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What If There's a Better Frame?

I may be failing at the SlowDown.

Without much intention, I found myself on campus for the monthly President’s Luncheon, this one celebrating a colleague’s work in administration as she now moves fulltime into completing her PhD. I had time to use the photocopier-scanner for some resource-reading I might want students to tend to for a Civil Right’s Pilgrimage scheduled for October. Then yesterday, I found myself beginning to develop the electronic course shell, so I can coordinate/collaborate with the leader of the trip, Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt. As I eased into what I had presumed an administrative task, I found my Teacher Self beginning to awaken inside...

I’ve now inherited an ancient-new stream of wisdom-learning/listening quite congruent with where I had been but also markedly different from anything I had access to before. The relevant strand for today is I no longer enter into racial-reconciliation and healing through the framework of race. I know that sounds incongruous, and to be clear: it is not in opposition to race. It does not contradict that race contextualizes everything in our country. What I realized—and what I now need to become articulate about as Dr. Hunt and I begin to plan for our collaborations this fall—is that defining the problem of race in terms of race limits my/our imagination for the possibilities beyond how we’ve conceived all this up to now.

I won’t be very articulate about this yet, so bear with me.

What if there is a better framework to imagine a future together in our country than ones we've already inherited, done our best with, been faithful to...?

Again and again, I have heard Quanita Roberson speak of her encounter of the Slave Archetype in her coaching and organizational work, irrespective of skin color. Carolyn Myss describes the Slave Archetype as “a complete absence of the power of choice and self-authority. Yet it is precisely the absence of willpower that gives the Slave its potential for personal transformation. The ultimate spiritual task is to surrender one’s will to the Divine—in effect, to become a Divine Slave.”

I have heard Quanita talk about her own journey within these terms, always flinching when she speaks of being a Divine Slave. Some part of me has simply not wanted to have those words and her African-American self in the same picture-frame. Given our country's history. Not wanting to feel or see that history. The fascinating thing is that Quanita is one of the most powerfully choosing women I’ve ever met. She knows herself well. Knows the free-fall of the spiritual life intimately. Demonstrates courage and invites others into the same. She is the confusing elixir of self-authority yet surrendered to Spirit.

What would it mean to invite students into a Civil Rights Pilgrimage by asking what they are enslaved to? Exploring how they are already enslaved, in some fashion, whether it be to a system, an idea, a person, a tradition? One could argue this pattern is in all of us, simply because of our history. One cannot enslave someone without being enslaved themselves. Frederick Douglass: "No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck."

Speaking as a white woman within the structures of higher education, I can perhaps play this out how I would begin to answer. I have incredible choice before me, within my life. I have worked hard for the profession that yet chose me (to quote a friend). I have found doors open for me as well, inexplicably, on the whims and desires of others in power. I learned the hidden rules of the game well, and played them conscientiously to ‘succeed.’ One could say I have self-authored my life and demonstrate full power of choice.

But what choices were really mine, really in my power, to climb the ladder of academic and ecclesial success determined largely by white men? How expansive was my imagination to conceive of different choices than the ones by which this game is played? How much did I really author myself amidst the pre-determined systems? One could just as easily argue I've been a slave to the system, whether academic or ecclesial. It has defined all my choices.

As with any archetype, it is a neutral pattern inherited within the human collective. It has both shadow expressions—things we wish were not so—and light expressions—those we like to imagine in ourselves. In this instance, the light side would be “Surrendering your power of choice to the Divine with complete trust.” The shadow side? “Giving your willpower to an external authority out of fear of making your own choices.”

My life has been both, of course. So many times I was terrified of--and allowed myself to be talked out of--making my own choices within a sense of Divine flow and Purpose. Shadow. Other times, come hell or highwater, I leaned into this surrender to Divine work I could not conceive but I felt drawn into...again and again. Light. Julia Cameron’s Artist Way was my entrance into this experience. My job was quantity, Godde’s promised job was quality. My life utterly transformed. People came into my life--some of them reading along here with me--who I could never have orchestrated or conceived would be alongside me today.

I begin to see what Quanita has suggested over these years. How many white folks are completely enslaved to an understanding of patriotism, or liberal ideology, or conservative ideology, so much so that there is little to no awareness of their own stories, their own wisdom lineages, their own capacities to live life differently than we have chosen as a collective... I remember a colleague, Rita, using the phrase left out in the cold for deeply-rooted European-descent bodies' fears of being excluded or isolated from their tribal group because of not performing or conforming. I certainly experienced my own version of being shoved out into the cold when I would not conform to my family's cultural was tough but it was also liberating. And now, worth every bit of terror. What if we listened within the Slave Archetype for our own evolution(s)...?

To what are you enslaved? Because there will always be an answer to that question, even if we demur and defend against it. In this era of social media and collective pressure to perform success, we become slaves to that against which we cannot make our own choices...which is a lot.

Surrender to the Divine is the counter-intuitive gift of the Slave Archetype. Which is not to some traditional conception of God... It is surrender to this moment, then the next... It is trusting Godde's got this, while we develop better skills to listen and learn. Together.

Perhaps this is a first fruit of the SlowDown for me...?

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