Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
We are delighted to be returning to our monthly Lift Every Voice book club exploring contemplative voices of color and enriching our perspective on the mystical tradition. Our featured book for February is The Wild Land Within: Cultivating Wholeness through Spiritual Practice by Lisa Colón Delay and she joined Claudia Love Mair and myself for a video conversation. (You can also now listen to these episodes as audio podcasts and view the weekly reflection questions on the book page and in the Facebook group.)
As always it was very meaningful to discuss the book with the author and help break open some of its layers together. The Wild Land Within uses the metaphor of our inner terrain and climate to help guide the reader toward embracing contemplative practices that are rooted in ancient writers like Evagrius and the desert elders as well as more contemporary writers of color.
Lisa is also a spiritual companion so she brings a sensitivity to the lived experience of people when engaging in spiritual practice and I loved her reminder at the start of our conversation about how spiritual practices bring up our “stuff” – wounds we need to heal. When we begin on the journey we’re often surprised that we may be feeling worse than better. The contemplative life offers ways to be with our wounds in loving, generative, and life-giving ways but that takes time and perseverance.
We also discussed how the tradition of liberation theology gives us a new lens with which to look upon our faith. Lisa writes: “Being a student of Jesus is a lifelong apprenticeship, not just a series of services to attend or beliefs to learn. This apprenticeship is also an ongoing, intimate communion with the Living One.” I love this image of apprenticeship especially in light of the divine presence who chose to be incarnated as a man living on the edges of empire in oppression, without worldly power and resources, and who was executed at the hands of the state. This is who we are called to be in apprenticeship with. The living example of Jesus shows us the way forward in our spiritual journeys is to disrupt the power systems, examine our own privilege, and question why those who are impoverished and suffering have to live in those circumstances.
In writing about one Gustavo Gutierrez’s contributions to liberation theology, Lisa writes that “(i)n his commentary on Job, Gutierrez expounds on unjust suffering as it relates to the contemplative life. In the anguishes of lived-out realities, the lowly people can find God and can deeply rest in God, who cherishes them and meets them where they are.” When I was in college, a liberation theology course was my doorway into being able to embrace Christian tradition and practice. I love this image of how the contemplative life meets the reality of pain and struggle and can offer an experience of being held and cherished when the rest of the world turns away.
The theme that has been running like a powerful river through all the books we have explored is summed up for me well in Lisa’ statement here: “Given the horrors that many people of color have endured, spiritual insights from these traditions can breathe wisdom, life, and hope into the most desperate of life’s situations. By their resilience, continued survival, and instances of thriving, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and people of color (BILPOC) are a testament to the most potent parts of what it means to be human. BILPOC spiritualities embody ways to be sustained by the Divine and enlighten us about the power of community.”
Toward the end of our time together Lisa led us in a lovely meditation. As some of you know Claudia is grieving the loss of her oldest son last fall and shared in a very raw and honest way what the meditation brought up for her. It was a beautiful moment of transparency and sharing the need for profound expressions of loss.
We have so much to learn from our siblings on the margins and anyone who has been oppressed in any way, about strength, courage, and resilience as well as the power of community and how spiritual practice can deepen our trust in the divine and resource us in our own difficult seasons of life.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Image © Christine Valters Paintner