Mysticism, Healing, & Wellness

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? 

Vials of Oil for Anointing & Souls Behind the Eyes: Exploring Spirit*

This biographical essay is written for the #52essays2017 challenge by Vanessa Martir.

I.  It is a brave thing to write about Spirit. It is much easier to write, solely, about God, or colonial Christianity, or even decolonizing Christianity. Yet, matters of Spirit are often unwieldy. We can theorize them, but even that comes with its risks. Keating’s exploration of the spiritual work of Gloria Anzaldúa notes:

After all, those of us working in academic settings are trained to rely almost exclusively on rational thought, anti-spiritual forms of logical reasoning….

We might admire Anzaldúa’s bold spirit vision yet fear that if we explore it in our work, we will harm our careers. Not only will our colleagues scoff at us, but we will have difficulty publishing such explorations. As Lara (2005) suggests, these fears can be intensified for Chicanas and other women of colors who are often already viewed as interlopers in the academy. (Keating, 2008, p. 55)

However, matters of Spirit are often unrelenting. They show up, most often, when I want to write fluffy, easily-shareable pieces. They are determined.

Whenever we speak of Spirit, or spirits, we are both aided and blocked by our language. “What do you mean by Spirit”? In the past few months, I’ve been asked this question in so many different ways. I never give specifics because it’s typically already been decided I’m in need of re-Evangelizing.

The women in my family are always negotiating spirit*. For the purposes of this piece, I define it as the essences / life forces which we cannot always understand… yet find ourselves either intrigued or repelled by.

The women in my family are brilliant and can intellectualize most things. Yet, I often hear behind the words, because I came from them. And there is much concern about holy & good spirits – “wait, do you believe in one Holy Spirit or many other spirits” – staying away from evil spirits. But then there are the metaphorical spirits* – the energies & memories of the things we’d rather forget or leave alone. There is always the risk of being blocked by language, of being misunderstood, of being seen as “at-(spiritual)-risk”. It is a brave thing to write about Spirit*.

II. My Gramma was always intrigued with the concept of exorcism. She chased the next revival services, healing events, and traveling “prophets” like ones who would chase a storm. Seeing where it began. Seeing how it ended.

She had a library of books on methods to keep evil spirits away. A hobby? A passion? A fear? All three?

As a child, she would tell me about these excursions of spirit. Sometimes, I could travel along to a service – if she felt it was safe enough. She kept a vial of oil, anointed for the task of both blessing and protecting – warding off evil & inviting in good. “Spirits ain’t nothing to play with”. She told me, “You’ll know when it’s a bad one. Your stomach turns. Your throat feels like it’s hot and dry. Look into the eyes. See if it looks like a soul is behind there“.

She often retired to the back room to pray. It used to be my play room, but I grew too big for the walls. I grew too big for the house, itself. I grew too big for the entire state, I suppose. Years later, she asked me to mind my size – and help her clear out that back room.

I spent hours on the dusty pink carpet, eating home cooked meals, pausing to look up at the sparkly popcorn ceiling, and sneaking journals full of Bible study notes from 1985 into the garbage bin. She would catch me, occasionally. “Grandma, I can type these up for you”. But she preferred the hard copies all around her like a shield. So, in one month, I could only clear one chest. After she passed, there was so much more clearing to do.

III.
“Mother, are spirits real?”
“Why are you worried about this?”
“I just am…”
“You’ve got God inside. You have nothing to fear”.

My mother’s jaw clenches when she is trying very hard to be patient. My Gramma often regaled her with stories about faith healers, far and wide. How much she was intrigued by them. My mother is a medical professional with complicated thoughts around faith healing (life sets up the most beautifully ironic situations). She listened carefully, because this was her Mother, and they were good friends. Only I could see, standing underneath her with my childhood body, that her jaws were clenched & her smile required effort.

IV.
I began getting bored with my church at 16 years old. How many more Sundays could I watch the parishioners march up to the altar, seeking more deliverance from the spirits which were real, imagined, a mix of both, who knows? I craved “something intellectual”. I was young and wanted more of everything, really. So, I took a sharp turn, tried out Reformed Calvinism. I was intrigued by their use of the word “eschatological”  , the thought that perhaps life could be figured out by a few “simple” tenets, and the added surprise of walking in to church with multitudes of handsome brown men. I was young and thought I knew everything.

I theorized everything then – the life of “spirits” didn’t seem to be worth as much exploration as the “doctrine of election”. I stopped dancing at religious services. I kept up with the rhetoric – until I realized that believing in “totally depravity”  left my soul dank & depressed. Until I saw how much violence it did. Until I realized that beyond my Black church, most of the prominent scholars in the denomination were White. They believed & taught that a spiritually elected-somewhat-Divinely-yet-arbitrarily-decided group would access heaven. The implications of that horrified me. I was young, and old enough to know I needed to get out.

V.
One of my favorite tarot cards is “The Hermit”.

hermit

The Hermit, Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck

In the dark, deep, blue glow, the Hermit carries one single light and walking stick. They are walking across the cold, craggy mountains. They are looking down, inward. They are reaching deeper spirituality. Some people feel this card is a bit obscure (and sometimes, I agree haha). However, the Hermit is a guide – that sense of “knowing” inside of ourselves when we need a “container”, a “cocoon”, somewhere dark, quiet, and even a bit windy to shake up our previous understandings. A figure, resembling a Hermit, found me in a church in the middle of Nowheresville, Pennsylvania (population 50,000). I was living in the LITERAL, actual mountains during this time. “The Hermit” showed me that there was a healthier way of Christianity & of spirituality, itself.

Then, I moved to Smalltownsville, SC (population 9,000) to continue my journey in further shades of solitude. I spent time with myself. I didn’t write.

VI. It is now 2017 & a few conversations with friends have turned into a nonprofit organization which “centers the voices, teaching, practices, and wisdom of People of Color at the intersections of mysticism and activism”. It is interesting that it is built on Christian contemplative tradition, deconstructing what this means, and breaking open space to include indigineity & diasporic religious traditions – a chance to bring our ancestral knowledge out of “hiding”. Equal parts Howard Thurman, Barbara Holmes, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, the saints, the Christian mystics, and our Grand-ancestors teaching us prayers, songs, and ways to invite God in. Equal parts “what we know” and “what we’re open to discover”. Someone inboxes and says it sounds like potential to the slippery slopes of “idolatry”.

I wish I could explain how western colonization has prompted us to see these practices as “idolatrous”. I wish I could explain how it was demonized… not inherently, demonic. I wish I could read them the quote I read today – from the long process of resource sharing we’ve undertaken. I would read slowly:

“Ostensibly, all women in colonial Mexico and Latin America, like their counterparts throughout the Christian world, were suspected of being witches on the basis of gender, but women of colonized groups were suspect on multiple grounds. Indian women, African-origin women, and racially mixed women—whether Indo-mestiza or Afro-mestiza—were suspect by virtue of being female, by virtue of deriving from non-Christian, or “diabolic” religions and cultures, and by virtue of being colonized or enslaved people who might rebel and use their alleged magical power at any moment. —Antonia Castañeda, “Engendering the History of Alta California, 1769–1848, as seen in Lara’s 2005 work.

Most of all, I wish I could explain that I see this as “spiritual activism” (Keating, 2008) – a way forward that allows us to get into deeper touch with God, self, & others, as we fight for social justice in this world.

But I sense their fear. I’m close to them. And I swallow these words with my morning tea. Perhaps, another time. Perhaps, never.

VII. 
The next night, I dreamed of my Gramma. First, I described the dream on Facebook (because #millenial). In this dream, I was preparing for my meditation practice. I wore bright yellow.

My Grandmother sat where my teacher usually sits. She wore white and gold. She said to me: “I want you to meditate on this mantra ‘I ain’t got time’.
(Let me pause here to say that everyone who is familiar with AAVE / African American vernacular English understands all of the nuances of that statement. It is not concretely translatable in Standard American English. ‘I ain’t got time’ means something between “I have time, but refuse to engage something”, and “Something is distasteful to me and / or hazardous to my health, so I will reserve my time for the things that help me to thrive”. This is a loose translation).

I cackled, as per usual. She smiled and said, “Yepp, say it, ‘I ain’t got time”.  Sometimes in your life, there will be giant pizzas rolling toward you – moving fast…”

This was very typical of her – to take a somewhat random object & work it into a life lesson.

“In that moment, you have to decide. Do I want to take a bite out of that? You can only take a bite with it moving that fast. Do I want to knock it down and share it with friends? That’s an option too. And sometimes, you’ll say to yourself, “I don’t even WANT pizza” & just let it roll by. That’s when you say to yourself, “I ain’t got time”.

I woke up to the Twitter-news that Mercury was in Pisces & that my dreams might hold some keys for deep learning at this time (@starheal). It’s funny how that works.

VIII. 
I believe that art allows us forms of exorcism – appeasing the spirits of things our families, sociocultural histories, and personal journeys leave us with. Moreover, it invites us to welcome in all that is “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious” (Phil. 4:8-9, The Bible).

My Gramma’s lived in enough awareness of what could be bad. These days, she’s telling me “She / we / I ain’t got time”. And the only spirits* I deal with are good ones.

Resources & Further Reading

Keating, AL (2008). “” I’m a citizen of the universe”: Gloria Anzaldúa’s Spiritual Activism as Catalyst for Social Change”. Feminist studies (0046-3663), 34(1/2), p. 53.

Lara, I. (2005). BRUJA POSITIONALITIES: Toward a Chicana/Latina Spiritual Activism. Chicana/Latina Studies, 4(2), 10-45. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23014464

Image Credit: Createherstock.com