Barbara A. Holmes is a spiritual teacher, activist and scholar who stresses African American spirituality, mysticism, cosmology and culture. She has served as President Emerita of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and served as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Memphis Theological Seminary. Prior to accepting the call to the ministry, she worked as an early childhood educator, a professional actor, and a corporate lawyer in Georgia, Florida and Texas. A gifted and profound speaker and lecturer, she says, “My life is committed to the struggle for justice, the healing of the human spirit, and the art of relevant radical creativity.”
An Unlikely Legacy: A Restless Longing
The underlying bleakness of contemporary congregational life is masked by increasing technological advancements and business savvy in religious circles. On the surface, things have changed for the better. At most black church services across denominational lines, music is of professional quality, choirs are uplifting and skilled, preachers are articulate and well-trained. Yet the sense of centered belonging in a community that provides spiritual sustenance and intergenerational continuity has become drastically attenuated. I am suggesting that this sense of “centered belonging” can be located in the contemplative spiritual legacy of Africana people.
Retrieving this legacy is important because we can no longer assume that the tradition will be passed down through generations of church-going families. Increasing secularization in the African American community and the increasing diversification of faith options make it imperative that the stories and practices be retained. But even more crucial that the retention practices is the healing of the wounds of generations past.
Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a descendant of two important Hasidic dynasties, was born in Warsaw, educated in Poland, taught in Germany, London and United States, and was considered by many to be a prophet’s prophet. He aimed, through his writing and teaching, to challenge modern people to be open to a renewed spiritual dimension and to engage the issues of the day with faith and moral fortitude. His timely writings liberated many and inspired a generation of faith and social leaders whose impact is felt today in the 2 st century. His active role in the historic civil rights movement and peace movement of the 20th century created a unique and vital coalition for transformative social change agents.
A Thought of God
The purpose of prayer is to be brought to His attention, to be listened to, to be understood by Him; not to know Him, but to be known to Him To pray is to behold life not only as a result of His power, but as a concern of His will, or to strive to make our life a divine concern. For the ultimate aspiration of man is not to be a master, but an object of His knowledge. To live “in the light of His countenance,” to become a thought of God- this is the true career of man.
I Asked for Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology
Abraham Joshua Heschel,
Edited by Samuel H. Dresner