The #ChurchyMystic: Blackchurch Ritual & Healing Possibility

These days, when people ask me about mysticism, ritual, or healing practices, I can tell that they are looking for something very specific. I know this because there is a mystical “come-up” happening on social media forums like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook – and I’m here for it (to the degree that it doesn’t appropriate & desecrate other sociocultural-spiritual practices). This pattern of moving towards more contemplation – of the self, of the stars in astrology, of tarot cards & intuitive healing arts – is something that I celebrate. When I’m working with a client, we may even discuss or use some of these modalities. It is hardly a secret that I read tarot cards for intuitive coaching, got attuned to reiki, and certainly know how to work my way around crystals & herbs. All of this, I learned along the way and become ever-proficient. But to be clear, my first initiation into mysticism & the contemplative came from experiences in and around the Black, charismatic, mystically-centered (“Spirit-led” is the lexicon most used in these spaces where there is potential for the mystical), church.

My family of origin are church goers to this day – although I lapsed in regular attendance years ago. Each week of my formative years were punctuated by our visits to the all-day affair that was Sunday church service. Each Sunday the ushers would give us fresh, warm copies of the program. Yet, our pastoral leadership (like many in Black charismatic church spaces) referred to the program as more of a living document or merely suggestions for our time together – because “Spirit* was not bound to a program”.

This reorienting of time meant that if something spontaneous, fascinating, or unexplainable happened, we would give free space to see it through. When used with integrity & the absence of White, Western, imperialistic, repressive theology – it seemed that practices of healing were made more possible.

I don’t believe that I’m the only one whose noticed that deep practices of intuitive listening, personal contemplation, personal connection to the Divine, as well as guided rituals, and varied healing modalities (e.g. energy healing through consenting touch, sound baths, intuitively led conversations). This occurs despite the often restrictive theologies which present in these spaces.

A few questions emerge from that understanding:

  • How do those of us who understand this specific tradition & are attuned to the mysticism in these places – eat the meat and spit out the bones” (to quote some of my Gramma’s wisdom)?

Moreover…

  • How do we embrace the contemplative & mystical practices of the Black charismatic church in ways that help us to deconstruct repressive theology and the suppression of our identities?

One of the things that I think scholar & friend, Ashon Crawley, does beautifully in his book BlackPentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility is digging deeper into the possibilities of some of these practices. I’m particularly struck by his notion of the musicians in these spaces playing “nothingness” music – a padding of sound that erupts during certain spaces in service e.g. altar call, transitions, pastoral reflections. The musicians improvise with lulling chords which in turn encourages contemplation in the parishioners in the spaces of those sounds – rather than the ‘silence model’ so typically espoused in Western contemplative circles & schools of thought. (Seriously, get Ashon’s book).

My work here (and beyond) is to interrogate the following:

  • How do we embrace the contemplative, mystical, and intuitive practices of the Black charismatic church – as re-imagined, expansive, & important healing modalities to be used with the utmost integrity?   

I’m also ever-pondering my own questions around these practices and how we use them to help each other heal. (Healing, as I’m defining it here, includes deeper understanding, compassion, and integration of any disparate / disembodied / fragmented pieces of the whole Self; to bring into deeper balance with Self & others). 

For example, might it be possible that these chords act in the same ways that sound baths do? In those sonic spaces or ‘pauses in service’, does the vibration of sound act to soothe us & ground us again after highly intense spiritual experiences? I believe so.

For example, in the practices of consensually laying hands on someone who is feeling fragmented or disembodied, there remains the possibility of reminding someone how to feel safe within their bodies and to embrace the limitlessness of their soul. There is even the possibility, with directed intention, integrity, and much practice to facilitate energy healing within someone’s auric field (that is – to use consensual touch to detect where there might be imbalances or blockages to their highest potential & to assist that person in letting go of blockages, tensions, burdens that now have an energetic ‘life’ in someone’s personal space). I got this in the hugs that the church mothers would give. The guides & mothers that combined integrity, consensual embracing with directed intention often gave the back rub, the touch, or even the extension of hands through prayer that made me feel physically and energetically ‘lighter’ – more integrated & comfortable with myself, the Divine, & others.

Is it possible to look at ‘speaking in tongues’ as improvisational & intuitive sound-making? If so, it may work toward the end of intuitively communicating a reality in the space where language has failed us. We might open up the possibility that ‘speaking in tongues’ becomes a healing method to help both speaker & community feel seen & understood BEYOND words. Through intuitive improvisation, the practitioners offer sonic metaphors for inexplicable grief, joy, ecstasy, consummation, tension, and energy. The art itself – varying pitch, arrangement, and delivery of ‘tongues’ – creates a self expression that heals both the practitioner & the parishioner. (In my personal life, a connecting metaphor is that there are some healing modalities – reiki, for example – that work to also heal YOU as you practice for others). This practice is HIGHLY dependent on context & community – so it is not my recommendation to bill this as a ‘service’ in an ‘intuitive healing suite’. (I mention this lightly & jokingly but the thing is…)

It does not feel like such a tall order to acknowledge that many of the threads of the Black charismatic ‘Spirit-led’ church has hints and reminders of culturally specific, historical understandings of healing. It does not feel strange (to me) to acknowledge that so many in the lineage of the Black church were also root workers, mystics, and conjurers of various levels of integrity & power (see much of Dr. Yvonne Chireau’s work). In some of our ancestry, that work morphed into practice through ‘socially acceptable’ modes within the life of the church (e.g. healing prayers, divination through opening up Bible text to “see where it lands”, faith healings, spontaneous & intuitive ‘words of knowledge’ or ‘prophecy’, etc).

I want us, ESPECIALLY us mystics who have come from the Black church, to look deeply into these practices and to deconstruct them to see if there is any fruit that may be yielded. Is there a way to re-imagine the ritual, detox from repressive theology, and unpack healing art or story in the overall experience?

To be continued… 

Until then, let me know your thoughts!

 

6 Tips on Ethical & Responsible Tarot Reading

Originally published on Facebook (Jade T. Perry) & IG (@terrynredd). Pictured here: 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack

Responsible and ethical tarot readers:

  • Study! There are so many elements to tarot and while using intuition is a BIG part of it, that should be supplemented with study. If you charge, be sure to calculate the costs of further study in the form of books, courses, training, etc.
  • Are in conversation with other responsible readers!! It’s important to have a community to go to for advice, accountability, & further knowledge. (My examples include: Damascena Healing Arts ,@aniysathementalpoet, The Rooted Turtle, @thedejaspeaks are a few that come to mind readily
  •  Know when to refer. Readers are privileged to get to know some intimate details of the people they see. And when a detail comes up that you are not licensed or skilled to speak to, you MUST refer!! Tarot readers are not long or short term therapists, financial analysts, or Drs. In sessions, we might discuss or uncover a detail that needs further diving into by a therapist. That is the time to refer! Be sure you have a few contacts on hand for this purpose. Most of the contacts that I use come from The Healing in Our Times Project mini-directory. 
  • Keep confidentiality (unless there are threats to the safety of themselves or others)
  • Admit when there is something you don’t know & ask questions on interpretation. Reading is a conversation in that AS you read, the querent is also sitting with / processing the images that come to light. There are so many dynamics to attend to and so many reasons why information in a reading may come up “cloudy”. Maybe they aren’t really ready to go “there” – where the card is hinting. Maybe something came up that has yet to develop fully in real-time. Maybe you’re having an off day – we’re human! It’s okay to be honest when there is something that you don’t know. Perhaps it’s only there for the querent to know, decipher, or reflect on. At that point, you become a guide into the symbolism, imagery, and archetypes while they lend their own personal interpretation to that guidance. This is still the work!
  • Have skill in active listening ALONG with a keen personal knowledge of what grounds you! Before readings, I like to drink a strong tea and make sure I’m warm enough. Simple! But it helps keep me focused on the moment.

What might you add to this list? What do you look for in a wellness provider, reader, or helper? 

Octavia Butler said God is Change

On April 24, 2018, I was in a hotel room overlooking the Chicago River as a treat for my 29th birthday! I decided to take some time to reflect on the year before and to write out 29 affirmations for the year ahead. (As a note, even though I believe affirmations can be very powerful, I admittedly don’t engage them as much as I could, I guess. So, writing down the 29 affirmations was something I wanted to do to get a picture of where I was, what I needed, and where I was going).

While most of them had to do with my emotional / spiritual Self, I had some that talked about transitions: from work, in physical location, and in everyday life. I remembered that The People’s Oracle told me that things would be changing very much in the summer months and I smiled at all of the possibilities.

But transitions often sound sexier than they feel! And from June until September, I:

  • Resigned from a job position
  • Started a new job position – in a different field!
  • Transitioned into a new phase of a romantic relationship
  • Left the neighborhood that I lived in for 4 years!
  • Moved to a new neighborhood
  • Found new & different collaborators in passion projects & business
  • Made new friends!
  • Experienced changes in my health – some for better, some for… not better
  • Launched a Patreon account to make the work more sustainable (patreon.com/jadetperry)! (I’m really excited about this because the tiers range from as low as $7 up to the Intuitive Wellness Coaching package which is more intensive AND I get a chance to offer some of my regular sessions, workshops, training, pep talks, and Q&A in a way that isn’t bound by location! No worries, this platform will still be up too!

Needless to say, life has been a conglomeration of DEEPLY exciting and nerve-shaking Unknowns.

One of the things that this platform (and others) allow me to do is to continue to dream, evolve, grow, and change alongside ya’ll and I appreciate that. Thanks for honoring the silence between last post and this post! Thanks for being on this journey with me.

Warmly,
JTP

 

Trauma, Time Traveling, & Resilience: Whine Club #14

Recently, I was one of the featured readers  Whine Club #14 , described by its co-founder Keisa Reynolds as “a monthly storytelling series for women and non-binary people who enjoy writing, whining, and drinking wine”. Our theme was “Resilience”, and as you can see from the timing of my previous posts, it had been quite a while since I’d written anything for public consumption. During that time, I was navigating a medical leave, a significant trauma, and re-entry into the various points of work (higher ed, Mystic Soul, #EmbodiedRitual project, etc). In this piece, I explore the concepts of:

  • Trauma as undoing the illusion of time
  • Navigating trauma as similar to “time-travel”
  • “Sexting” & nudity as building viable senses of possibility outside of trauma while providing various tools within trauma
  • Sauna baptism, strip class exorcism, and charismatic Christian spirituality

This piece happens in Three Movements:
Movement I: Dream Traveling
Movement II: A Timeline Folding in on Itself
Movement III: The During-After & the Future-Now

I’m SO excited to present Movement I and half of Movement II in video format for you! The rest of Movement II & Movement III will be provided in text, below. Journey with me! (CW: Discussion of mental illness, suicide, and religious practice)

Movement II, Cont’d:

When I was a little girl, I gained quite the education about exorcisms. My Grandmother studied them informally. She was a religious woman who had left the Baptist church for a more charismatic experience: one dripping with the unidentified tongue, channeling new forms of ring-shouting, writhing bodies falling to the ground in ecstasy a commonplace sight. She gave up her conventions for the heavy drums, the percussive conga, and the slippery knowing if whether what moved us was “The Holy Ghost” of God, ancestor, shaking loose of chakras, pent up expression, exorcism of grief, the overflowing of thanks, or all of the above.

There was a time when we went from dingy tent to storefront church for what they called “deliverance services”. Congregants came with various ailments. Some said they were grappling with malevolent spirits (and whether those spirits were otherworldly or the strongholds of racism, ableism, homophobia, and the like was not accessible knowledge to me then).

Exorcisms were always such messy business. In my little-girl-mind, it seemed that the congregants’ bodies were made of spirit, bone, muscle, electricity, and mists. They went up to the altar – however formal or makeshift – to allow someone to lay hands on them.

Exorcisms were always such forceful business. The malevolent spirits were directly addressed, commanded to do this or that. Come out! Go back from where you came from! Each individual reaction was different, but it often involved lots of tears, lots of sound, perhaps some rolling about, or signifiers of purging. I was both afraid and intrigued. What had taken hold of this person… and how? How did we know that it needed to be cast out? What could I do to keep from being taken hold by something that I could not control?

I had an exorcism as an adult. I was in the middle of the #ReclaimingYourSexy Strip Class Intensive – I lie to you not – and our instructor told us to strip with the intention of letting go of whatever we felt we needed to let go of. I didn’t feel that anything malevolent had taken hold of me. I just couldn’t make peace with my grief. I couldn’t plan enough. I couldn’t outrun it or out-sleep it. In the middle of my stripping, I collapsed with my face down to the floor.  My dance partner circled around me, pulled me into their arms. We sat there for a while, them slowly, consensually caressing my scantily clad and grieving body – completely silent. As my body racked with silent, heaving sobs, I thought, “Could this be a form of exorcism too?” Perhaps the particularity of trauma should also be directly addressed, but instead of commanded – caressed and held for a moment, and then, coaxed away so that the person could be delivered for a moment, a day, perhaps forever. I’m not sure.

Week 6: Friends began slipping larger pieces of food onto my plate. And this time, I ate them. Family came to my doorpost. And I received them.

Week 7: Another month of medical leave. Another diagnosis added to the chart. Another month of experiencing my own breath as the loudest sound in the room. When I woke up at 3 am,I would turn on the music, and do a “shaking” practice. Both my therapist and my meditation teacher agreed: The shaking was connected to memory. Memory trying to make its way through the body. Memory trying to find a place to break down, transform, and re-conceptualize itself. I thought it might be right to create a shaking practice set to music. I’m detoxing myself from trying to do everything right (but that was a damn good idea).

Week 8: A Text. Please pick up these things from the store for me if you can. I’m not able to get out today.
Bath bombs. Either lavender or rose.
Lavender scented epsom salt.
Fuzzy socks
Boxed water
A bag of salad greens
Dried fruit and protein bars
Batteries
Incense from the store down the street
A green power smoothie
Instant oatmeal
Salmon patties that I can throw in the oven with seasoning

Movement III: The During-After & the Future-Now

“I never thought I would be sending a ‘Wassup big head’ text but… here I am”. They are everything I said I would never entertain. I have no big expectations of them. No desires to carve them into the grooves of my everyday. I have asked only one thing: Add material to the flames of my erotic. I will keep the fire stoked. If Solange sexed it away, then I have “sexted” it away: relishing in the cushion that the distance provides. For now, it is all elusive possibility and perhaps, there is something to be said about the traumatic loss of one possibility and the option to create others – even if they are primarily works of lived fiction. He is a Gemini – as equally real to me as unreal. As equally accessible to me as inaccessible.

The people in my strip class convinced me to get on the dating apps. I scrunched my nose at them first, but 30 minutes of their stories of finding good friends, a husband, and a few friends with benefits got me listening. I was ovulating then and God knows…

Was creating a profile admitting defeat? Was it throwing myself into a void? Would I know if I was being swiped left?! That night, I mindlessly scrolled through the profiles, the swiping motion giving me a welcome and calming activity to do with my hands. My eyelids became heavy after a while as I read the About section of a woman who said that she really was just here to find a third for her & her partner. Half enveloped in my dreams I thought, “How did we all fall here together? And when might we all collide?”

Some days, I have subsisted on cups of coffee, Zoloft, and the prayers of my ancestors. Other days, I have maintained through the texts friends sent, the care package that comes in the mail, the tea offered at my best friend’s kitchen table, and the bittersweet remembering of all of the ways that they loved me. There are other days that I wake up early, attend to the dishes, feed the kittens, and enter seamlessly into a version of the life I used to live. Trauma breaks the illusion of organized time. For months, I have been time traveling in, reality melting around me, doubling its power, reshaping its own voracity. And I am simultaneously strengthened and shattered.
__________________________________________________________________________

Thank you.

#MillenialWomanism: Excerpt of a Collaboration of Thinking Women of Faith, Healing, & Activism

An excerpt from the #MillenialWomanism forum, curated by Liz Alexander & Melanie Jones

“The current iteration of my work as a “millennial womanist” started as an approximately six person online book club, a website domain name purchase, and a post about “inheriting mysticism from my Christian other-mothers”. Up until that point, my M. Ed journey in Higher Education / Student and subsequent years spent working in university contexts had me informally considering the many ways in which students of color learn and / or unlearn toxic theological lenses that might impede upon their identity development. Additionally, my own “biomythography” [i] writing allowed me some space to unpack how I was unlearning toxic theological lenses. I didn’t go into any of this work considering that I would be contributing to the emerging millennial womanist framework and I didn’t understand how quickly the work would expand. However, I realized that if I needed more formal space to question how the Christian faith intersected with the lived experiences of Black women, queer people of color, persons with chronic illnesses & disabilities, etc., others might need it too.

Thus, the online book club grew to a closed group platform whose formal outcome is to support “those who are seeking solidarity, community, and intersectionality as they navigate feelings, experiences, and questions that come with theological shifts”. It is a fully affirming, recommendation only space, with a community library, and dialogue series on a range of topics. The domain name purchase, jadetperry.com, became a way for me to do autoethnography work around matters of inherited spirituality, womanism, and more. Perhaps most surprisingly, the post on inheriting mysticism from Christian other-mothers grew into co-founding a non-profit called Mystic Soul, which seeks to center the voices and indigenous spiritual practices of people of color “from the Christian tradition and beyond”.

Currently, I am working with other millennial womanist scholars to consider theory on sexuality for Black churched women, curating a specialized list of resources for holistic wellness, and more informally, supporting the spiritual processes of faith & community leaders by offering intuitive tarot readings & pursuing reiki certification. The “sacred platforms” on which I stand most often often bring me into “hybrid” (interspiritual & interdisciplinary) spaces to work with visual artists, storytellers, scholars, preachers & ministers, reiki healers and acupuncturists – all working towards the collective healing & wellness of Black women. It has been a work of healing justice and decolonizing spiritual practices. It remains difficult to find a singular definition for this type of work, because it is continuously revealing itself…”

“So, I approached my spiritual activism work with an ethos similar to that of interdisciplinary millennial womanist & popular R&B singer, Solange Knowles: “We aren’t thanking anyone for ‘allowing us’ into these spaces… until we are truly given the access to tear the got damn walls down” [ii]. I don’t believe that the assertion here is that gratitude is inappropriate or that access to additional opportunities are unnecessary. I believe it channels an ethos connected to the millennial womanist framework of “moving beyond respectability politics with an intentional call for recognition and reciprocity”. Moreover, I believe millennial womanism envisions our work by moving through walls, when necessary, and at times, disregards the niceties that keep walls intact…”

For the FULL piece, click here!

To Write About the Living: Excerpts from “Mothering”

This piece was offered as a reading / storytelling piece for Mothering, “a program of performances queering the construction of mothering as an action rather than an assigned and gendered role”, organized by artist Amina Ross, hosted by Compound Yellow.  

It is hard to write about the dead. And it is hard to write about the living. To offer a rendering of them that is not solely romanticized, not solely demonized. To tell you that, like everyone else, they were-are complex. To express how the complexity showed up in them… “as told by” me.

My biological mother is alive and has recently discovered emojis.

My “other-mothers” – women who took me to school and picked me up when my mother worked early morning to late in the evening, women who enabled my sweet tooth by teaching me to make strawberry icebox pie & buying cream puffs each Thursday for an after-dinner treat – both dead. Cancer, both times.

For a long time, I have been pondering how to share “mother” with the world, hoping that by providing some kind of access, the world might better understand me. Hoping that I might better understand myself. What you are about to hear are some snippets of things I have written throughout the years and in recent months – perhaps we can connect these pieces, together…

*Names have been changed & in some instances, facts include fiction to protect those living who deserve this protection

I was 13 when I found out that my Mother hates Mother’s’ Day.
“Because who can REALLY say who the day is for, who is a mother & who is not, who qualifies to get a card & who does not? And why should I be asked to choose whom to celebrate: my mother or my mother in law – spending the day with one OR the other? And if I’m spending the day with them, then how shall my children celebrate me?!”


Those who do not know my mother might think this is about the logistics of a holiday. But I know better. There was a critique in the tone of conversation – just missing the words that I use in written posts & during brunch with my friends:
“on capitalism and adding profit to reproductive capability, on policing modes of mothering & leaving out or being forced to choose among with Patricia Hill Collins calls ‘other-mothers’, on the patriarchy my father had internalized – asking her to relinquish her time with her mother (a biological mother of one) so that she could be more present to the celebrations with his mother (a biological mother of 8)”

Years later, when I’d come home from grad school, I would try such words out on my mother and she’d listen if it caught her interest. I would try them with my Grandmother and she’d up from her coffee, slowly, saying, “Jadey Mae, you’re talking so good but I don’t know what you’re talking about”. Needless to say, this changed my public, externally-facing writing style.

At 13, I learned that after presenting Mom with her card, I could go over my friend’s house and eat the slightly under-seasoned food that their barely teen aged children prepared for them. I would place my napkin neatly in my lap and say, “Happy Mothers Day, Mrs. Stevens”, as she opened up the gifts that her children bought her. She opened them slowly, animated, delighted, and tickled to find whatever was resting in the bottom of the bag.

Age 9 – Philadelphia, PA – Sunday Morning – Church Name: Redacted.
As we walked in, the ushers held out one box of white roses and one box of red roses. “If your mother has passed, please take a white rose. If your mother is alive, please take a red rose.” I asked, “Which mother?” They looked at me as if it wasn’t a shared cultural practice to be raised by multiple women, femmes, femme-identified persons, non binary persons…

And how could I take that red rose when my friend Valerie, also 9 years old, was left with the option of the white rose, pinned to her chest – a reminder. I decided that if I ever had a church, a church of misfit mystics looking for the Divine, there would be no red or white rose choices. Take a flower, if you’d like. Leave a flower, if you’d like.

I was still regularly going to church when I was 19. I was trying to find a theology that fit this spiritual eclecticism that I was quickly encountering inside of myself. “On this Sunday, we want to acknowledge all of the mothers.” Let us say that by 19, I’d inherited the side eye of my mother.

The pastor said, “If you are a mother, would you please stand to be acknowledged.”

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck…” I whispered this under my breath… briefly considering whether I should begin speaking in tongues lest Mother Gail hear me cussin’ in the sanctuary. (I didn’t. Some things you just don’t play with).

As much as I tried to block out the voice of my mother in my head, she was there just the same: “Because who can REALLY say who the day is for, who is a mother & who is not, who qualifies to get a card & who does not?”

What about my friend Alicia? She had a baby that year but they shamed her during the pregnancy because she was unmarried. Should she now stand to be acknowledged by the same people? What about Mrs. Dempsey? She asked us to pray that she and her husband conceive this year but if she didn’t stand this year then…

…And my godmother, who didn’t want to be partnered. She called my mother every day with updates on how the adoption process was going. It seemed like all things were moving ahead, but her son just wasn’t here yet. The women who were biological mothers and did not want to be. The persons who mothered past time, space, and even biology.

“WHO APPROVED THIS?”

I thought I said it in my mind but then I heard my friend lean over and say, “Chiiiiiile…”

Now, I am closer to 30 than I am to 19 and it has crystallized in some ways for me, as it did for my mother. Mothering is complex and contextual. There are nuances upon nuances, and nuances beneath those. There are those of us who have had to learn, as Audre Lorde said, “to mother ourselves” (1) – maybe at certain points in our lives and maybe our entire lives (2).

I’ve decided to contact my mother after the dust has settled from reading this piece. Currently, we are struggling to decide who gets to mother me. For there are some moments where I really need her to mother me. And there are other moments where… [redacted]. I believe this is what we have been arguing about lately, even though it typically masquerades as being about faith, spirituality, living arrangements, or a piece of juicy gossip that a stepsister told her regarding one of my post on Facebook.

Yet, I want to know more about my mother because of her life before me, her oldest, and because her face implies that she has stories that she hasn’t told quite yet. When I call her, I think I’m going to say, “I know that you hate this day. But I also know that you appreciate a call on this day.  Life sets up such delicious ironies. And none of them are comfortable with being denied”.

1. “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches. Berkeley: The Crossing Press, 1984.

2. Gumbs, A.P. (2010). “We Can Learn to Mother Ourselves: The Queer Survival of Black Feminism 1968-1996” (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/

 

What I Mean When I Tell You that Ability is Constructed & Temporary

And one day it was hard to walk.

Chronic illlness & chronic pain are realities that consistently sit in the background of my mind & the forefront of my body. However, everything seems so heightened since the recent calamities of the American healthcare system (deep sigh).

Fortunately, I have a social media sphere that seems to be familiar with the terms ‘ableism’ and have the basic understanding that living a ‘good life’ cannot and does not prevent pre-existing illnesses & conditions. However, there always seems to be the ghost of what is often difficult to name, to reason through, to accept.

Ability is constructed. Ability is temporary…

Or in the words of Wendell’s 1989 feminist theory of disability:

“Our culture idealizes the body and demands that we control it. Thus, although most people will be disabled at some time in their lives, the disabled are made “the other,” who symbolize failure of control and the threat of pain, limitation, dependency, and death. If disabled people and their knowledge were fully integrated into society, everyone’s relation to her/his real body would be liberated” (p. 104)

I admit that I have often relied on this meaning. It’s understandable. It’s feminist (and even with all of the issues I hold with particularly White feminism, this piece is still helpful for me – or as my Grandmother would say, succinctly, “It helps to chew on the meat and spit out the bones”). It works for illustrative purposes, especially now, when we can see that reproductive issues go in and out of ‘covered’, ‘uncovered’, ‘ability’, ‘pre-existing condition’ (another deep, deep, deep sigh).

Yet I must also admit that this is only the beginning of the phrase’s personal meaning for me (even though I comment on the construction of ability and the temporary ability of our own bodies about four times a month, at least). This essay is a personal attempt to go a bit further.

I.
I am the child of a medical professional. I’ve seen my mother come home, take off her coat, plop down on the couch… only to receive more illness-related phone calls from friends & relatives.

“My daughter has a persistent cough…”
“My grandfather fell down the steps two weeks ago, and now…”
“This is kind of embarrassing but I’ve had these symptoms of…”
She was direct. She would refer. She knew that some symptoms would pass and others would not. And the trembling voices on the other end of line betrayed that no one ever expected that they would be the ones who would have to call her for advice. Until they were.

Ability is constructed. Ability is temporary…

So, I learned how to listen to the subtle shifts of the body including which coughs would pass & which coughs were precursors to larger threats. She taught me to read vital signs & good breathing techniques for when shots were being administered. She tutored me in discerning when there might be signs of ‘wellness’.

“Look at the face, Jade. What do you see?”
Perhaps, more fat. Fuller cheeks. More or less dilation of the pupils. More hair. Less skin abrasions. And so on.

Some days she would come home & I would smell blood, faint cigarette smoke, and Lysol lingering on her coat. On harder days, I could smell that she had been close to someone who was experiencing physical decline, decay, or death. I’ve known my mother to be proficient in stalling these effects.

II. 
I called my mother, first thing, on the day that it became difficult to walk. My father, former gymnast, taught me how to wrap my feet with tape & bandages to construct better support. My mother told me to when to ice them, when to administer heat, and how many NSAID’s were too many NSAID’s. “There’s a good chance that this will go away, but there is also a small chance that it won’t… keep watching it.”

Whenever I’d visit, she would sit on the bed and take my feet in her hands. She would press her palm to the balls of my feet & stretch them upward. She followed each stretch on the sheet that my physical therapist printed. I winced. She prayed. We both tried to breathe through each movement.

III.
My family went to the beach on holidays when I was a teenager. I spent hours in the water, wading in to breast level so that my feet barely touched the sand. I stood-swam-floated for hours with the assistance of the water. Yet, back on land, my feet struggled against me. My mother offered her arm to me for balance but the 7 minute walk still took 25 minutes in total. We walked in silence for most of the way, both a bit baffled (one of the few times I’ve experienced my mother that way) because one day (it was a day in September), it was just hard to walk. And this persisted in June. My feet could not hold me as they once did, so the muscles frayed instead. The cortisol shots, intended to offer relief, only deepened the pain. Mom cut the silence: “It’s time for you to consider a wheelchair.” I still hear echoes of this phrase in my mind at times.

IV.
I was a teenager and I resisted the wheelchair. My only concession was renting one when we’d go to amusement parks, malls, or other places where I knew it was inevitable that my feet would fail me. My mother couldn’t understand why I was resisting so much and why I put both of our bodies under such strain. (The wheelchair was easier for both of us since I wouldn’t have to hold onto her arm in order to continue walking).

I didn’t really understand my resistance either, until this year, when I read a perfect description in Maranda Elizabeth’s piece on magic, pain, & trauma:
“my feelings (were) all tangled up with internalized ableism and fears about pain (will it get better? will it get worse?)”

Those things were paired with the way I’d seen people patronize me in the wheelchair, the doors & rooms that seemed near impossible to get into, and the people who watched with confusion and (sometimes) disgust upon discovering that I was, in fact, able to stand to transport into and out of the car. I wish I had the words then:

Ability is constructed. Ability is temporary…

One day my father put a cane in my car. I found it when I was unpacking. There was a sword inside of it.

V.
“Breathing in, I see chronic pain.
Breathing out, I smile to it”.
(a personal adaptation of the meditation practices written by Thich Nhat Hanh in No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering)

This year, I’ve made it a point to take more baths. Of course, baths can be very helpful for pain management but suffice it to say, I’ve taken it to another level this year: rose petals, epsom salt, crystals, white noise or a podcast playing in the background.

On one such occasion, I was listening to a dharma talk (the name of it escapes me now). The teacher noted that every morning he chanted about the suffering of life & the impermanence of all things. This made me feel like I could breathe.

I understood chronic illness and ability as constructed in a much deeper sense when I began to study Buddhism. A key tenet in the Buddha’s teaching is that all is impermanent. Everything. The configuration of our relationships. Our daily life. Our bodies. All changing constantly. All impermanent.

I grew up with a strong sense of Christian ‘striving’. (Let me be clear, I do not think that this completely coincides with the teachings of Jesus’ embodiment, but perhaps I’ll do some writing on Jesus, chronic illness, & the impermanence of the physical body at a later date). I grew up in a church tradition that suggested illnesses could be mitigated and even eliminated by sufficient prayer & belief. My Grandmother was fascinated by healing services (both televised and real-time) and she would take me when she could. I began thinking about transcending the body at an early age & still contend with Christian theologies of what it means to heal. Some, I accept. Others, I reject.

So, it’s accurate to say that in this sense, Zen Buddhism gave me a much-needed break from all of this processing: Your body will change because everything changes. Give up the delusion that it won’t.

Noted.

VI.
And one day it was easier to walk.

Except if it gets too cold. Except if I have been standing too long. Except if I’m wearing flat shoes (very ill advised in my case). Except if I danced too hard.

And if I wear the boot when I sleep. And when I hang my heels off the curb to stretch them before I continue walking. If I take off my shoes under my desk & roll my feet on a small, green tennis ball. If I wear my inserts. If I park close.

And some days, it is easier to walk just because ability is temporary

This piece was inspired by (life) and Maranda Elizabeth’s writing on magic, pain, & trauma. Please read that piece because it is beautiful.

“Her Sexuality Should Not Be Pathologized”, Found Poetry

Published in celebration of National Poetry Month, 2017

“Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems” 1

(My source material included free writes, prose, albums, & documents curated and collected as part of a Beauty Breaks workshop, led by Imani Jackson, as well as quotes from my own, unused, draft material)
My parameters included:
1) Using phrases that referenced or envisioned “Grandmother”, “Grandma”, “Gramma”, etc.
2) Using phrases with a color in them
3) Using half of the sentence / phrase for each instance (the meaning was re-imagined through punctuation and / or lack of punctuation, where appropriate)

“Her sexuality should not be pathologized”.

Red and hot like that candy my Grandma loved
I feel you come closer and your blue energy cools me
And then she came, coffee skin, red hair –

more red

The whitest background you’ve ever seen
The velveteen blood orchid
Purple sounds so tasty like sweet and tart
Purple rain
I could still smell its sweet magenta rimmed message
Premonitions of a grown ass woman.

 

Whine Club Reading: On Hope (Video Content)

Last evening, I was so excited to be a Featured Reader at Whine Club: A Monthly Storytelling Series for Women, Femmes, & Gender Non Conforming People alongside other brilliant & powerful readers: Lakshmi Ramgopal (you can sign up for her newsletter), Bria Royal (check out the pocket healing zines on the site), & Katie Burke.

JTP Reading

Photo Credit: Keisa, @WhineClubChi

My good friend, Jené, is amazing and crafty and managed to get a good bit of the reading on video (without me even seeing her recording – which was quite good for my nerves lol)! So, now I can share it with you all. The full transcript of content is available below. Follow @WhineClubChi to stay updated on their programming! **Special thanks to all who came out & sat in the chairs & stood in the aisles, to Whine Club & Uncharted Books, & to Ramona – the bookstore pup ❤

Intro:

“I’m a bit of a pragmatist so when I was invited to read, I immediately picked out the two pieces I would do. And then, Keisa sent the theme… It was hope, so I was like, ‘(Expletive) I don’t even know if I’m GOOD at that!’ (laughs) So, I want to offer this piece for those of us who find hope to be ephemeral. Those who hold their hands out and stretch to touch it – finding it like holding snow in their palm – lasting for a moment of precious wonder but all too short lived.

Hope is a complicated thing.

I. Every other week, I show up to my therapist’s office (we’ll call her Khadijah)…

 

——————————–
Full transcript:

Hope is a complicated thing.

Every other week, I show up to my therapist’s office (we’ll call her Khadijah). I take a break from work and get on the train, head up to the 16th floor, guzzle her filtered water from recyclable paper cups, and try to talk about my feelings without theorizing them.

“Let’s try to take a deep breath in… aaaand out”, she says. “That’s good work for the day. I want us (by us… she means me), to get to a point where we’re embracing ambiguity & hoping in life a little bit more”.

She puts two books into my hands: bell hooks’ All About Love on top. And right underneath it was Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. She ain’t slick.

When I leave her office, I sigh in the key of East Coast born Black girl, wondering why the fuck she wants me to trust in life… to continue this activity of hope… doesn’t she know mass incarceration is real? Doesn’t she know the Orange Cheeto was elected? And I’m pretty sure I’ll have to be way more fastidious about cyber security now that *ding ding!

And the elevator open, goes down, deposits me back onto the first floor. Past the coffee shop. Out into the streets.

My therapist is convinced that I’m not bad at hope. I’m sure she’s right. I just have a hard time living into the Hallmark card, bootstrap theology version of what we’ve normalized hope to BE. My friend Ashon says that consistently showing up to therapy is a type of hope too. I’ll take that for now.

II. I went to church with my family every Sunday as a child. It was a nondenominational and charismatic church. I still remember the routine. Wake up. 8 am Sunday school. Praise and worship (for those who aren’t familiar with charismatic church spaces just know that during this section, we had to wait for everyone to catch the Spirit, shout, fall out, & get back up before it was all through) Then, there was the sermon. The altar call. (Where people might decide to pick up a shout again). After church conversations. Brunch – that was really around dinner time. Readying for school in the morning. Sleep. Nowadays, I recognize that it was the equivalent of a full work day. It took me a full 5 years post “adulthood” to sleep in on Sundays without it feeling like a crisis.

“Now faith is the substance of things HOPED for…”

I grew up feeling like hope was something I needed to ask for. Pray for. Wait for. Hope was expected to look a certain way. So, I got familiar with its mask. I smiled when I didn’t want to. I offered myself quick platitudes and Scripture when the emotional reality was too much. I was real inspirational those days.

On Sundays, I made my supplications at the altar and imagined warm light falling on me. Older women placed their thin, cool hands on my head and wrapped my body in white sheets. They put their hands on my belly and asked for spiritual fire to consume all doubts. I thought it could help me to be reborn.

At night, worry descended upon me again as I pulled the comforter up. I recounted the pending catastrophes – what might happen at school the next day, at church the next week, when I arrived home, when I got on the bus. I’m a Taurus, Aries-rising, long time maker of mental lists and plans. Yet, despite my lists, scribbled in bright neon post its around the bed, the anxieties followed me into dreams.

My Grandmother said I had a “sensitive disposition”. My father said I had “bad nerves”. My psychiatrist said, “She has general anxiety disorder”. So, hope is a complicated thing.
III. Reading tarot grounds me in so many ways. I’ve got a few favorites in the cards: The Queen of Cups, the Hermit, the High Priestess, the Nine of Pentacles. The Tower tends to make my hands shake. The Knight of Wands reminds me of the charm & the quick temper of my father.

I’m still working out my relationship with the Star. You could say she’s got the iconography of hope.

I invite her out for coffee in my mind on the rare occasion that the Star chooses to visit me. In the tarot, the Star comes after the Tower has fallen down – after all that they’ve known has fallen in fire & light. And here they kneel, drawing up water in the dim glow of the stars. They are naked.

“Don’t overthink this, Jade”, she tells me. As I hold the card between my fingers she reminds me, “Let’s start our work by drinking more water. Hope means relaxing into that which we do not know yet. And that’s going to take some hydration. Allow your body more time to be naked – this body, this chronically pained body, this sometimes-walks-with-a-cane body, this Black body – allow it space. The rest will come soon enough”.
IV. Hope is a kind of suspension. Sometimes, when I look at my lovers face, it morphs into the consummation of my vulnerabilities and fears. Anxiety makes it easy to spin their locs into all of the reasons that the moment is fleeting: brevity of life, emotional stress, the inevitability of death…you know, the light stuff. But sometimes, when I have enough rest & food & medicine & ancestor help… I can push pause on that tape. I can find enough space to choose another path and hold onto it for as long as I’m able to – until it is replicated again in this life or the next. Counting their locs, one by one, for the reasons I’m so grateful. I’m practicing. Hope.

Hope is easiest to do when I’m showing up for my written work, editing what doesn’t work, trying to create new language, & reclaim other language. Using a Black queer radical imagination to see new ways forward. It’s sitting my ass down, writing shit that doesn’t only – SOLELY – respond to Whiteness or ableism or homo-antagonism – stuck in a feedback loop: inciting incident, think piece, praises or hate filled comments, “Say both your words AND mine-for-me. Give me digestible works that I can quickly share with my (racist, ableist, homo-antagonistic) facebook friends so they don’t have to do their own work”.

V. This year, I’ve taken up the spiritual practice of allowing myself some room to dream and to tell my stories. I want to tell you that I come from a long line of Black American storytellers. You probably don’t know them… but my aunts, uncles, my father can roll their trip to the grocery store into 45 minutes of entertainment with a life lesson at the end. For example…

“My family was fighting at the 2008-2009ish reunion. I don’t remember why. I do remember that my cousin processed this issue by telling a story about friends who enjoyed waffles, and friends who enjoyed pancakes, and how they needed to realize that both of those breakfast dishes benefit from syrup. Therefore, it’s wise to share your syrup if both parties want to stay away from dry ass breakfast dishes. It’s also wise to choose your fights when it comes to family, if you can help it.

I would tell ya’ll the stories – in my own dialect– about how I’m always doing the most. This is not self-deprecation. I’ve taken a poll and most of my friends… and coworkers… agree. Doing the most… is what I do. You want a report? You’re getting report, graphics, and likely a sequined outfit when I present the report to you. I could literally have a series of “Doing the Most” Chronicles. I would always have something to write about and we would both be cackling” (snippet from: Because I’m Not Solely Writing About DT for the Next 4 Years).

A full blown cackle – might that be categorized as hope too? I’ll have to take that for now.

VI. On some Saturday nights, I bring my body to the dance hall and twerk like my life depends on it. My feet, cramping & swelling with chronic plantar fasciitis, hold me up for as long as I need them to – even if it’s just for a few songs. Ass up & down, defying the laws of physics, that’s a part of the way I hope too. And that’s gonna have to be good enough for now. Because that’s what I got. Showing up. Writing. Laughing. Dancing. Staring at my lover’s face. Drinking more water. Being naked. And understanding that while hope fuels the collective work of artivists & activists, it is also an individual practice.

VII. My therapists usually asks, “What are you up to nowadays?” I told her, “Writing about hope, isn’t it ironic?!” She wanted me to bring this piece in so we can discuss it. I will not. It’s for us. It’s for those of us, that are here, that find hope BOTH within & outside of reach – yet need it to exist in this world. If I remember to go to therapy next week, I’ll take out a piece of paper, and roll it out on her desk. It will read: I’m practicing it now… the shit is still complicated”.

Photo Credit: Ally Almore

Deconstructing the Binary of “Holy” & “Horny”

My friends often send me videos, clips, flyers, etc. about churchy (1) things to file away in the “Why do we do things like this?” folder. So, last week, I was introduced to DiShan Washington’s body of work by a friend. She was launching her newest “online symposium” (then titled) Single, Saved, & Still Wanting Sex:  I Still Want It – A Transparent Conversation about being Holy & Horny.

Initially, I laughed (like… a lot). Yet, as the virility of the symposium increased, I decided to do some further research about where it came from, what the goals were, and WHY the insistence on separating Spirit and Body…

DiShan Washington is a writer, speaker, and a primary author of a genre that she calls Christian erotica. The distinguishing point in this genre is that “all of (her) characters are married” which is very much in line with a religious bent that sex is only sacred in marriage. In her personal life, Washington is the daughter of a preacher and was married to a 20 year old minister at the age of 16  (2). During this time, she experienced “bouts of low self-esteem, depression, two suicide attempts (3)“. After her marriage ended (due to infidelity), Washington writes that she went “from living a life of luxury to homelessness and even days of wondering where her next meal would come from” (3).

It is important to note that many of DiShan’s formative years as an emerging adult were spent as a “First Lady” (pastor’s wife). Depending on the church’s context & relationship to patriarchal norms, this would indicate both learning & practicing wifely subservience, dependence, & service to God, the church, & their husband above all else (3).

In an NPR interview, Washington clarifies:

“I was raised by a generation of women that said sex was for the man […] (I thought) when this marriage ends, what will I deem the cause [of sex]. How do I get Christian women to remove the stigma that being erotic was sinful.”

If we look through a Black feminist lens, we can see certain themes emerging in her specific story and sociocultural context (4). It also helps us understand how tricky the perceived binary of holy and horny is, particularly from DiShan’s context.

Washington, like many Black churched women, seems to be (publicly) navigating the “matrix of domination”: the oppression that is connected to racial stigma, gender, mental illness & ability, & class (Collins, 1993). The context provided above allows that the church served as a primary institution in perpetuating the aforementioned “axes of oppression”, in addition to sexual subservience, and economic dependence through marriage & patriarchal norms. In my lived experience, I have also seen similarities of story with many other Black churched women – age differences, notwithstanding.

From the NPR quote above, as well as various live feed posts, it seems that Washington is attempting to create new ways to navigate these spaces.  Creating genres such as Christian erotica & affordable online symposiums that deal with holiness, being horny, & transparent conversations about sex & sexuality might be intended towards this goal (4).

However, the rhetoric of the online symposium fell short of that goal. (Yepp, I watched it). This was not necessarily surprising, given the way that this symposium was framed (i.e. the symposium itself was not accessible to “men”; a prelude video states that within this conversation, the goal was to “still remain saved” which is read here as coded language for upholding puritanical beliefs on sexuality).

The conversation went back & forth without imagining new pathways of destigmatizing sexuality & the erotic for Black churched women. For example, I could see Washington’s attempt to complicate our understandings of the Bible (she did this in context of masturbation). However, this was situated along her point that masturbating (as a single Christian woman) promoted lust, which was still a “slippery slope”. I appreciated the assertions that our sexual desires are good & can occur at many different moments (i.e. “sometimes, my hand will graze my nipples and they will get aroused”) but cringed at the suggestion of disembodying ourselves (i.e. “our hormones aren’t ‘saved”). A few of the final notes included smoking as a metaphor for premarital sex (or as my good friend Anaya* said, ‘Fuckin’ is to your spirit as smoking is to your lungs’).

In the case of Washington’s symposium, there is an underlying premise that sex & erotica can only be normalized IF it is within the scope of marriage, patriarchy, and heteronormativity (briefly defined here as the assumption that heterosexual coupling is the “norm”, the standard, and the preference for all persons). Let me state plainly: this premise is dangerous. It allows no room or space was given for persons who identified outside of the “man / woman” gender binary or have chosen partnerships / relationships outside of the gaze of heterosexuality. It allows no space to craft an individual sexual ethos inside of or outside of state sanctioned marriage (which costs money & has gatekeepers). We cannot decrease & disrupt sexual stigma by attaching additional stigmas. We further marginalize ourselves & others by functioning within the realms of heteronormativity & patriarchy.

These impacts cannot be overlooked (5).

I’m working on a longer form article & what I’ve found in that process is this: Black churched women, at various ages, have capacity to internalize gendered oppression even in efforts to resist gendered oppression. Disrupting internalized oppression is key in gaining sexual & gendered freedoms for self AND for others. This is what I wanted to see in Washington’s symposium… despite the sense of knowing that I wouldn’t likely see it.

I’m writing about this because “a great deal of my work (coincidentally or in-coincidentally) points to dialogue with and about Black church(ed) women. I facilitate & curate resources on sex & sexuality for a private space for women (primarily WOC) who have been and / or are currently church(ed). This is important to me, because there are so many spaces & scenarios where parents weren’t talking about sex, sexuality, consent, etc. and  churches / private religious schools weren’t giving that information either. It is important to me that particularly church(ed) WOC have a space to ask these questions to better discern how they prioritize their sexual health” (6)and construct their sexual ethos OUTSIDE of patriarchy & heteronormativity dressed up as ‘holiness’.

(Black church-ism: You oughta shout right there. Nods head churchily).

In other words: We have to find better, freer, more expansive ways forward. 

Washington stated that a key reason she chose the path of celibacy included a moment of unsatisfying sex. She also announced a forthcoming book on the topic of “remaining holy while horny”. With this in mind, a neat “summary” doesn’t seem appropriate. There are questions yet to be answered and modalities of thought yet to be ironed out, including:

  • How might the sexual lives & choices of Black churched women look different if we prioritized pleasure & found instances of sexual pleasure in sacred text (7, 8, 9, 10)?
  • How can we more readily recognize when gendered oppression is masquerading under the guise of holiness? How do we disrupt, disengage, & divest from in commitments to White, Western norms of morality (10), gender (11), and sexuality?
    • Who can / should partner in this work?

There are a great deal of scholars who are coming back to these questions (and more). I plan to commit to these questions as well. I believe that working towards the answers requires our time and helps us to get free.