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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 2

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 second in a four part series. Read part 1 here!

By Lerita Coleman Brown

Lerita:  “Social Injustices Revealed”

I grew up in Pasadena, California, in the 1950’s and 1960’s with the vestiges of social injustice not quite as visible as they were in the South. I remember our father setting us down as young children to have the “race conversation” as we prepared for a family visit to Arkansas. He explained that things were different “down there,” and we would see signs for “Colored” and “White Only” at restrooms, restaurants, and neighborhood pools. Racism in California more subtly reared its ugly head with neighborhood covenants barring Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and sometimes Jews from purchasing homes. I had not yet learned about the loss of homes and livelihoods as Japanese “citizens” were carted off and sent to internment camps during World War II.

My first clear taste of racial injustice occurred as a Black college student entering as a member of the first wave of Black students desegregating University of California campuses in the early 1970’s. Although I attended a legally mandated desegregated high school with Whites, Blacks, Asians, and Latinos, the result of Brown vs. Board of Education decision and subsequent suit, the White students and professors at UC Santa Cruz appeared different than the ones I encountered at John Muir High School. They frequently acted as if I were an alien from another planet and many believed that I was “let in” as an Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) student at University of California, Santa Cruz. I was very aware that I entered through the regular admissions process and with a California State Scholarship.

The university setting, however, provided an opportunity for me to cross paths with Jan Willis, a then young assistant professor of religion and also African American. A budding Tibetan Buddhist scholar, she taught my roommate and me how to meditate. This simple act of learning about cultivating a divine inner connection altered my life forever.

Since that time, I have allowed messages emerging from my contemplative practices of silence and stillness to guide me as I choose to engage the inner and the outer, or contemplative responses (the inner) with necessary external action (the outer), to address social injustice.

I have been most intrigued with Howard Thurman’s notion of “inner authority,” the idea that each individual has some power over what he or she allows into one’s inner sanctum. Thurman was reminded in his many contemplative moments, and communicates in his sermons and writings, the same truth as Jesus did—that each of us is created by God, is a child of God, and that is what we must always carry in our hearts.

In the next blog, your will read Jacquelyn’s story….


Lerita Coleman Brown

Lerita 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.

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.

Out of Stillness and Silence

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 Vikki Montgomery

Author Pico Iyer avoids using the word God, claims no particular religion, and doesn’t speak of himself as a spiritual person. Still he has something important to say to Christians striving to be “contemplatives in action.”

In an On Being conversation with host Krista Tippett, we learn that Iyer was born into a family of East Indian professors at Oxford University. When the family relocated to California, Iyer attended school in England from age nine through university. By his thirties, he said he had racked up one million frequent-flier miles in a single U.S. airline.

He confesses, “Anyone who travels knows that you’re not really doing so in order to get around—you’re travelling in order to be moved. … So I realized I have a lot of movement in my life, but not maybe enough stillness.”

At the advice of a friend, after losing his family home to fire, he went on retreat at a Benedictine hermitage in Big Sur. At first he felt guilty for leaving his work and his family. “And as soon as I arrived in that place,” he says. “I realized that none of that mattered and that, really, by being here, I would have so much more to offer my mother and my friends and my bosses.”

In the last 24 years, he has visited the hermitage more than 70 times. “Sometimes, people like me have to take conscious measures to step into the stillness and silence and be reminded of how it washes us clean,” he explains.

Tippett reminds him of a line that he wrote, “[T]he point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or the mountaintop, but to bring that calm into the motion, the commotion of the world.”

Soon, Iyer launches into a description of spirituality and religion:

Spirituality is … the story of our passionate affair with what is deepest inside us and with the candle that’s always flickering inside us and sometimes almost seems to go out and sometimes blazes. And religion is the community, the framework, the tradition, all the other people into which we bring what we find in solitude.

Iyer then quotes his long-time friend, the Dalai Lama, saying “[T]he most important thing without which we can’t live is kindness. We need that to survive. … [K]indness is water, religion is like tea. … It’s a great luxury. It increases the savor of life. It’s wonderful if you have it. But you can survive without tea, you can’t survive without water.”

Circling back to religion, Iyer says, “And so everyday kindness and responsibility is the starting block for every life. … [We need to] ground ourselves in the people around us before we start thinking about our texts and our notions of the absolute.”

Hold the doctrines. Hold the theology. Just share everyday kindness.

“Our outer lives are only as good as our inner lives. So to neglect our inner lives is to incapacitate our outer lives. We don’t have so much to give to other people or the world or our job or our kids,” he cautions.

My takeaway from this conversation is that even if we can’t go on retreat, we can enter a contemplative space: where we live, perhaps where we work—and definitely where we worship.

How can injustice continue if we, alone and in community, allow stillness and silence to do its work in us?


Vikki Montgomery

Vikki Montgomery is a contemplative, communications consultant, writer, and educator. Her greatest joy is being a mother and grandmother. Her spiritual mentor confirmed her intuition that silence is the first language of God.

For what shall I pray?

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 Martha L. Wharton

I live in Baltimore, Maryland, and I have been thinking about the recent situation here. The grief and violence have troubled my African American mind and spirit. I am a northerner transplanted below the Mason-Dixon Line, a middle-class woman with no involvement in the criminal justice system, residing in a city where a significant minority of the men and women have been in some way engaged with the local police or probation services. I am a mother raising a bright black girl in a city where so many of her classmates have little or no choice in the public educational lottery. As one who believes God is everywhere, always, and that we have the capacity to recognize Heaven around us every day, for what shall I pray?

At heart, I am an optimist. Nevertheless, in these days of mounting trouble in urban, suburban, and rural communities, I struggle to find the silver lining in the threatening clouds that hang just above my city’s skyline. I listen to the local leaders for the wisdom they may bring to our current crises. There, I find little that actually enlightens and much that sounds like a new mix of the pre-trouble talk. No help there. I look to state and national leaders and hope for real change, soon. Again, I realize that change requires courage and a deep willingness to take political and career risks. When the goal is higher office, I can’t expect that politicians will deploy their power and privilege for the sake of the unjustly disenfranchised whose votes cannot be counted on in the next big election.

Always looking up, though, I turn to the least likely book in the Bible—Ecclesiastes—and find a reason to renew my hope. I also observed the following example of wisdom under the sun—it impressed me greatly:

There was a small town with only a few residents. A mighty king came against it, surrounded it, and waged a terrible war against it. Now there lived in that town a poor but wise man who saved everyone by his wisdom. But no one remembered that poor man. So I thought, Wisdom is better than might, but the wisdom of commoners is despised and their words aren’t heeded. The calm words of the wise are better heeded than the racket caused by a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one incompetent person destroys much good” (Ecc. 9:13-18, Common English Bible).

My hope and my answers are bound up in the Word, in this pithy parable about a town, a king, and a forgotten commoner. Poverty, joblessness, poor education, absent security, and high crime are absolute rulers of the bodies and minds of many who live surrounded by them day after day. They wage “terrible war” against the spirit and attempt mightily to bend the human will to corrupt values. When one rises from among those living under siege, makes a way out of no way, and overcomes the warring hegemony, that one is celebrated and a local park is re-named for the Wise One, for “wisdom is better than might.” Good things do rise from the ordinary folk.

But then, when the matter is no longer newsworthy, the Wise One is forgotten, the old battle fades in memory, and plans to make change are lost in the shuffle. Nonetheless, the next verse offers wisdom from whence emanates my prayer: “The calm words of the wise are better heeded than the racket caused by a ruler among fools” (Ecc. 9:17).  I have resolved to pray for the “calm words of the wise,” that no incompetent action will destroy the good things that might come of troubled beginnings (Ecc. 9:18).

This I will pray:

Bringer of Light and Wisdom, Creator of Opportunity, and Wind of Wise Change, You are the God in whom we place our trust and our hope.

God, our cities, suburbs, and rural communities are troubled with crime, drugs, poverty, and joblessness. Your people who reside in challenged and compromised communities lead lives that afford them few legitimate and safe choices. They see the lives of those who live in more prosperous communities and wonder, “Why?”  “Why must my family, neighbors, friends, and I live as if we are at war with local government, the police, the bodega owners, and social service agencies that are willing to locate on our streets?” “Why must we live in struggle, when those who live across town seem to live in communities of plenty?” God, You know the questions of those who struggle are heard, but not heeded. Their questions are fair, but little or no justice seems to be available. 

God, we ask for the wisdom, courage, and strength to work for justice and for the humility to be allies for our neighbors. Remind us when we forget, that many of us are privileged and have power that we can wield on the behalf of those who have been ignored in spite of their efforts to be heard. Even if it is our first time to take a stand, help us press forward, embrace the wisdom of other’s lives, and provide a platform from which the disenfranchised may speak for themselves and be heard.

We ask that You cultivate in us the gift of insight so that we might discover together new and wise ways to share the fiscal, social, and cultural benefits offered in this city. Reveal to us a new way to reason and negotiate with one another for our common good. 

Inspire our leaders to listen to the wisdom of those who have been ignored, but whose lived experience reveals the truth of our true connections to one another and to You.

Amen.


Martha L. Wharton holds a doctorate in English, has a law degree, and is a spiritual director. She works as a grief educator and support, and conducts diversity workshops. Now she is developing a spiritual direction practice in Baltimore, MD.

 

Racism: A Culture of Malformation

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 Elizabeth Leung

When I think of contemplation, the name of Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and social critic, came to mind. I read “No Man is an Island” and “Seeds of Contemplation” decades ago, and what he said about the illusion of the false self, in contrast to the true self in God, inspired me to think of the spiritual life in a deeper way. However, it would be years later, when my eyes were opened to the false self as a colonized subject growing up in British Hong Kong, while coming into racial consciousness living as a non-white immigrant and learning of Asian American history in the United States.

A few weeks ago, I heard a plenary address “Engaging Racism: Merton and the Unfinished Quest for Social Justice” given by Bryan N. Massingale at the International Thomas Merton Society meeting. Massingale has focused on racism as culture—“a way of interpreting human color differences that pervade the collective convictions, conventions, and practices of American life … functions as an ethos, as the animating spirit of U.S. society, which lives on despite observable changes and assumes various incarnations in different historical circumstances.” (Bryan N. Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, p. 15.)

Quoting Merton who wrote in the mid-1960s about U.S. racism as a white[ness] problem and a spiritual crises, and African American agency as white kairos, Massingale explained racism as a cultural ethos of malformation of self and conformation to a social order that adopts a racial superiority. In terms of Merton’s understanding of the true self in God, the contemplative is one who is uneasy with the social order and its mechanisms that keep us in a false self. For in the adoption of racial superiority, the inmost being, whose destiny is in God as the true self, becomes a specter.

Racism as a culture of malformation echoes with my reflection on racism as disfiguration of the image of God and the creation of the beloved community as the transfiguration of the body of Christ. Similar to Massingale, I consider racism a culture in which we are already immersed. We cannot ignore the lasting impacts of the historical realities of racism on the establishment of social structures and on present attitudes and behaviors regarding race. In other words, when we say that racism is a sin, it cannot be simply about what one person does to another. Racism is a malformation that afflicts all and a disfiguration that violates all.

If racism affects the destiny of our true self in God and the creation of the Body of Christ, I wonder why social justice regarding race is often treated as an application of theology. For me, the vision of John of Patmos in Revelation 7:9 indicates that in heaven, at the end of times, God is not “colorblind.” Perhaps it is time to face the malformation in our current church culture and to seek reformation for the next—one in which racial justice is integral in our theological discourse, foundational in our seminary curriculum, and central in our Christian faith formation.


 

Elizabeth LeungThe Rev. Elizabeth Leung is the Minister for Racial Justice with the national setting of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio. She was trained in spiritual direction at Mercy Center, Burlingame, CA. Her PhD in Christian Spirituality was from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA.

Breathe on Me Lord; I Can’t Breathe

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 Rosalie E. Norman-McNaney

Breathe on me, Breathe of God, Fill me with life anew,

That I may love what Thou dost love,

And do what Thou wouldst do.

“Breathe on me, Breath of God by Edwin Hatch (1842-1914) Composer Robert Jackson (1842-1914) Composer Lockhart (1745-1815).

I usually begin a spiritual direction session by inviting a directee to focus on his/her breath as we begin a time of silence. Focusing on one’s breath is a way to become centered in the moment, during a meditation practice, so that we can be attentive to the moving of the Holy Spirit within our lives. As we attend to each moment of inhaling a deep breath and then slowly releasing it, we can experience the easing of the tension within our physical bodies and the scattered thoughts jostling within our minds. The spiritual discipline of focusing on our breath is also a reminder of Genesis 2:7, when God breathed the breath of life into Adam and then to Eve bringing forth life.

Recently, our nation has been reminded of the importance of human breath from those whom the breath of life has been extinguished due to injustice. On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, 17, was fatally shot by George Zimmermann in Sanford, Florida. Trayvon was unjustly profiled as dangerous because he was wearing a hoodie and Black in a neighborhood that Zimmerman believed Blacks did not belong.

On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, was shot by a white police officer who suspected the youth of a recent robbery and of carrying a weapon. Millions watched the unbelievable actions of New York City police officers holding Eric Garner, 43, in a choke-hold on Staten Island on July 18, 2014. “I can’t breathe,” Garner gasped, as officers held him down and repeatedly banged Garner’s head on the hard pavement. Garner was arrested for resisting arrest and for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner’s body went lifeless, and he was dead on arrival (DOA) to the hospital. Eric Garner was also Black.

The most recent example of injustice was Freddie Gray Jr., 25, who was arrested for allegedly carrying an illegal switch blade. Gray died on April 21, 2015, as a result of unnecessary force used against him, resulting in a spinal cord injury. In addition, Gray was not correctly secured inside a police van while being transported to the police station. Gray also said “I can’t breathe.”

Gray’s life ended due to the actions of six police officers. It was later found that Gray did not have a switchblade. He had a knife that is lawful under Maryland law. It was the type of knife that millions of men of all races carry every day throughout our nation. Unrest, protesters, and riots broke out after each of the deaths of the Black youth and men previously mentioned. Each demonstration echoed loud and clear the same sentiment of injustice and violation of civil rights. Mothers, fathers, spouses, and children moan their loss of loved ones, and we are yelling and shouting individually, corporately, and as a nation, “I can‘t breathe;” We can’t breathe.

The violence and injustice we are facing today is far from the dream that The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had spoken of on August 28, 1963. This is not the dream we had hoped would end racism and the inequality of Blacks and others not of the dominant culture. Instead, there is a noose of injustice and racism cutting off the air of our Black youth and men, and we have been jolted out of our dream state to face a civil rights crisis and a complete reversal of what we had all hoped would bring peace and new life. Instead, the breath of some human beings is being cut off because of their color. The recent violence against our Black youth and men has ignited the racial and injustice conversation again. A pertinent conversation to get to the root of racism, which is a deep societal wound that has long been bandaged over, is essential for all of us. The worn bandages are peeling away and falling off as new forms of racism are introduced into society. These new systems are strategically being carried out through a set of laws that unfairly tips the scales of justice in support of destroying our Black youth and men.

The “Stop and Frisk” practice that allows police to stop an individual who may be suspected of carrying a weapon has been inappropriately used to restrict civil liberties rather than for the prevention of crime. It is sadly assumed that our African American men and most others outside of the dominant culture are all dangerous and are most likely to commit a crime. The media has long perpetrated the negative views about African Americans and specifically Black men and youth. This continues to cause a divide to the point that society does not distinguish between one person of color from another. Fear and suspicion is cast over all Blacks instead of seeing people as individuals. The portrayal of Blacks and others outside of the dominant culture as dangerous, as demonstrated in the cases previously cited above, consequently profiles our Black and minority youth and men in a negative light.

Michelle Alexander, social activist and author of the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarnation in the Age of Colorblindness, uses the analogy of Jim Crow laws to show that the old racial caste system has just been redesigned as a mass racial incarceration system for blacks and Latinos. Alexander challenges the view that, by electing President Obama, a Black President, we are living in an era of colorblindness. Instead, Alexander speaks to the caste system that keeps our Black youth and men, and all others, disenfranchised through a racial incarceration caste system that relegates them to second class citizenship. Alexander calls us all to action to bring about change.

As Christians, believing that we are each made in the image of a loving God, we cannot turn away and breathe within our own safety zone. We are all affected, especially those of us whom are Black and others outside of the dominant culture with sons, spouses, brothers, fathers, uncles, neighbors, friends, and coworkers. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, “…injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere.” We must all be prayerful, speak up, and advocate for justice for all.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

Until my heart is pure, Until with Thee I will Thy will,

To do and to endure.

Closing Prayer:

Lord, help us to be new; breathe on us God. Breathe courage and peace within and instill in us the willingness to breathe out the racism that has hold of our country and bring new life. Help us to be free from our own biases and to be reconciled through Jesus Christ. Move us to peaceful actions that bring about change, so that we can breathe the breath of New Life. Amen.


 

Rosalie Norman McNaneyRev. Rosalie E. Norman-McNaney is an ordained American Baptist minister, spiritual director, and hospice chaplain in Central Florida. She is vice manager of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Norman-McNaney is committed to sharing the transformational love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in ministry with all people regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, language, age, sexual orientation, and or ability.

Silence Before Protest

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 Vikki Montgomery

Two great men separated by continents and decades have been on the leading edge of social change through silence.

One was the late Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, mystic, preacher, theologian, author, and poet. He was also well known as a spiritual mentor to the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One observer said of King, “I was not at all surprised to find King reading not Gandhi, but Howard Thurman.” Thurman headed the first African-American delegation to meet with Gandhi in 1936.

The other great man is Nobel Peace Laureate and Emeritus Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu. Tutu chaired the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the request of the late president, Nelson Mandela.

Tutu serves as the honorary chair of The Elders, established his peace and family foundations, and is writing a book on joy with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Thurman worked quietly in the background with other Civil Rights Movement leaders, “… to challenge [those] clergy never to lose their rooting in spiritual practices such as meditation, prayer, singing, celebration, worship, and silence,” according to Dr. Robert Franklin, former president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, during a Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program.

“There is very great virtue in the cultivation of silence, and strength to be found in using it as a door to God,” Thurman wrote in his book, Meditations of the Heart.

Tutu also found personal strength, solace and direction in the silence. In his book, No Future Without Forgiveness, he speaks of:

… those moments in the early morning when I try to be quiet, to sit in the presence of the gentle and compassionate and unruffled One to try to share or be given some of that divine serenity.

In fact at the first meeting with the commissioners, Tutu got them to agree to go on a retreat, where as he says:

… we sought to enhance our spiritual resources and to sharpen our sensitivities. We sat at the feet of a spiritual guru, who happened to be my own spiritual counselor, while we kept silence for a day, seeking to open ourselves to the movement and guidance of the transcendent Spirit, however conceived or named.

The Civil Rights Movement was about righting systemic wrongs. The post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission was about healing a nation. As believers in the living God, we need revisit the first and begin the second.

What if as a start, churches, which too often strive to fill services with sound, institute a time of silence within liturgies and meetings? Not just for a moment, but for an extended period of time.

What might the Spirit say to us collectively as we wait in silence?

And what might happen if we individually accept Jesus’ invitation in Mark to, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while?”

The book of Mark shows Jesus as a man of action and also as a man of contemplation. All of the gospels mention him retreating for nights of prayer and then advancing to do good works.

Jesus was the original contemplative in action. The prototype. Tutu and Thurman have been fine copies, and through their influence, they have mentored others to be.

In these days of anguish about the injustices in our nation, before we raise our voices in protest, let us first sit in silence.


Vikki Montgomery

Vikki Montgomery is a contemplative, communications consultant, writer, and educator. Her greatest joy is being a mother and grandmother. Her spiritual mentor confirmed her intuition that silence is the first language of God.

Jesus is Stripped of His Clothing: A Good Friday Reflection on Racism

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 blog was first published in April 2012 on the author’s blog, Leslye Wrytes.

By Leslye Colvin

As a child, he was taught the history of his people and their ongoing relationship with the living God…a people created and loved by the one God…a people whose faith endured as they struggled in captivity, in exile, in slavery, in oppression; the same faith that inspired them to hope for a new day.

Living in an occupied land without privilege, he embraced his God-given dignity though never denying others theirs. In fact, he empowered others to do the same.

Yet, there he stood in his truth before this cross assembled by others—stripped of his dignity, standing in his nakedness, knowing the assault of lies, the weight of shackles, the sting of scourging, the absence of respect, the pangs of exhaustion, the judgment of unjust systems, the apathy of others, the violence of fear.

In spite of his compassionate teaching, centuries later, other peoples stood in their truth before crosses assembled and maintained by others—stripped of their dignity, standing in their nakedness as they faced the cross of racism.

For too many generations, peoples have known the assault of lies, the weight of shackles, the sting of scourging, the absence of respect, the pangs of exhaustion, the judgment of unjust systems, the apathy of others, the violence of fear—in the midst of it all, mindful of God’s love for them.

Grateful for the progress made, truth compels us to acknowledge that racism is neither a relic from history, nor a single cross. Instead, our nation’s original sin is a complex web of crosses deeply entrenched in our landscape.

Dismantling this web is an ongoing ministry dependent on moving beyond our apathy and divisions to work together in truth so that we may confront the unjust systems and fear that racism perpetuates. When we, who are people of goodwill, stand together in truth, no man or woman is stripped of dignity.


L Colvin

Leslye Colvin is a writer at heart and a bridge builder among peoples who respect the value of listening and engaging in dialogue. She embraces the lessons offered by diversity and views life as an ongoing invitation to compassion. Currently in the midst of a professional transition, her measure of success is to live a life of integrity. A JustFaith graduate, she also earned a Certificate in Social Justice from the University of Dayton. 

Contemplation and Social Justice

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!

In case you have missed any, here is a master list of  this month’s posts exploring contemplation and social Justice:

Blog curator Therese Taylor-Stinson introduces this month’s topic in “Contemplation and Social Justice: A Month of Blogging by Members of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd.”

photo credit: DSC_0082 via photopin (license)

photo credit: DSC_0082 via photopin (license)

Second, Leslye Colvin shares a reflection on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in “A Clearer Image: Two at a Well.”

Next, Cynthia Bailey Manns explores the challenge of engaging in meaningful discussions about race, faith, and politics in a two-part post, “Reluctant Companions.” You can read part I here, and part II here.

In “Embracing Diversity,” Therese Taylor-Stinson reflects on Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman’s keynote at the 2015 NEXT Church National Gathering in Chicago.

In Jesus Stripped of His Clothing, Leslye Colvin provides a thoughtful Good Friday Reflection on Racism.

Vikki Montgomery compares the contemplative work of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement with Desmond Tutu’s work to end Apartheid in her post Silence Before Protest.

Rosalie E. Norman-McNaney writes about the importance of breath in her spiritual direction sessions and the violence directed against young black men like Freddie Gray in her post Breathe on Me Lord; I Can’t Breathe.

Elizabeth Leung reflects on Thomas Merton in Racism: A Culture of Malformation.

In For What Shall I Pray?, Martha L. Wharton shares a heart-wrenching prayer on behalf of Baltimore mothers.

Vikki Montgomery reviews Krista Tippet’s On Being Interview with Pico Iyer in Out of Stillness and Silence.

Finally, Lerita Coleman Brown and Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks provide a four part series about Intersectionality. You can read part 1, 2, 3, and 4 here.