Chapter 4: Come Ye Disconsolate

INTRODUCTION: “Not many of us know how to be holy.” Kirk Franklin, Gospel Singer African worship experiences are contemplative because a) they create an atmosphere for communal listening and responsiveness to God; b) they impact the ethos and value system of a community; c) they heal infected social and psychic wounds.

THAT OLD SHIP OF ZION: Africans brought to America on slave ships had to construct their own “Ark of Safety.” This strengthened resolve and survival skills: “crisis contemplation.” “Inclusion is not just a racial issue.” Barbara Holmes Class distinctions broke down but gender and sexual identity distinctions did not–still struggling with these.

I DON’T WANT TO CRY ANYMORE: African worship experience – they have “forgotten how to lament.” Tired of it. Don’t want symbols of Good Friday anymore. Rev. Cecil Williams took down the cross in his church so it wouldn’t be a constant reminder of Christian death ritual.

Question from Barbara Holmes: Have we taken down the cross in our individual hearts and in communal worship for the same reason?

CONTEMPLATION IN PEWS: Took Barbara Holmes a few years of experiencing different liturgies to realize that freedom comes in many forms. Freedom denied in the workplace was being recreated in storefront churches as holy dance, rhythms of proclaimed word, sense of transformation, sense of awe/expectation, weeping, shouts, and silence. All contemplative practices were “hidden in plain sight.” Barbara Holmes’ life was forever changed by contemplation in the pews. She became a minister “with a light around her,” because of these communities.

TRANSOFRMED BY THE DANCE: Indigenous communities formed on the notion that worship is holistic, cannot escape involving the body and they celebrate this fact. Communal dance, choral dancing, movement styles all typical expressions of people offering their bodies for praise. Authenticity seldom judged – not controlled. The “flow of God” is manifested uniquely in each of us so no need to control or intellectualize it. Just let it happen!

How does this compare to our experiences of liturgy?

SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN: Children are encouraged to “play church.” They enter into the liturgical experience of shouting, dancing, etc., as a natural activity. What do we do to our children at church?

MOURNER’S BENCH: THAT’S NOT IT: The place where sinners or the unsaved and uncommitted prayer for God’s anointing; a public portal into participation in communal contemplative practices; a mediation of spiritual powers far beyond individual’s control. Fakes are called out: “That’s not it!’ Is this like the RCIA dismissal experience? How does it change a community to witness such a place?

CONTEMPLATING BAPTISM: Water and the Spirit ritual comes alive in the Pentecostal Church; people emerge from the water speaking in tongues and totally changed. The BC adapted well – had river rituals of cleansing in Africa; infants baptized in connection to the ancestors. Are our sacramental rituals too tame?

ECSTATIC SINGING: OPENING THE HEAVENLY DOOR: Africans crossed back and forth “beyond the veil” evidenced by songs of praise spontaneously raised by anyone who was moved; a result of the in-dwelling of the Spirit, creating an atmosphere of transcendence; singers were “anointed” by repetition of verses; contemplative as deep listening abides between every note and stanza. How does this compare to the music in our church?

PRAYING IN THE CLOSET AND IN THE PEW: Black experiences of “shut-ins” where people would stay and pray all night provided a permeable boundary of life/death; this allowed for a cloistering: 1. tarrying (waiting expectancy), 2. a place for contemplation 3. a communion with God for those seeking union; stressed vocalizing prayer; BH wants to revive this in the BC.

A CASE STUDY: HOWARD THURMANS’S CHIRST TODAY: Thurman’s community in SF, an eclectic congregation, still open today; quiet, familiar music; Scripture readings; guided meditations on forgiveness of self/others; fluid names for God; embraces; great food afterward. BH went to experience this in 2002/

SHIFTING THE EPHASIS IN WORSHIP: From preacher/star to empowered congregation – this is where the BC needs to go if it is to sustain itself, acc. to BH. Shift addresses burnout of pastors, prevalent abuses of power by clergy, lack of spiritual initiative from pews; might not be possible in the institutional church–may have to emerge from small committed groups. BH lists phases (see end of chapter)

SEEDS OF HOPE (A Summary): Who shall we bless the past and pass on the contemplative aspects she outlines: through sorrow, strengthened by activism and postcolonial bib. interpretation (next chapter).

What are the seeds of hope you need to sow?

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