Christena Cleveland on the Black Madonna

I have been blessed to engage with the Black Madonna over many decades.  A new book on her appeared this week called God is a Black Woman by Christena Cleveland, PhD.*  The Black Madonna chose well when she picked Christena Cleveland to tell her story.  This page-turner of a book will prove to be a classic on this too often-ignored spiritual archetype.   

God Is A Black Woman by Christena Cleveland, Ph.D.

The author brings the Black Madonna alive and relates her to the issues of racism and patriarchy that so haunts our times.  With artistry and scholarship, she shares her experience with the Black Madonna.  Her imagination, perseverance and athleticism come through in hiking 400+ miles, climbing mountains, daring wild storms, traversing forests, and seeking out tiny French villages to pray at Black Madonna shrines in obscure places. 

Cleveland is candid and courageous in telling her story as a child wounded by parental and religious abuse and as a black woman in contemporary America and academia who found herself liberated from the whitemalegod of slavery and patriarchy by the Black Madonna.  And above all, for her deep spirituality in sharing her prayerful moments with the Black Madonna and her intuition to interpret the messages exchanged. 

Thanks to Cleveland, the Black Madonna stands up and sings anew in these pages and comes to life.

“Black Madonna of Chartres, Our Lady of the Pillar” (1508), Chartres Cathedral 28/04/2011. Photo by Walwyn on Flickr. In a poignant postscript, this Madonna is no longer black, being “restored” to whiteness along with the cathedral over the past decade.

Though neither black, nor a woman, I too had to leave America to discover the Black Madonna for the first time in France over fifty years ago.  Cleveland’s study, by bringing the American experience of a black woman and theologian and seeker to the Black Madonna lineage, breaks valuable new ground in the history of that lineage, a history that antedates Christianity but was also spread broadly in the Christian diaspora.  

This book reveals why the Black Madonna is returning so forcefully today when racism, sexism, patriarchy and denial of those in need, have become signs of our times.  In these pages, the Black Madonna shouts Good News and Good Work for those who have the ears to hear.  All of us, women and men alike, people of color and Caucasians, Christians and other-than-Christians, young and old, are invited to listen and respond with heart and action.  

See Christena Cleveland, God is a Black Woman (NY: HarperCollins 2022).

See also Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men, pp. 231-244.

And Matthew Fox, “Foreward: The Return of the Archetype in Times of Need,” in Alessandra Belloni, Healing Journeys with the Black Madonna, pp. ix-xviii.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Urban Black Madonna, Kensington Market, Toronto. Photo by Eric Parker on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

How does the archetype and experience of the Black Madonna speak to you today?  How do you see her speaking to our culture and its needs today as well?

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God

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6 thoughts on “Christena Cleveland on the Black Madonna”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you are sharing with us a new book on the Black Madonna titled, GOD IS A BLACK WOMAN by Christena Cleveland, PhD. You tell us about how athletic she was with her spirituality when she went “hiking 400+ miles, climbing mountains, daring wild storms, traversing forests, and seeking out tiny French villages to pray at Black Madonna shrines. Well, my son bought my wife and I shirts that said on the fronts: “I MET GOD AND SHE’S BLACK.” Now, we didn’t go hiking 400+ miles… but we walked around down town L.A. where we bumped into a number of black women who just loved the shirts and wanted to have their pictures taken with us! Now that is about as close as I have gotten to a Black Madonna experience–but I wish I had a real one… You ask us first today, “How does the archetype and experience of the Black Madonna speak to you?” I see her in this way: If the usual Madonna we see, which is not black, is held to be the Mother of the Church, then the Black Madonna is the Mother of all people of color, all of the “down trodden”–the anawim, and the earth itself and the depths of the seas. And to your second question: “How do you see her speaking to our culture and its needs today as well?” To start with, we are celebrating Black History month this month! And the book you have shared with us is out! And you are writing this and speaking too! It may be just a start , but at least we are on the right track…

  2. Avatar

    Looking forward to reading to the new book Mathew has referenced,
    “God Is A Black Woman.” Several women, as of late, have been inspired to write of their intuitive and contemplative experiences with the Black Madonna, and the archetypal movements into the wisdom and mystery of the depth of darkness.

    Another such woman, worthy of reading regarding this, is Constance Fitzgerald in her book titled “Desire, Darkness and Hope: Theology in a Time of Impasse.” She writes from the perspective of a Carmelite sister, combining St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross’s contemplative, intuitive teachings with regards to the “Time of Impasse”, that darkness that humanity finds itself in, which is a neccessary, evolutionary passage that must be traversed through the leading, guidance and wisdom council of the Archetypal movements of the Divine Feminine, which desires the emergence of a deeper collective consciousness of Divine Love within the individual and collective soul of humanity.

    She writes, intuitively and contemplatively, touching on alot of the things we have been discussing over the past several months, offering much understanding and wisdom to help us all traverse this mystery of darkness and the hope of seeing an unfolding new birth, evolving and emerging through the unconscious darkness within and our souls deepest desire of expressing, reflecting and manifesting a greater measure of the fountain of fullness of Divine Love, inherent and latent within ourselves, awaiting the overflow and release into our lives and this world that we live in.

    I am truly grateful for the courage and devotion that these women have exhibited, in trusting the movements of the Archetypal Black Mother, and her essence and presence in our midst. Through the sharing of their own experiential testimonies we are all blessed with spiritual sustenance for the journey we are on together.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, I like that you say, [my paraphrase]–that darkness which humanity finds itself in, is a necessary, evolutionary passage, that must be traversed, through the leading, guidance, and wisdom of the Divine Feminine. As it says in Ecclesiastes 3: “To everything there is a time and purpose under heaven–a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant , a time to reap” a time for the light , a time for darkness, time spent on the Via Positiva, and time spent on the Via Negativa, a time for the Sacred Masculine , a time for the Divine Feminine, and so on… Thank you for your comments !!!

  3. Avatar

    Arrogance, fear and selfishness have motivated people to shrink God’s Majesty into an exclusively white male image, violating the sacred inclusiveness of God as proclaimed in the Bible. God as a black Madonna should not be shocking. The absence of a black Madonna should bring tears.

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