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Intersectionality of Racial Justice and the Contemplative – Part 4

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Editor’s note: This post is the conclusion of a four part series. Read part 1 herepart 2 here, and part 3 here

By Lerita Coleman Brown and Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks

Making the Thurman Connections

Thurman had the uncanny and prophetic ability to make a connection between the silence and scrutiny of one’s inner life with the work for social justice. He encouraged Dr. King and other organizers of the Movement to utilize contemplative practices. In particular, Thurman stressed the importance for marchers to examine their inward journeys and to use nonviolent responses to what was often very violent confrontation.

In light of this, Lerita and Jacquelyn designed a workshop to share with participants the social advocacy of Howard Thurman through group reading and reflections of excerpts from lectures, sermons, or meditations by Thurman. Participants engaged in reflections on their own ways of using the contemplative to prepare themselves spiritually for their call to engage in the work of non-violent and transformative responses to racial oppression.

The focus on Howard Thurman in this workshop was no coincidence. Clearly, his social justice gospel continues to serve as both an unofficial spiritual director for the Civil Rights Movement of those who were and continue to be marginalized or disinherited. Thurman was on the fringe even in doing what he felt called to do; yet, his “voice” was heard and continues to be heard throughout the world.


 

Lerita Coleman BrownLerita Coleman Brown, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of psychology and a spiritual director. Brown is a graduate of the Shalem Institute. She lives in Georgia, USA, and writes and promotes contemplative spirituality in everyday life.

Jacquelyn Smith-CrooksJacquelyn Smith-Crooks, Ed.D, is an associate minister at Alden Baptist Church in Massachusetts, USA. A spiritual life coach and researcher, Smith-Crooks works with individuals, and leads workshops and retreats with faith-based and other organizations.

Intersectionality of Racial Justice and the Contemplative – Part 3

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Editor’s note: This post is the third in a four part series. Read part 1 here, and part 2 here

By Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks

Jacquelyn:  “Social Justice as a Lived Experience/ The Contemplative as a Learned Process”

Memories of my introduction to social justice activism begin with the Civil Rights/Racial Justice Movement of the 60s that was based in the African American church. To a large extent, this movement was an outgrowth of that very same source to which I link my involvement with the contemplative.

It was my father, Jack Smith, Jr., who exposed me to the movement and to a key community-based organization, the NAACP Youth Division, which taught me about the “contemplative in action.” The leaders in the organization did this by training and preparing us for the picketing, demonstrations, marches, and other acts of nonviolent resistance to forced segregation and unequal access to resources that were available to white people; e.g., schools, hotels/motels, restaurants, housing, employment in department stores (especially women’s shops), and more.

This took place several years before the huge cross-burning in front of the house, located at the end of a predominantly white neighborhood; we were purchasing it through a white realtor. The incident occurred the week before our family and that of a family friend were to have moved into our “new to us” duplex that was located at the end of a street in an all-white neighborhood.

Many years later, I “met” Howard Thurman in my search for a theology with which I felt “at home”—one which offered me both the freedom to connect with another dimension of my spiritual self and do so within the context of myself as an African American woman—tapping my inner and outer existence. I had found many books that supported my search for clarity around my theology and spirituality, but never with racial reflections of myself. The images were of European/White Americans or people from the Eastern religions. This included Joel Goldsmith, Thomas Merton, and others.

While addressing one aspect of my being, this was not sufficient for me as one who had become disillusioned with institutional religion after encountering subtle and stinging acts of racism in the college church I attended during my undergraduate years.

When I discovered Thurman, it was like the situation for the woman with the issue of blood. I found a theologian, who chose to engage in work that would speak to me as an African American woman on my quest for centeredness through a contemplative experience as a path to inner peace, joy, and power. He wrote about this desire—especially for oppressed people—in Jesus and the Disinherited, which became a cherished favorite of Dr. King, and one that he carried whenever he marched.

In the next blog, we will make the connections….


 

Jacquelyn Smith-CrooksJacquelyn Smith-Crooks, Ed.D, is an associate minister at Alden Baptist Church in Massachusetts, USA. A spiritual life coach and researcher, Smith-Crooks works with individuals, and leads workshops and retreats with faith-based and other organizations.

Intersectionality of Racial Justice and the Contemplative Part 1

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Lerita Coleman Brown and Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks

Behold the miracle!  … Love loves; this is its nature.  But this does not mean love is blind, naive, or pretentious.  It does mean that love holds its object securely in its grasp, calling all that it sees by is true name but surrounding all with a wisdom born both of its passion and its understanding.  …  Such an experience is so fundamental in quality that an individual knows that what is happening to him [or her] can outlast all things without itself being dissipated or lost.

~Howard Thurman

Introduction

We came together, two African American women who are also members of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network (International), to bring to the conversation about the contemplative and emerging wisdom a discussion on Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman. He was an African American theologian and mystic. Reared in an African American Baptist Church, he was co-founder of the first interfaith, racially and economically integrated church in the U.S. Moreover, he was spiritual advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he played a critical role as a “behind the scenes” leader in the development of an alternative to violence in the dismantling of racial injustice in America—through the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

In coming together to develop this workshop, Lerita Coleman Brown and Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks found a way to continue a journey of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network’s recently published book of essays, Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color (March 2014).

All too often, in mainstream secular and sacred education experiences, where implicit and explicit racism may not always be recognized for what they are, there is a conspicuous absence and/or underrepresentation of the presence of African American people in the stories that are used as images, tell the stories, highlight the roles and contributions almost exclusively of those representing the dominant culture to present the teachings. There is, thus, little likelihood that there will be at the intersection evidence of matters of race, racism, or racial justice, and this includes the contemplative experience.

With that in mind, conference facilitators Brown and Smith-Crooks made a conscious decision to both create space for conversation about the intersection of racial justice and the contemplative, and to also focus on a less familiar spiritual leader, who played a pivotal role in a movement that was felt around the world. This was first done in the workshop entitled, “Howard Thurman: Contemplative Spiritual Advisor and Prophet for Civil Rights.”

In doing so, it was deemed necessary to heed an African proverb, “Beware of the naked man/woman who comes bringing you clothes.” By reflecting on our own personal journeys of the socio-cultural, racial, and spiritual experiences at the intersection, we shared a glimpse the ties (of stories of race, racism, and the contemplative) that bind us even as we grew up hundreds of miles apart.

In the next blog post, you will read Lerita’s story….


 

Lerita Coleman BrownLerita Coleman Brown, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of psychology and a spiritual director. Brown is a graduate of the Shalem Institute. She lives in Georgia, USA, and writes and promotes contemplative spirituality in everyday life.

Jacquelyn Smith-CrooksJacquelyn Smith-Crooks, Ed.D, is an associate minister at Alden Baptist Church in Massachusetts, USA. A spiritual life coach and researcher, Smith-Crooks works with individuals, and leads workshops and retreats with faith-based and other organizations.