Dear Sanctuary NYC Friends,
Last week, I wrote this newsletter piece from the hallway at Providence Hospital in Portland, Oregon. My beautiful 91 year old mother was in the process of getting ready for her liberation journey, and I was blessed to spend the last days of that journey with her, with family members and dear friends. And then early Thursday a.m., the next phase was complete, the next bardo had been entered, my mom was free from the body that had been locking her gigantic spirit in.
The immediate words that came to me in those early morning hours were from Psalm 91:1, and it felt as though my Grandfather Clarence Burr Stormont was intoning them into my inner ear: “He who abides in the secret place of the most high will dwell in the shadow of the Almighty”. I felt the comfort instantly, as I also felt the tangible presence of the ancestors in the room.
Six years earlier, when I was waiting in an outer room while my mother was in surgery, I had another visit from the ancestors. That time it was her mother Edna Jane Stormont, and she was singing, in her very sweet soprano, the kind of melody she would sing to us as a comfort and a presence. It wasn’t exactly a lullaby. It was a musical, vibratory intoning of Presence, and of her presence with that Presence. That singing went on throughout my mother’s operation, and then stopped. All was well.
This month as we continue to allow ourselves to move into the depth tradition of the Black Church, one of the concepts that we will understand is that of the Ancestors, and their living presence in our affairs, on our plane, and in their own realm. The ancestors are a living force in African spirituality. It is the summoning of the strength of the ancestors that the Ibo in South Carolina perfected that brought forth supernatural power in the midst, even as their outer world was one of physical hardship. It was the ancestral forces that called to the spirits of people so removed from the context of their outer comfort, and filled them with the power to overcome.
The concept of combining deep contact with the ancestors with more socially sanctioned forms of worship created something known as the Invisible Church, in southern pre emancipation U.S. These churches were racially mixed, but taught a different message than the owner’s Christian church. This was a kind of intermediary form between the formal and required worship service on the plantation, and the illegal and deeply powerful ‘hush harbor’ gatherings. But in all of these forms, the creativity of fully celebrating Spirit, with liberation and freedom messages “hidden in plain sight” is one of the great and enduring gifts of the Black church in America.
We shall honor the ancestral presence this month, even as we rejoice in knowing that “The secret place of the most high” knows no boundaries of body and time. We commune with a “host of silent witnesses” and for this we may be deeply grateful.
I am personally happy to know that my mother’s spirit has been added to this host and deeply grateful to all of you who have sent beautiful condolences during this time out of time.
See you at 2 at Sanctuary NYC.
We love to see your face,