Sojourner Truth lived as a slave from the age of nine. Her slave name was Isabella and she was sold several times until she landed with John Dumont. Like all her other previous owners, Dumont beat Isabella, and his wife Sally sexually abused her. Isabella found solace by building a little shrine in the woods with some twigs and branches, an African tradition she may have learned from her mother. Over the years she developed an intimate relationship with the Divine. After toiling for fourteen years, moved by Divine inspiration Isabella ran away with her daughter, Sophia.
As a runaway slave she joined the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant evangelical movement where people lived a simple life and by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. She soon became an inspirational speaker and challenged people through her unique interpretation of the Bible as a woman and a former slave. Her longing for some structure and family threw her under the spell of the “Prophet Matthias” who intimidated by her charisma often beat her, making her feel like a slave once again.
In 1843, Isabella had a foundational spiritual experience that would change her life forever and give her total inner freedom. On the day of Pentecost she left New York under a new name, Sojourner Truth, free from slavery and the abusive structures of religion. She became an inspirational speaker and fought for the emancipation of slaves, freedom for the Black community and the rights of all women. Her faith and preaching introduced her to abolitionists and women’s rights crusaders. Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist, admired her speaking ability but looked upon her as an uncultured person. But when he called upon Blacks to work for their freedom using force, Sojourner Truth confronted him with the famous words, “Is God gone?” She was the champion of nonviolence and God’s power to overcome injustice and oppression.
Throughout her life she refused to “keep her place.” With her faith anchored in the Divine, she became a force to be reckoned with and was determined not to be intimidated or ignored. When a slave owner sneered at her proclaiming that he did not care for her anti-slavery talk any more than he would for the bite of a flea, Sojourner Truth’s spontaneous response was, “Lord willing I’ll keep you scratching!”
The Divine Flea within each one of us will keep our friends and family, our religious and social groups forever scratching and restless for deep inner freedom and craving the fullness of life. Her assumed name, Sojourner Truth, also reminds us that life is a journey and our quest for truth is relentless. Her relationship with the Divine that began at the shrine she built in the woods, moved through the oppressive structures of religion and came full circle to the Higher Power, the Divine Spirit of the Universe.
Kenric here. Just a small note to say I have been made co-administrator of Paul’s blog and will be helping him manage it.
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In Hello Dolly, Dolly Levi is heard to say, “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure, it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” This is a very succinct way of saying that wealth that is not shared may begin to rot and destroy our lives. And the important thing is not to give our wealth away indiscriminately, but rather it is shared “encouraging young things to grow.” Wealth is not given away to rescue or enable people, keep them co-dependent and give us a feeling that we have done something noble and good.
Living with enough is not limited to material things but extends most especially to the religious and spiritual. As we grow in our relationship with the Divine Essence we realize that more is less and less is more. We appreciate the wisdom of the unknown author who says, “He who buys what he does not need steals from himself.” As we give away material things that are superfluous we begin to give away religious and spiritual practices that we no longer need. We claim once again the wisdom, simplicity and freedom of a child. The life of a little child embodies Leela, the Sanskrit word that is often translated as play. A little child is a reflection of all reality and the cosmos which is the creative Leela of the Divine Essence. As we allow ourselves to participate in the dance of the Divine Leela, our lives become simple and mystical. We experience deep inner peace and freedom in every circumstance of our lives.
“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”
The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment,
Not seeking, not expecting,
She is present, and can welcome all things.
When our lives get stressed and chaotic or when unwanted troubles and pain overwhelm us, the more we struggle the more we get entangled into the web of anxiety, anger or depression. During these times we learn the lesson from muddy waters. If left alone, the mud slowly but surely settles down to the bottom bringing more and more clarity as we look into that water. We begin to see the reflection of the sun, the moon, the stars and the whole of creation in all its divine grandeur. We see ourselves in our essence, just as we are, as the Divine Image and Likeness, the Divine Breath! We experience the Divine Presence in every fiber of our being and every moment of our lives.
Stress has tremendous gifts. It is an invitation to be centered and become more resilient. During these stressful times our inner being is drawn to connect with people who care about us and/or reach out to others in their pain. When we allow ourselves to feel part of broken humanity we begin to live more peacefully, effectively and even our bodies begin to rejuvenate. They say that stress never harms us but our attitude toward stress does!
Carl Jung believed, “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order” (Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious). Chaos, therefore, is an invitation to live a more authentic life, becoming more and more our true selves. We realize that we are part of the cosmos and the cosmos is in our essence. Imitating the sage, we detach ourselves from the outcome of our chaotic life and welcome all things just as they are. We stand back, surrender our chaos to the Universe and watch “muddy water become clear” and give birth to a dancing star.
How often after a very busy day do we find ourselves wondering if we achieved anything significant at all? By the end of such days we feel tired, frustrated and empty. It seems like we were ‘busy’ doing nothing.
Doing nothing is the art of flowing with life and living the way of nature. When we plan our day and then let the Great Spirit be the rudder that navigates our day, the life force that flows out of our being inadvertently gets things done. This is when singers stop singing and let the song come out from the depth of their being; the painting that flows out of an artist and when the dancer and the dance become one.
Children live this natural way of flowing with the rhythm of life. So do Indian villagers who do not have birth certificates, they focus on the mystery of the moment. These are a living testimony of Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that counts. It’s the life in your years.” Native tribes in different parts of the world are also closely connected with nature and also flow with the rhythm of life just like the 90 year old man who prayed to God to find out the purpose of the rest of his life. The response he received was intriguing: “Your life will have a purpose but you will not know it and you will fulfill that purpose without knowing it!”
Naming something gives you power over what you name, assigns a particular character to it and reflects your relationship with that which you have named. But as soon as you name anything you begin to cut back its essence. When we name God we diminish God.
Hinduism has 330 million names of god; 330 million ways of minimizing the Divine Essence. But the 330 million gods are only an expression of experiences of that which is beyond; 330 million disposable images of God until one experiences God as ‘TAT’ or THAT – God beyond all names – just Being or Essence! Buddhists experience the Essence in the breath, which is part of the universal and eternal essence. This breath is formless and nameless; it just IS. Islam forbids the creation of images of any sentient being and most especially any image of God or the Prophet Muhammad. In the Old Testament God is YHWH, a name that cannot be pronounced. A God who revealed Essence as, “I AM THAT, I AM” (Ex 3:14 – 15).
Adam and Eve had a momentary glimpse into Essence in the Garden of Eden, when they ate the forbidden fruit of knowledge and consciousness. Their eyes were opened and they realized that they were naked. They were enlightened and were able to able to experience their own Essence in the Ultimate Essence – THAT! The gods in the Garden of Eden then proceed to put on skins to cover THAT! These skins now become our reality – we define ourselves by our gender, culture, religion. We continue to put skins on everything by naming people, places, things, animals, birds, plants and different parts of creation. If we begin to learn to look beyond the skins, beyond names, we will begin to experience the Essence once again as the FORMLESS THAT! We begin to live in the realm of the Spirit.
Jesus proclaimed THAT as Spirit and Truth and not worshiped on any mountain or temple (John 4). He invited us to experience THAT in the birds of the air and the lilies of the field until we experience all of life in THAT like the vine and the branches (John 15). St. Paul will exclaim in THAT there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male and female! (Gal 3:28). Through the process of kenosis, the Jesus of St. Paul sheds the skins put on by the gods in the Garden of Eden, and realizes That.
Physical distance and spiritual intimacy seems like a paradox but is key to happy and growth relationships. The way to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of a mountain is to look at it from a distance. The most beautiful paintings of a sunset are those that are absorbed from a distance and in silence. The silence between the notes makes the music of our lives. To develop and experience deep intimacy we need physical distance and moments of silence – between spouses, parents and children, friends, teachers and students – and above all, with God.
Physical distance and silence helps us realize that a tree is not just a tree but a miracle; so is a mountain; every person and all of creation is an epiphany of the Divine Essence. St. Ignatius will insist on reverential distance in the spiritual life. You may kiss the places where persons you are contemplating were, but you do not touch the persons. As we mature in the spiritual life, Ignatius believes, we will realize the Divine power, presence and essence in every creature (Spiritual Exercises 39). Physical distance and silence foster spiritual intimacy.
The Middle Eastern mystic, Kahlil Gibran, writes in The Prophet, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love.” The only way we can be in a meaningful loving relationship with anyone especially those who are close to us – our family, friends and God, is by creating a sacred distance or space. Without this sacred distance love becomes a bondage. Kahlil Gibran continues, “Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.” This will help us not to suffer in times of rejection, betrayal or death of a loved one.
We depend on others but we cannot be dependent on anyone, not even God, if we want to grow in intimacy. A famous Zen master, Tozan would say, “Blue Mountain is father of White Cloud. White Cloud is son of Blue Mountain. All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other. White Cloud is always White Cloud, Blue Mountain is always Blue Mountain.”