In June I hope to be able to travel from Ireland to the UK to participate in a transformative justice retreat focused primarily on embodied griefwork. It was something I initially suggested to my friend Lelo, and then it became something that Lelo and I wanted to pursue together, both in order to work a little through our own individual grief/s, as well as to have someone with whom to continue the work of healing once back here in Ireland — neither of us are from here; both of us are invested in this place, land, people, our relationships, and it is important to us to engage our own griefwork within the place where we are also weaving our sense of belonging at this moment. Which means, engaging also the grief that is here (colonial and religious wounds, the wounds of patriarchy and neoliberal ideology, of language loss and land loss, partition and sectarianism, of prejudice, racism and systemic violence). We really wanted to do this together, though, this was only ever going to be a possibility if the course was held online (it will be in person). Unfortunately, due to how long it takes to be “processed” as an asylum seeker through the Irish Direct Provision system (which will hopefully soon be dismantled), Lelo will not be able to travel to the UK, and so, will miss an important resource for herself and her community. For me, this represents the loss of an opportunity for shared experience that could support a future collaboration for healing griefwork in Ireland. It is painfully unjust, particularly for her, but we will find a way to do the work we want to do anyway.
One of the exciting prospects of the retreat is engaging grief through the writings of Stephen Jenkinson and Sobonfu and Malidoma Somé, among others’. I had listened to Malidoma Somé’s Of Spirit and Water, and was reading The Spirit of Intimacy, but, as with most things I read/ study, I know I will get exponentially more meaning from a text if I encounter it in community. In some sense this has been the biggest wound in and greatest learning from my PhD process — it was only when I began meeting weekly with a cohort last autumn that producing a dissertation began to seem even slightly feasible. I am still not totally sure how it will happen, but I now have a regular meeting on Sundays with one friend/ colleague and another on Mondays with former classmates from divinity school who are also in PhD programmes. And in the last year of my programme, a student in my department did what I sorely needed but didn’t have the courage/ presence of mind to do: initiated a bimonthly works in progress lunch, so that we can get to know each other/’s work.
We need communities. We need villages. This feels so obvious to me now, I can’t believe there was a time, even until about 10 years ago, when I didn’t think this way. I have been reflecting on the so-called privilege that conditioned me to live with this profound lack and to see it as a virtue to “make it on my own.” This was pure delusion, born out of familial and cultural (capitalist!) traumas.
The Spirit of Intimacy, by the late Sobonfu Somé, is a collection of observations, instructions, and insights about community and relationship from the traditions and rituals of the West African Dagara people (of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Burkina Faso). It is an Indigenous perspective — and I have always wondered why we don’t talk about native African traditions as Indigenous, in the political sense that describes First Nations people in the North Atlantic, for example, or Central and South American Indigenous peoples — in that spirit is considered “the life force of everything,” ancestors circulate among the living, water is life, life is close to the earth, and rituals activate and maintain an awareness of interconnection.
One of the most revelatory (and then immediately, retrospectively obvious) insights from The Spirit of Intimacy is that every relationship (not just romantic ones) has/ is guided by a spirit:
“The coming together of two spirits gives birth to a new spirit. You can call it the spirit of the relationship or the spirit of intimacy. It is very important because it acts as a barometer of the relationship, and it must be nurtured and kept alive. If that spirit dies, then the relationship dies.
Rituals are done in the village with respect to that spirit. There is a ritual done once a year in order to amend whatever has happened to this spirit, to bring it back to life if there has been disconnection.”
Although I had not yet read this week’s lectionary readings when I thought about sharing this text, I am amazed at how much in alignment they are. I know the Gospel of John is so much about Jesus’ unique human-divinity/divine-humanity, and Acts about the proliferation of discipleship, but what I am so struck by is how much hospitality and friendship there is in these passages, and the simplicity of the commands: love (____), love one another, love yourselves (by abiding in love).
I want to keep adding my voice to the chorus of people insisting that Christianity has to heal its relationship to Indigenous spiritualities/ cosmologies/ imaginations. First, by acknowledging its role in colonialism, genocide, enslavement and environmental devastation (all of which are both historical and continuing). Second, by turning to the command of radical love in the Gospels. Third, by acknowledging the validity and richness of traditions that need to be neither completed, nor perfected, nor replaced by Christianity (and maybe in so doing, acknowledging that (____) is not something Christians can name and claim and sequester, and that one can still be Christian without doing this).
Reading The Spirit of Intimacy, I am both challenged and comforted. So much of what she says resonates more like a remembered knowledge rather than new information. The possibilities of family and village life as she describes them were ruptured long before I was born, so it is no wonder that I found my way to community first by disentangling myself from expectations my culture imposed on my primary family. I first had to structure a self, so I could use its own agency to begin to deconstruct it. I don’t always know what to do with the heteronormative assumptions of many such wisdom texts. Maybe it is yet another reminder that no one has all the truth. Anyway, here is some of it.
Coffee Hour is a lightly facilitated, gently theological online space where you are welcome, no religious commitment assumed or expected. It happens every week at 1-2pm Irish time. The password changes (today it is: SobonfuSome); the video conference link is: https://meet.jit.si/CoffeeHourWithFriends2021