Black Spirituality on Creation, Celebration, & Justice-Making

In the African tradition, the appropriate response to our union with sacred creation is to celebrate it through music, ritual, poetry, dance. 

What does it mean to be African? Dr. Marimba Ani’s ideas, as quoted on the “Expresso Show.”

Dona Marimba Richards (also known as Dr. Marimba Ani) reminds us that community is born of these responses to creation’s holiness all around us.  She writes:

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

Notice that not only nature around us is sacred, but human nature is sacred and the divine dwells within us as we express ourselves that through music, art, and ceremony. The Ground of being, once touched, wants to make joyful noise.

Ontologically, we gain meaning, force, and being through relationship with the universal life forces; 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 beings….As in ritual, in music the human and the Divine meet.

Little girl dances at a community gathering in Rwanda. Photo by Hanna Morris on Unsplash.

Not only music but dance too makes this union between nature and us sacred. 

Through dance we experiencer reality as immediate to us; that is, we are identified with the universe.*

Besides celebration, another response to the sacredness of existence is justice and Maat.  Dr. King reminds us of that.

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church….Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists….

A shrine to Oshun, an ancient site of goddess-intoxication in Nigeria. Wikimedia Commons, photo by Yeniajayiii.

There was a time when the church was very powerful —…when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of societySmall in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated’ . . .

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent — and often even vocal — sanction of things as they are.

“A twilight visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington DC.” Photo by Suzy Brooks on Unsplash.

King weeps over the failures of the church.  He longs for the courage of the early church when Christians stood up to the Roman Empire, even if that stance was dangerous and brought the wrath of the empire upon them. He sees a living church as one that “transforms the mores of society.”

How much, if anything, has changed since King’s day? To what degree do churches still defend the status quo and “sanction things as they are”?  How about voting rights for example?  And the ecocide that is happening everywhere?  Are white churches speaking out and acting on these moral emergencies?  If not, why not? 

Dona Marimba Richards, Let the Circle Be Unbroken: The Implications of African Spirituality in The Diaspora  (Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press 1992), 37-39.

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

And Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, p. 326.

Banner Image: “Ma’at, Angel of Truth and Order,” a mural in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, photographed by NYCGoeff on Flickr.

Celebration and Maat are another way of talking about mysticism (our Yes to life) and prophecy (our No to injustice that kills life).  How are we doing?  Do our rituals and ceremonies bring alive the Yes and No in us?

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

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4 thoughts on “Black Spirituality on Creation, Celebration, & Justice-Making”

  1. Avatar
    David Joseph Jackson

    I believe my first contact with Matthew Fox was the book “On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American Style” June 1, 1976. As I remember my book had a different cover than the one on Amazon at the above date. It may be a later edition.
    “Say yes to everything that gives life and no to everything that diminishes life,” was what struck me so powerfully in this book. My father came from a Cultural Jewish family in England. When he was preparing to marry my Mom he went through a process and received baptism, first communion and marriage on the same day. He wasn’t into the dogmas of the Catholic Church. The above spirituality captured him for me. Though not a book reader, when I shared with him this insight of mine he got the book and read it. As I will celebrate my 83rd birthday this July, I realize that I have interiorized this spirituality and refer to myself as “A follower of Jesus” in my book , JESUS GARDENS ME.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      David, thank you for your comments. ON BECOMING A MUSICAL MYSTICAL BEAR: SPIRITUALITY AMERICAN STYLE, was one of Matthew’s earliest books, but even there his teaching of the mystic-prophet in each of us as comes through loud and clear. And I’m glad you shared it with your Dad. Blessings on you for your book, JESUS GAREDNS ME! The title is intriguing…

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Celebrating and suffering is apart of one’s commitment to being and living the gospel message of the way, the truth, and the life of Divine Love.
    Often accepted, acknowledged and responded to is the celebration. However, we need to ask ourselves are we just as willing to accept, ackowledge and respond to the suffering with this same level of commitment? Often humanity perceives celebration as a gain and suffering as a loss. What’s to be gained in suffering we may ask, and is the cost of it all worth it? Looking to the person, the life and teachings of Jesus we discover the way, the truth, the life of accepting, acknowledging and responding to both celebration and suffering in our commitment to being and living in and with the living presence and essence of the Holy Spirit of Divine Love. For there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for another… for the other is oneself. Whomever looses ones life, finds new life. A seed needs to fall to the ground and break itself open in order to bareforth and birth its hidden inner potential. (paraphrased)

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, as you point out, there is a dance in life between celebration and suffering. The Buddha articulated it best. His First Noble Truth is the truth of the universality of suffering. And he said the cause of suffering was in our desires and selfish clinging, and the goal of suffering was to find a way out of it through what he called the Noble Eightfold Path. Jesus on the other hand, rather than analyzing suffering spoke of suffering as NOT something we should seek to escape as the main goal of our spiritual lives, said things like “pick up your cross and follow me” and “greater love has no one than to lay down their life for another.” The life of Jesus in his final week was full of suffering, and as I read the lives of the saints I see that their lives were often filled with suffering. For years as a Protestant minister I wore a crucifix to remind me that no one gets out of here without suffering–not even the Christ. But there are also times for celebration. Thank you for your words…

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