Accessing the Sacred Universe in the African Tradition

African-American philosopher Dona Richards has this to say about the African experience of Creation:

“Wade in the Water” sung by Ella Jenkins from the album; African American Folk Rhythms The Orchard Music (on behalf of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings); LatinAutor, ASCAP, and 9 Music Rights Societies

The African universe is conceived as a unified spiritual totality. We speak of the universe as “cosmos” and we mean that all being within it is organically interrelated and interdependent. 

As with the Aboriginal peoples and the Native American peoples as we have seen previously, the cosmos is itself sacred and we are swimming in it on a daily basis.  As Richards puts it, The essence of African cosmos is spiritual reality.

She astutely points out the difference between this ancient and holistic worldviews and that of European philosophies when she writes:

The beauty of “Black Nobility”. Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash

Both spiritual and material beings are necessary in order for there to be a meaningful reality. Enlightenment and the acquisition of wisdom and knowledge depend to a significant degree on being able to apprehend spirit in matter. This crucial difference in European and African thought helps to explain the specialness of African-Diasporic spirituality. 

Notice: Rather than denigrate matter or put it in second place to Spirit as Plato and Neo-Platonism did from the Greek tradition, her tradition is telling us that “to apprehend spirit in matter” is necessary for wisdom and knowledge.

As in the Jewish tradition, creation is still going on, it is continual creation.

 In the African tradition, the universe is already sacred and its holy Creation continues to unfold:

Young ethiopian man dancing. Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash.

The spiritual is the foundation of all being because the universe is sacred. The universe was created (is continually “recreated”) by a divine act. 

We access this sacred creation in a special way through music and other arts.  Dona Richards writes:

Few people have understood what music is to us.  Black music is sacred music.  It is the expression of the divine within us.” 

It is music that is the manifestation of the divine, the word of God therefore. 

She emphasizes how music connects the African soul to the cosmic powers and the divine spirit within those powers.  Through music and ritual, cosmos, Divinity, and the human get it together:

Ontologically, we gain meaning, force, and being through relationship with the universal life force; by feeling ourselves to be a part of the whole.  Our music manifests that relationship, as it puts us in tune with the universe.  It explains to us the mysterious workings of the universe and ourselves as cosmic being…As in ritual, in music the human and the Divine meet. 

Feeling to be one with the universe, part of the whole, is key to interacting with the Divine.

Video from Jalikunda African Drums at the 1st African Music Festival on the tiny Island of Montserrat in the Caribbean in 2013.

With music there comes dance.  Dance has the same effect in bringing spirit and soul together in a cosmic context:

Through dance we experience reality as immediate to us; that is, we are identified with the universe….We have experience cosmic interrelationship…Dance, for us, is a religious expression.  When we dance, through Rhythm, we express ourselves as cosmic beings.  Music transcends us to ultimate realities.  Dance and Song; Rhythm and Music, then, are part of the matrix of the African Universe. 

When I re-read these teachings I am struck anew by the power of our Cosmic Masses that put dance at the core of worship, dance within a context of images derived from VJ’s and today’s post modern art forms of VJ, DJ, rap and more.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 47, 240.

Banner Image: African drumline. Photo by Lee Pigott on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

“Identified with the universe through dance and music.  Is that your experience also?

Is dance for you also an “identification with the universe” and a “religious expression”?

Recommended Reading

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

3 thoughts on “Accessing the Sacred Universe in the African Tradition”

  1. Avatar

    Accessing the Sacred involves an elevation of consciousness from the flat surface of the world, from the world made flat by our inherited European detachment from it. Thus when we apprehend a flower, as opposed to looking at it, we encounter with a kind of awe its emergence from nothing into spiritual presence before us, and with us. And we are ourselves flowers in this sense, if we can so experience ourselves through the very same elevation and apprehension.

  2. Avatar

    In my area there have been two women’s community singing groups which also have a group of African Drummers. Although seeing your video clip gives one an idea of the joy generated by the drummers, it is nowhere near the experience of being there in person. The drums overtake you and become part of you. They are like the heartbeat of Mother Earth. I have never experienced anything like it. It is impossible to NOT dance and move to the beat!

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Elaine,
      Thank you for reminding us that the art of drumming in the sacred is also practiced by women. In my area, as well, there are at least two drum circles and one performing group that include only female identifying drummers and singers. The effect is very powerful. (Don’t you love the woman in the video tapping to the beat on the stage?)

      The African American leader of one of the groups here spent quite a while in Africa. She was first excluded from drumming because of her gender, but eventually she was brought into the drum circle and was taught the intricacies of drum leadership. As the community allows its spiritual leadership to expand, so the community’s sense of the divine expands! Awesome on so many levels!
      Gail Sophia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: