a good and probably necessary starting place and, I would say, the very seat of Wisdom.  

Love is luring us forward, because love is what we already are at our core, and we are naturally drawn to the fullness of our own being. Like knows like; to paraphrase Meister Eckhart, “God’s own whole being is poured out into identity. It is God’s pleasure and rapture to place God’s whole nature in this true place—because it is God’s own identity too.” [2] Like an electromagnetic force, Infinite Love is drawing the world into the one fullness of love. When we are comfortable in our true identity, we will finally be unable to resist such overwhelming love. (Some saints said even the devil would be unable to resist it in the end.) So don’t fight it, resist it, or deny it now. Love will always win. 

Mind, Body, Heart

February 20th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

Stuck in the Body 
Thursday, February 20, 2020

In the West, we rely predominately on “head” knowledge, but our hearts offer us plenty of information as well through powerful experience of awe and empathy, joy and heartbreak (even if we choose to dismiss it most of the time). But it seems to me that we have lost or ignored the wisdom of the body almost completely. I have often taught that if we are not transformed by our pain, we will almost certainly transmit it to those around us, and I am learning that we pass it on to future generations as well. Author and therapist Resmaa Menakem speaks directly about “bodily knowing” and the transmission of trauma from a historical and corporate perspective. 

Our bodies have a form of knowledge that is different from our cognitive brains. This knowledge is typically experienced as a felt sense of constriction or expansion, pain or ease, energy or numbness. Often this knowledge is stored in our bodies as wordless stories about what is safe and what is dangerous. . . . 

The body is where we live. It’s where we fear, hope, and react. It’s where we constrict and relax. And what the body most cares about are safety and survival. When something happens to the body that is too much, too fast, or too soon, it overwhelms the body and can create trauma. . . .  

Trauma is not primarily an emotional response. [It] always happens in the body. . . . Trauma is the body’s protective response to an event—or a series of events—that [the body] perceives as potentially dangerous. This perception may be accurate, inaccurate, or entirely imaginary. . . .  

An embedded trauma response can manifest as fight, flee, or freeze—or as some combination of constriction, pain, fear, . . . reactive behaviors, or other sensations and experiences. This trauma then gets stuck in the body—and stays stuck there until it is addressed.  

Menakem explains how layers of trauma have built up in the United States: 

America is tearing itself apart. On the surface, this war looks like the natural outcome of many recent social and political clashes. But it’s not. These conflicts are anything but recent. One hundred and fifty-six years ago, they spawned the American Civil War. But even in the 1860s, these conflicts were already centuries old. They began in Europe during the Middle Ages, where they tore apart close to two million white bodies. The resulting tension came to America embedded in the bodies of Europeans, and it has remained in the bodies of many of their descendants. Over the past three centuries, that tension has been both soothed and deepened by the invention of whiteness and the resulting racialization of American culture.  

At first glance, today’s manifestation of this conflict appears to be a struggle for political and social power. . . . While we see anger and violence in the streets of our country, the real battlefield is inside our bodies. If we are to survive as a country it is inside our bodies where this conflict will need to be resolved. . . . If we are to upend the status quo of white-body supremacy, we must begin with our bodies.  

The Wisdom of Contemplation 

February 19th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. . . . Prayer is the opening of mind and heart—our whole being—to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Through grace we open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing—closer than consciousness itself. —Thomas Keating [1] 

Although Wisdom “work” and contemplative practice are not synonymous, I hope you can sense the resonance between the two paths. Each has the potential to open us up to greater love, compassion, and action through a conscious surrendering to greater knowing and the Great Knower. Whenever heart, mind, and body are all present and accounted for at the same time, when they are all “online” in the language of Wisdom, we can experience pure presence, a moment of deep inner connection with the pure, gratuitous Being of anything and everything. It may be experienced as a quiet leap of joy in the heart, absolute clarity in the mind, or a deep centeredness in the body. 

Contemplation, like the Wisdom path, is an exercise in openness, in keeping all three spaces open long enough for us to notice other hidden material. When we can do that, we are content with the present moment and can then wait upon futures we know will be given by grace. This is “full-access knowing”—not irrational, but intuitive, both rational and trans-rational at the same time. 

The supreme work of spirituality, which makes presence possible, is keeping the heart space open (the result of conscious love), keeping a “right mind” (the work of contemplation or meditation), and keeping the body alive with contentment or, as Cynthia would say, sensation, without attachment to its past woundings (often the work of healing). In that state, we are neither resisting nor clinging, and we can experience something genuinely new. 

Those who can keep all three spaces open at the same time will know The Presence that connects everything to everything. Surely this us what Jesus is talking about in his several parables that warn us to stay awake! (See Mark 13:34-37; Matthew 24:40-44 and 25:1-13) Being awake is a prerequisite for true prayer. This way of knowing has little to do with belonging to any particular denomination or religion; it is found at the headwaters of all the world’s major religions. Each has its own piece of Wisdom, its own techniques and teachings that urge us to bring our whole selves to the job of growing and “wising” up.  

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:
What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

Prayer for Our Community:
O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

Developing a Wise Presence

February 18th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

CAC Faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault shares how Three-Centered Awareness—heart, mind, and body—allows us to be fully present to ourselves, our lives, and God.  

When a person is poised in all three centers, balanced and alertly there, a shift happens in consciousness. Rather than being trapped in our usual mind, with its well-formed rut tracks of issues and agendas and ways of thinking, we seem to come from a deeper, steadier, and quieter place. We are present, in the words of Wisdom tradition, fully occupying the now in which we find ourselves. Presence is the straight and narrow gate through which one passes to Wisdom.  

This state of presence is extraordinarily important to know and taste in oneself. For sacred tradition is emphatic in its insistence that real Wisdom can be given and received only in a state of presence, with all three centers of our being engaged and awake. Anything less is known in the tradition as “sleep.” It is like the disciple Peter suddenly sinking beneath the surface of the waters [Matthew 14:30].  

Everybody has all three centers (head, heart, moving) in them. Most people are born into the world favoring one center or another. We learn to make one our dominant center for our own orientation to the world. And in the Western culture, I would say that’s overwhelmingly, shockingly, the intellectual center. In traditional schools, that’s the capacity we train, with maybe a little bit of space left for the kinesthetic moving center through sports programs, and virtually nothing for the emotional center. Any budget cutback and what leaves? Arts and music, the primary channels through which the emotional center is still trained. So in the West we’re formed as heavily lopsided intellectual-center-oriented beings. That’s how most of us get our start.   

In pop culture, we say, “Well, find your center, acknowledge it, and live in it.” But the inner tradition work calls us to develop our under-utilized centers. If we over–use the intellectual center, then our work lies in bringing the emotional and moving centers fully online and integrating them.     

The “work” is to discover our starting position and reach out to incorporate the other two so that they are fully—and in a balanced way—part of our perceptual center. Whatever center you may find yourself to be, don’t detain yourself on it, because it immediately sets out your job of discovering where the other two are hiding inside yourself and bringing them forward. It’s only when you have balanced the three centers—kinesthetic moving center, emotional center, and intellectual center—and integrated them that you become conscious. We’ve got to have all three as the basis of a good, strong tripod before we’re really awake. 

Our Three Intelligences

February 17th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Mind, Body, Heart

Our Three Intelligences 
Monday, February 17, 2020

After her theological training and ordination in the Episcopal tradition, my friend Cynthia Bourgeault has spent much of the last two decades teaching the Wisdom tradition in a Christian context. You are about to read something that it took me most of my life to begin to comprehend! I admire Cynthia’s unique insights and ability to bring together the ancient wisdom of Christian monasticism and the transformational teachings and practices of spiritual seeker G. I. Gurdjieff (18661949). Today she offers a brief explanation of Gurdjieff’s teachings on Three-centered Awareness.  

Wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding, and embraces the whole of a person: mind, heart, and body. The intellectual faculty is one way of knowing, to be sure, but it is joined by two additional faculties: the intelligence of the “moving center” and the intelligence of the “emotional center.” These three centers must all be working, and working in harmony, as the first prerequisite to the Wisdom way of knowing.  

I’m going to start with the moving center because it’s the one least known in the West, least valued, and least worked with. The moving center basically is about intelligence through movement. It’s the way that our body is able to put its tentacles out and explore and gain information from the world. It’s that whole realm of things that we don’t do directly with our intellectual rational brain but that deeply engage us. We drive a car, ski down a hill, sail a boat. It gets in our bodies. That kind of intelligence, which we mostly underuse, is a huge reservoir of connectivity and information with the world. 

The intellectual center is a profoundly useful tool for exploring and navigating the world, and it allows us to do things that separate us from the rest of the animals. But the program it runs is perception through separation. It’s a grand separating, evaluating, and measuring tool. But it can’t “do” because of the limitations built into its operating system. It can’t ask two questions: “Who am I, and who is God?” because these questions can’t be measured by an operating system that depends on separation. I have sometimes said that doing the journey toward mystical union with the mind is like trying to play the violin with a chainsaw. It’s not that the chainsaw is bad, but its nature is to cut and separate, not make music.  

Finally, the heart and the emotional center are not identical. The emotional center is the capacity to explore and receive information from the world through empathetic entrainment by what we might call vibrational resonance. Of all the centers, the emotional center moves the fastest. It’s the part of us that gets the impression instantly. We don’t have to parse it out. It is our antenna, so to speak, given to us to orient us toward the divine radiance. The heart is not for personal expression but for divine perception.  

Ways of Knowing

Sunday, February 9–Friday, February 14, 2020

A Way of Being
Sunday, February 16, 2020

Wisdom is not the result of mental effort. It cannot be gained through intellectual study. Even life experiences do not make us wise if we don’t process them humbly and consciously. Sadly, most of us were never taught how to do that, which is why so few older people are true elders, with any wisdom to pass on to the next generations.  

Wisdom is a way of being—a way of being whole and fully open to a knowing beyond rational thought alone. Do not confuse this kind of knowing as lightweight, saccharine, or ephemeral. The exact opposite is true. To see in such a way requires the hard work of keeping all our inner spaces open—mind, heart, and body—all at once. This is at the center of any authentic spirituality, and it does not happen easily or without paying respectful and non-egoic attention to the moment in front of me and within me—which I could call prayer.  

My fellow CAC faculty member and respected wisdom teacher Cynthia Bourgeault writes of the deep interior commitment that must be made by those who embark on this path:  

A Wisdom way of knowing . . . requires the whole of one’s being and is ultimately attained only through the yielding of one’s whole being into the intimacy of knowing and being known. . . . It doesn’t happen apart from complete vulnerability and self-giving. But the divine Lover is absolutely real, and for those willing to bear the wounds of intimacy, the knowledge of that underlying coherence—“in which all things hold together”—is both possible and inevitable. [1] 

Since the Enlightenment, Westerners have become overly reliant on the intelligence of the mind, neglecting that of the heart and body. But by heart, I don’t mean just feeling and emotion. Cynthia Bourgeault calls the heart “an organ for the perception of divine purpose and beauty.” [2] Tilden Edwards, founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, describes the spiritual faculty of heart as “a quality of intuitive awareness . . . a sense of inclusive, compassionate, undefended, direct in-touch-ness with what is really there.” [3] This “undefended knowing” allows us to drop beneath the thinking mind, to touch upon real experience, unhindered by the ego’s sense of self, without fear or agenda. 

The Wisdom lineage offers us a healthy middle place, trapped in neither of the two alternating mediocrities of knowing: all heart and little head (lacking rational, historical, or scientific grounding) or all head and little heart (lacking deep personal experience, subtlety, or authentic love). For a holistic and mature faith, we need both head and heart grounded in our physical and sensory body. 

Ways of Knowing

Sunday, February 9–Friday, February 14, 2020

God calls us to “not conform to the pattern of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds” through relationship with those who see differently than we do (see Romans 12:2). (Sunday

The vast majority of people throughout history have been poor, disabled, or oppressed in some way (i.e., “on the bottom”) and would have read history in terms of a need for change. (Monday

As a pastor I refuse to separate the reality of this world from the reality of the Bible by preaching a “cheap gospel” that neither challenges the present reality nor is challenged by it. —Mitri Raheb (Tuesday

She takes my face gently in her hands and holds me in Her gaze as She tells me what She thinks I need to know, forming the words slowly so I can remember them and let them sink in. —Steven Charleston (Wednesday

Black Theology is the story of black people’s struggle for liberation in an extreme situation of oppression. Consequently there is no sharp distinction between thought and practice, worship and theology, because black theological reflections about God occurred in the black struggle of freedom. —James Cone (Thursday

What a gift to be on earth during an era when the universe is making itself known to and through the human race. —Barbara Holmes (Friday

Practice: Meditation and Prayer 

Contemplation is meeting as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form—without filters, judgments, or commentaries. The ego doesn’t trust this way of seeing, which is why it is so rare, “a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14, New Jerusalem Bible). The only way we can contemplate is by recognizing and relativizing our own compulsive mental grids—our practiced ways of judging, critiquing, blocking, and computing everything.  

Depth psychologist David G. Benner offers the following framing of Christian contemplative practices in a way that can help deepen our experience of them: 

The Christian forms of meditation bring us to the question of the relationship between meditation and prayer. This is an important question because I think there are limits to what meditation can, in itself, accomplish that are overcome when meditation is placed within a context of prayer.  

Although contemplative prayer and meditation may share many features, contemplative prayer is wordless openness to God. Hence it involves a relationship. It is this intentional openness to God while setting aside thoughts that makes contemplative prayer so deeply transformational.  

Contemplative prayer always requires hospitality to your deep self, to the deep parts of your self. It demands the openness to receive whatever might arise in you and then gently release it into God’s hands. But in prayer you are not alone as you open yourself to whatever might emerge. You do so in a relationship that provides a safety and support in holding whatever emerges. That which arises might come with a flood of emotional intensity. Sometimes, being still before self and God releases a torrent of emotions. Tears may be intermixed with joy. . . . But whatever emerges in silence and stillness before God emerges in the place within you in which you are held within God. It emerges, therefore, within the context of prayer, whether or not you are thinking of God or talking to God. Your openness to God makes it prayer. 

Thomas Keating describes what happens in stillness and silence before God in unworded presence as divine therapy. It may involve an unloading of the unconscious, but this is only the visible face of the invisible process of reworking your unconscious, a process that is going on as you sit in stillness before God and yourself. . . . This isn’t the time to try to understand the things that float to the surface of your consciousness. Instead, it’s the time to simply note them and then release them to God. But as you recognize their presence, you become aware of what exists within you, and you have an opportunity to peek at the deep hidden work of healing and transformation that God is doing in your soul. This is the transformational way in which contemplative prayer works.    

Stardust and a Devine Spark

February 14th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Ways of Knowing

Stardust and A Divine Spark 
Friday, February 14, 2020

In her book Race and the Cosmos, Dr. Barbara Holmes presents a new way for us to address oppression by recognizing who we are and the commonality we share as members of the human race. When we encounter other ways of knowing, we may find ourselves discomforted and even distressed by the pain that our nation, our church, or even we ourselves have caused others. Today, I want to offer a perspective that can lead to healing and wholeness, instead of our too ready defensiveness. Holmes writes:  

So much has changed since Dr. King expressed [in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”].  his hope for a “not too distant tomorrow” of radiant human mutuality. . . . 

However, the clouds of race and racism in American continue to loom, threatening and dangerous. . . . The ghosts of oppression are shape-shifting into new forms and expanding their territory. . . . Despite the apparent advances of women, people of color (POC), and the LGBTQIA+ community, racism, violence, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant tropes seem to be on the rise. 

Although this is a discouraging reality, I am convinced that a community-called-beloved is possible. This is an admittedly fragile possibility, but it is not a utopian dream. I believe that people of good will harbor a persistent hope that our planet can be a place of belonging for all its inhabitants. To view the world differently is to recognize the delusions that we have willingly embraced and admit our own complicity in the empowerment of systems of oppression. 

In America, we have encoded the languages of equality, freedom, and justice into our myths of national “goodness,” yet we remain infatuated with power and privilege. Also, we support corrupt and rapacious political and economic systems that prey on the vulnerable. It will take a shift in language and purpose to free us from this limited and materialistic view of human potential. 

Perhaps the language of science, cosmology, and physics can help us to see our plight and our opportunity. . . . [With] chaos in our social systems, we are in such dire need of vision, imagination, and love of neighbor that this rhetorical experiment is worth a try. Currently, we are using language to disguise our commonalities and exacerbate our differences. Narratives about POC often emphasize inherent inferiority and criminality, when the truth is that all of us embody stardust and a divine spark with cosmic origins. 

We come from mystery and return to it at the end of the life journey. What a gift to be on earth during an era when the universe is making itself known to and through the human race. We are part of an unfolding that is ongoing, yet, around the planet, people and systems are in crisis and we don’t seem to know what to do. . . . Perhaps the first steps require that we free ourselves from negative stereotypes and recognize our common cosmic origins. 

Ways of Knowing

February 13th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

Liberation
Thursday, February 13, 2020

James Cone (1938–2018) is one of the greatest American theologians of this past century, yet sadly many Christians have never heard of him. His work laid the foundation for a liberation theology that spoke directly to the injustice, oppression, and violence faced by the Black community in the United States. Jesus made it clear that he came to bring “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18), showing that if we liberated the people on the margins, the good news would float upwards—in the opposite direction of the “trickle down” economic model, which is largely an illusion. Jesus’ teaching empowered Rev. Dr. Cone to write, “Any message that is not related to the liberation of the poor in a society is not Christ’s message. Any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology.” [1] Cone reflects: 

Like white American theology, black thought on Christianity has been influenced by its social context. But unlike white theologians, who spoke to and for the culture of the ruling class, black people’s religious ideas were shaped by the cultural and political existence of the victims in North America. Unlike Europeans who immigrated to this land to escape from tyranny, Africans came in chains to serve a nation of tyrants. It was the slave experience that shaped our idea of this land. And this difference in social existence between Europeans and Africans must be recognized, if we are to understand correctly the contrast in the form and content of black and white theology. 

What then is the form and content of black religious thought when viewed in the light of black people’s social situation? Briefly, the form of black religious thought is expressed in the style of story and its content is liberation. Black Theology, then, is the story of black people’s struggle for liberation in an extreme situation of oppression. Consequently, there is no sharp distinction between thought and practice, worship and theology, because black theological reflections about God occurred in the black struggle of freedom.  

White theologians built logical systems; black folks told tales. Whites debated the validity of infant baptism or the issue of predestination and free will; blacks recited biblical stories about God leading the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, Joshua and the battle of Jericho, and the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace. White theologians argued about the general status of religious assertions in view of the development of science generally and Darwin’s Origin of Species in particular; blacks were more concerned about their status in American society and its relation to the biblical claim that Jesus came to set the captives free. White thought on the Christian view of salvation was largely “spiritual” and sometimes “rational,” but usually separated from the concrete struggle of freedom in this world. Black thought was largely eschatological [focused on the ultimate destiny of humanity] and never abstract, but usually related to blacks’ struggle against earthly oppression. [2] 

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 8For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Grandmother God

February 12th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Ways of Knowing

Grandmother God
Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Since first working at Acoma Pueblo as a deacon in 1969 and making my permanent home in New Mexico in 1986, I have learned much from our Native American pueblos and tribes. I encourage you to learn about the history surrounding your home. [1] Settler colonial—and primarily Christian—countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa tried to destroy or at least seriously marginalize indigenous cultures. This now seems undeniable. Yet indigenous people and their practices persist, opening body and heart to deep wisdom. Today’s meditation introduces Steven Charleston, an elder of the Choctaw Nation and a retired Episcopal bishop. His way of knowing God and the Gospel reflect both his Christian and Choctaw heritage and his contemplative practice. 

The irony is I did find what I was looking for, but not in the place I expected. In my romantic imagination, I believed I would find my answer in a religious ritual or ceremony, either Christian or Traditional. I thought the answer might come to me high on a hill doing a vision quest, in the womb-like darkness of a Sweat Lodge, or in a camp meeting out on the prairie. The vision I had from God had been a little like that; it had surprised me during my ritual of morning prayers in Cambridge. But in the end, the answer found me sitting in a chair. I had been reading the gospel according to Matthew, letting the familiar words of his story slip through my mind like a gentle stream, when suddenly the holy voice I had first heard on the rooftop returned and shook me awake in my spirit. [2] 

“You have just read the first vision quest of Jesus.” 

I smile now because I can remember scrambling to come awake when those words caught me off guard. I consider this voice to be from God because it appears from some place other than my own consciousness. It announces itself. It speaks in a clear, simple, uncomplicated way. 

When I have attempted to explain this experience to others I have often laughed at myself because the voice I hear sounds as if it is speaking to a small child. I do not receive long and elaborate messages from God, probably because God is not sure I could understand them. Instead, I get the brief, direct words needed by a prophet with a short attention span. One of my images of God is that of Grandmother, the wise old Native woman with gray hair and eyes as ancient as the Earth. She takes my face gently in her hands and holds me in Her gaze as She tells me what She thinks I need to know, forming the words slowly so I can remember them and let them sink in. 

I embrace this feminine image in the same way Hebrew tradition refers to the voice of God as the bat kol, the daughter of the voice. It is that mysterious presence that comes from some source beyond, a communication that defies our ability to categorize. Therefore, like the theologians of ancient Israel, I give the voice a female personification because I experience it in that way.