The call to spiritual transformation is the call to freedom.
It is a prophetic call heard within the depths of the mind, heart and soul, a calling from God, resonating in our consciousness, in our environment, in each every breath that we breathe and space that we take up.
It is a voice of strength, illuminating us with faith. It is a voice of deliverance, reminding us of our freedom. It is a voice of power, anointing us with grace. It is a voice of divinity, blessing us with love. It emanates everything that embraces us: the blood in our veins, the cells in our bodies, the vision that we move forward in.
If you listen, you can hear it, feel it, touch it, taste it, dance it, sing it, clap it: an ancestral call to raise us from semi-consciousness to a state where we can see God.
Malidoma Patrice Some teaches us that “ancestors have an intimate and absolutely vital connection with the world of the living. They are always available to guide, to teach, and to nurture. They represent one of the pathways between the knowledge of this world and the next. . . . [T]hey embody the guidelines for . . .all that is most valuable about life.” (Of Water and Spirit (Putnam: New York, 1994) at p. 9)
If I am still, I can hear them distinctly – not downtrodden as they were in the physical world, but holy and divine. Their call is one of deliverance. It is a call heard in the midnight hour, in the rustling of the leaves, in the sip of the living water: a call to Spirit and to Truth.
It is a call that no one can stifle, even those who refuse to hear it. It is a call that is at once collective and individual. In order to recognize our worth as individuals and as a species, we must not merely hear it but respond to it. No matter what our life circumstances may be, we are always free to do so.
Enslaved Africans heard the call, and their survival is a testament to their response. God called on many of our ancestors in a profound way, and great men and women like Nat Turner, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth listened and acted.
Take Sojourner Truth, for example. Her spiritual transformation began when she had a vision that her former “master,” from whom she had escaped, would visit. Truth told her “mistress and master” that her former “master” would come that day and she would leave with him. Her current “owners” were surprised because they had not heard that he would come.
Sojourner Truth took her child and prepared to leave with him. As she approached him, however, she had a more compelling vision: “God revealed himself to her . . . [and showed] that He was all over — that He pervaded the Universe.”
Even though she was physically enslaved, Truth realized that “there was no place, not even in hell, where [God] was not.” When her attention was finally “called to outward things, she observed her `former master’ had left” without her and her child. She walked back into the house, “exclaiming aloud, `Oh, God, I did not know you were so big.’” (Narrative of Sojourner Truth (as told by Sojourner Truth), at 35-36)
God is big indeed–a power too awesome and all- encompassing to even conceptualize. God fills our hearts; embraces our bodies, blesses our souls, lights the sky above our heads, strengthens the earth under our feet. God is the sun and the stars and the moon.
God is the essence of life, in which we live and move and have our being. When we begin to acknowledge that God is awesome and we are made in God’s image and likeness – not a he God but male and female, according to Genesis – we open our consciousness to realize the awesomeness of our own true nature.
Harriet Tubman understood the power of the Divine and trusted in the Presence of God. She escaped enslavement herself and risked being recaptured, beaten, and killed when she returned again and again to help hundreds of Africans escape slavery in this country. Her courage and strength are indicative of her deep faith in the power of God.
During one mission in a bitter snowstorm, she found that the enslaved Africans she intended to help escape were not at their appointed meeting place. With only a tree for shelter, she did not turn back and refuse to wait in the storm. Apparently knowing God would protect her, she stood behind the tree for the entire night in the snowstorm until those she came to help arrived.
The abolitionists who wrote of this account depicted her as an ignorant child instead of a powerful spirit woman and “her people’s” trust of God as naive. But Jesus taught us that we must be childlike–that is unconditional and complete–in our trust to enter the kingdom. Harriet Tubman and many others suffered the indignity and horror of American slavery, yet the tremendous power of God kept them moving toward freedom.
Despite the beatings and other insane acts of violence against the minds and bodies of enslaved Africans in this country, no one could master them as long as they mastered their own consciousness. Even if we appear to be free, we are “slaves” to external conditions if we do not embrace our own self-worth and master our own mind, soul, and spirit.
By external conditions, I mean the things we can see with the physical eye – the appearance of poverty, the appearance of illness, the appearance of terror. Of course, these things do exist in the material world, but we do not have to be controlled by them. When we realize that God is the movement and momentum underlying all things and that we live, move, and have our being in God, we attain mastery over ourselves.
Sojourner Truth was her own master because she was directly connected with Spirit. Despite her circumstances, she was called to transform herself into a powerful leader when she realized that God is everywhere and bigger than any man-made institution or three-dimensional, time-bound realm.
God moved Sojourner Truth to sojourn for Truth in a manner that would liberate not only herself but other captured Africans. She remains a master teacher of the principle that God is much larger than any beliefs or concepts we might have – larger even than existence as we know it. Her life and the lives of other Africans in this country are a critical example, rarely acknowledged, of how the recognition of God pushes us far beyond even our greatest expectations.
Like Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, who led a slave revolt in Virginia in 1831, was one of the greatest spiritual masters of his time. He claimed that the “Spirit” spoke to him, saying, “Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you.” By Spirit, he meant “the Spirit that spoke to the prophets in former days. “ Turner prayed continually for two years “whenever [his] duty would permit – and . . . had the same revelation, which fully confirmed that [he] was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty.” (The Confessions of Nat Turner, The Leader of the Late Insurrections in Southampton, Va., As fully and voluntarily made to Thomas R. Gray, Nov. 5, 1831) Turner understood that obedience to the call of God is the source of true freedom.
What do these African American prophets teach us? That when we recognize the presence of God everywhere in our lives and open our consciousness to tap God’s infinite power, we can do more than we could ever imagine – not so much for our personal gain but for the benefit of all humanity, which is where our true worth lies. We are able to taste the sweetness of freedom when we realize that there is no separation between all that we are and all that God Is.