By Tommy Airey
This is the sequel to The Ways, posted on the day after the Spring Equinox 2018.
I won’t apologize. But I must confess. I am a “biblical Christian.” Yet, in this post-colonial conversation, I know I can’t just testify. I must specify. The spiritual movement of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus is fundamentally a descent. The bible, like a broken record ever-resisting imperial feedback, plays a prejudiced tune that sides with the poor and oppressed and demonized and scapegoated. To be clear, the way of Jesus does not have the patent on the prophetic path less plodded. It is simply the route I’ve chosen. Or perhaps it has chosen me.
In what was probably his third or fourth letter to the little house church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul (whose conversion to the Jesus movement crucified his career and social life) referenced the spiritual life as “a treasure in jars of clay” (II Cor 4:7). Only when disciples are cracked open and broken can the love spill out and the light shine through. A few lines later, after check-listing a cascading avalanche of his own afflictions, Paul mysteriously writes of “carrying around the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus can be manifested” (II Cor 4:10). The heavenly path is paved through hell.
Christians are, primarily, crucifixion people. We groan and weep. We worship a God who does too. Later on in the Corinthian correspondence, Paul preaches of “divine power perfected in weakness” (II Cor 12:9). We are given a thorn in the flesh, and sometimes—most times—relief takes its own sweet-ass time. Pain and oppression roll in on wheels of inevitability. Sparked by our stubborn obedience to what is unconventional, persecution rides shotgun. This is the kind of suffering that transformed Jesus into a mind-blowing, heart-gushing human Being (Heb 5:8).
Authentic Christian spirituality shuns the destination mentality. Spirit traffics in disorientation, which is always a process. It is a be(com)ing. Affliction will come, and when it does, it will teach us anew. And there will be newness and healing and liberation. The disorientation begets a whole new orientation about ourselves and the world. Eventually.
Faith in Jesus is inherently a truth-seeking ordeal. It refuses paths of denial, ignorance, indifference and cynicism. It ruthlessly faces into Reality. This rather challenging lifestyle requires that we access The Means to energize and strengthen us on the Journey.
- The Means to cultivate a deeper sensitivity to where and how Spirit is on the move.
- The Means to experience the Love that is higher and wider and deeper and longer than The Ways.
- The Means to feel my own pain and the sorrows of the world and to actively grieve it all.
- The Means to see truth more clearly and to live out of a more exquisite hopefulness.
- The Means to be still, awake and present to what is going on within me and right in front of me.
- The Means to heal and recover from trauma, addiction and abuse.
- The Means to let go, to breathe and to trust the power of Love in the most adverse and triggering conditions.
- The Means to release resentment, criticism and shame.
- The Means to cultivate genuine compassion for others without taking unhealthy responsibility for them.
- The Means to say “no” to shame-based busyness and “yes” to soul-centered healing practices.
As I take inventory of my past year, the deepest, wisest, most emotionally accessible spiritual sojourners in my life have been
(a) my wife-partner of thirteen years,
(b) those committed to rigorous 12-step recovery programs and
(c) female leaders of color.
These are the faces and voices that guide me—The Means to my own integrated spiritual path. They form a trifecta of lenses through which I read the prophetic Biblical tradition. They are my heavenly scribes, artfully displaying soul treasures old and new.
Lindsay feels deeply and lives in the moment. She is not only credentialed in family-systems therapy, she is anointed with mind-heart-body congruency. She is passionate and honest, open-hearted and emotionally expressive. She is thoroughly committed to her own personal and political liberation.
Addicts in recovery start with their own powerlessness. They learn surrender and acceptance. They admit wrongs and make amends. By committing to making “I-Statements,” they take ownership and responsibility for their own lives They stay on the spiritual path of progress-not-perfection. They cultivate the skill and will to search below the surface. They covenant themselves to one-liners like
Listen to reflect, not respond.
Transform or transmit.
Let go or be dragged.
The souls of Black and Brown women have been infused with a mourning that percolates out of the simmering heat of five centuries of “double jeopardy”—being both non-white and female in a society that is viciously patriarchal and racist. I am continually floored by their political and spiritual brilliance, pivoting from truth telling to tenderness in fluid fashion. They possess what Dr. King called “transphysics,” combining fierce love with raw truth that lights a “fire that no one can put out.”
These spiritual guides are as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. They are shepherds who model how to separate my sheep from my goats. And there are plenty of goats who graze on the landscape of my soul. I chronically deny, repress and hide my feelings. I control and grasp. I catastrophize over finances and friction in relationships. I become easily bitter and resentful as I overcommit and hold too high of expectations for myself and others. I am chronically triggered into patterns of feeling alone, unknown and devalued. I most often live out of my ego instead of my soul.
The Means signal to me that the only real solution is revolution. For me, The Means to a revolutionary shift flow out of the ancient texts that tell the stories of hairy prophetic figures calling the people to repent. However, each and every one of us receives the words of the prophets from somewhere—either by default or decision.
All our readings are subject to agendas that are rarely named: powerful vested interests, deep fears, unresolved hurts, family expectations, peer pressure, economic opportunity and social ideology. These are the great and terrible obstacles to spiritual transformation. This is why texts call for traditions. And so: The Means to my own spiritual awakening—to resist and rise above these forces and agendas—run through my covenant in marriage, my commitment to al-anon recovery and my apprenticeship to women of color.
This is a messy and imperfect process—precisely why practices of personal inventory and confession are vital for me as I move forward. In my relationship with Lindsay, I am held accountable to take responsibility for my own counterfeit patterns in conflict and make amends in my relationship. At weekly al-anon meetings, I share out of my own experience, struggle, hope, pain and joy. I seek out spaces led by women of color and study a diversity of texts written by them. These practices guide and check my biblical readings.
The Means of my own paradigm-shifting spiritual transformation find their nexus in something Audre Lorde wrote three decades ago (“Poetry Is Not A Luxury” in Sister Outsider):
As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas. They become a safe-house for that difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action.
When I first came across this, I had to read it again. And again. And again. My white, male mind mumbled inside my head: our feelings? Yes, writes Lorde, to her Black female audience: our own ancient, non-european consciousness. Not rationality. Not rules, creeds and authority. Not heady ruminations about what’s happening in our world.
Only by digging deeper within—below the anger and the anxieties, the fears and the fantasies—will I be able to access great unbounded love, endless creative energy and deep pervasive joy. This is an incarnated spirituality, flowing from the raw experiences of daily life. Elders like Alice Walker and Dr. Lily Mendoza continue to bear witness to a Spirit that inhabits everything. Interdependent. A web of mutuality. The interrelated structure of reality. The deepest knowledge is perceived intuitively.
The Ways are what we are up against. The Means are how we get free. A biblical spiritual journey of descent is a path that winds through out-of-the-way villages called honesty, humility, confession and emotional accessibility. It is fueled by listening and learning, grace and forgiveness. I love what Nigerian spiritual practitioner Bayo Akomolafe calls his journey: “a small, intense, intimate life.” It is deep, not wide. I’m slowly learning that I can’t have both. I have limits! This is the ultimate post-colonial confession.