Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Today we offer you the gift of morning and evening prayer from our Monk in the World Video Podcasts on the theme of Conversion. Conversion may sound harsh to some ears, especially when it comes from a place of wanting others to be different, to be changed.
In the Benedictine tradition, however, conversion is about a lifelong commitment to our own transformation. It is acknowledging that we are always growing and learning, we have never fully “arrived.” Conversion is a commitment to always beginning again, to know that we will falter in our passion and desire. I like to think of it as being open to holy surprise.
Conversion has been at the heart of our Lift Every Voice book club as well. I started 2021 with a desire to root myself more deeply in the monastic principle of humility. I knew reading voices from more diverse perspectives would be deeply enriching and would be one way to commit to my own ongoing transformation. I have been so enriched and am hungry for more.
Our book for November is Soul Care in African American Practice by Dr. Barbara Peacock. This is a beautiful book about contemplative practice rooted in the Black church tradition. Dr. Peacock uplifts practices like lectio divina and spiritual direction and situates them firmly at the heart of African American practice. She also uplifts Christian mystics like early church fathers Tertullian and Augustine who are known for their contemplative contributions, but mainstream religious history has not emphasized their African heritage.
She writes: “If a greater percentage of African Americans were aware of the rich contributions of our ancestors – it would change our thinking, our views of the Christian faith, and consequently change the face of Christianity.” This is part of the conversation I am so excited to be a part of. To broaden our understanding of mysticism by uplifting more voices.
Dr. Peacock writes movingly from her own experience of burnout as a pastor and how she sees God’s lavish desires for us to simply rest in the divine presence:
“It is a beautiful experience to carve out extensive time with (God), and it is also a glorious event to be in the moment with him, just appreciating a conscious, fresh breath of his presence. A selah moment. A pause. A time to stop and be with your Creator, your Savior, your God, your friend, your companion. How precious it is to rest in his presence, rest in his arms, rest in him. Just being. No doing. Selah.”
I know part of my own ongoing conversion is to commit again and again to those true pauses or selah moments.
She also writes beautifully about how the “legacy of African Americans extends beyond what is physically visible and mentally comprehensible. Our trials and tribulations have birthed an eschatological hope that is perpetually undergirded by prayer and by directives from Yahweh.” Through my reading this year as part of this book club and beyond, I have been so moved to understand this profound hope born from a legacy of oppression and the vision it offers for us collectively. It feels essential to the times we are living in.
You can listen to the video conversation Claudia and I had with Dr. Peacock. Toward the end Claudia asks her to lead us in a meditation which was a really beautiful experience.
Please note that my wonderful book club conversation partner, Claudia Love Mair, recently lost her oldest son to a drug overdose. To allow her some time for her bereavement we are cancelling our community conversation for November and December and our featured book for December – Womanist Midrash – will be postponed until February 2022 when we will launch a new year and a new series of books to explore. The November video conversation was recorded prior to this and the daily quotes and questions for the book will still be posted in our Facebook group during November to help you deepen into your own conversation with the text.
Please pray for Claudia, her son, and her family as they travel this painful path. She has been writing some beautiful reflections on her grief and will be sharing some of that with us here in the weeks to come.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, ReaCE