un­di­vided state

A con­ver­sa­tion on fem­i­nism and spir­i­tu­al­ity

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - NEWS - hosted by lisa fac­tora-borchers

A con­ver­sa­tion on fem­i­nism and spir­i­tu­al­ity.

Among all the false­hoods con­structed about fem­i­nism, one of the most per­sis­tent is the no­tion that it does not mix with spir­i­tu­al­ity. This is largely due to the pa­tri­ar­chal in­ter­pre­ta­tions and prac­tices of world re­li­gions. So Bitch asked some of our fa­vorite thinkers, ac­tivists, and schol­ars—writer and faith or­ga­nizer Zaynab Sha­har, au­thor and Tem­ple Univer­sity as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Nyasha Ju­nior, au­thor Alexis Pauline Gumbs, ed­i­tor Krista Ri­ley, and au­thor and rabbi Danya Rut­ten­berg—to dis­cuss their ex­pe­ri­ences. We learned that not only do fem­i­nism and spir­i­tu­al­ity over­lap, but for many, there is no sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the two. Your pur­chase of this dig­i­tal edi­tion makes it pos­si­ble for us to thrive.

Let’s start with foun­da­tions: How would you de­scribe your spir­i­tual prac­tice and iden­tity?

NYASHA JU­NIOR: I was raised as a Chris­tian. I am a fourth­gen­er­a­tion mem­ber of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. My be­liefs and prac­tices have changed over time, but I still iden­tify as Chris­tian. I don’t sep­a­rate my spir­i­tual prac­tice from other life-af­firm­ing prac­tices that sus­tain me. Such prac­tices could in­clude brunch, Ash­tanga yoga, or dance par­ties with a friend’s tod­dler.

KRISTA RI­LEY: I be­came Mus­lim about 10 years ago through a mix of ex­po­sure to clas­si­cal Ara­bic and the rich­ness of the Qu’ran’s lan­guage, as well as to close Mus­lim friends in my life who have em­bod­ied a crit­i­cal en­gage­ment with re­li­gious prin­ci­ples and a strength de­rived from their faith. Al­though some of my re­li­gious ideas and prac­tices have shifted over time, Is­lam con­tin­ues to help me stay grounded and con­nected. Along with my per­sonal daily re­li­gious prac­tice, I also co­or­di­nate a small gen­der-equal and queer-af­firm­ing Mus­lim cir­cle in Mon­treal.

ALEXIS PAULINE GUMBS: Black fem­i­nism is my pri­mary spir­i­tual prac­tice, and it is in­formed by many other spir­i­tual tra­di­tions. My prac­tice of Black fem­i­nism comes from a deep place of faith and in­cor­po­rates breath­ing, med­i­ta­tion, move­ment, many forms of prayer and rit­ual, and an­ces­tor rev­er­ence. The con­tainer for the cer­e­monies I fa­cil­i­tate is called Eter­nal Sum­mer of the Black Fem­i­nist Mind.

ZAYNAB SHA­HAR: From an early age my mother stressed that I had the free­dom of re­li­gion, the free­dom to choose my re­li­gious be­liefs, but any­thing I chose had to be ac­com­pa­nied by deep study and crit­i­cal in­quiry. I couldn’t just be­come a pas­sive be­liever or a sheep. In­quiry and study were the clos­est thing I came to spir­i­tual prac­tices grow­ing up. I grew up read­ing adult books about dif­fer­ent re­li­gions, pri­mar­ily Ju­daism, Bud­dhism, and witch­craft. I en­coun­tered a very wa­tered-down Su­fism in books about witch­craft and neo­pa­gan mys­ti­cism as a teenager. In 2012, I made the de­ci­sion to con­vert to Is­lam. I flew to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., with my mother and took sha­hadah with Imam Daayiee Ab­dul­lah, who is the only openly Black gay male imam in the United States. Three years later I be­came a dervish un­der the late Sheikh Ibrahim Fara­jajé. Ibrahim Baba af­firmed in me that there is a way to in­habit Mus­lim iden­tity that is non­d­u­al­ist and poly­dox­i­cal, and en­cour­aged his dervishes to em­brace or­ganic mul­tire­li­gios­ity as a means of em­body­ing Chishti Sufi con­cep­tions of one­ness. It’s through him that I even­tu­ally be­came more com­fort­able with un­der­stand­ing my­self as non­d­u­al­ist, poly­dox, and able to in­habit mul­ti­ple spir­i­tual lo­ca­tions at the same time.

DANYA RUT­TEN­BERG: I’m an ob­ser­vant Jew. I keep Shab­bat (the sab­bath) and Jewish di­etary laws, cel­e­brate hol­i­days, and pray in pretty tra­di­tional ways, all that stuff. I grew up with a pretty stan­dard as­sim­i­lated Amer­i­can Jewish ex­pe­ri­ence: syn­a­gogue twice a year, lack­lus­ter re­li­gious education. And it wasn’t un­til late col­lege and the years af­ter that I dis­cov­ered that my tradition was ac­tu­ally an ex­quis­ite trea­sure trove of wis­dom, a path into the present mo­ment, a re­la­tion­ship with the di­vine, and a guide to how to be of ser­vice in the world.

How would you de­scribe the re­la­tion­ship be­tween fem­i­nism and your spir­i­tual, re­li­gious, or faith iden­tity?

NJ: I don’t iden­tify as fem­i­nist. I don’t find it to be a use­ful la­bel. I draw strength from the Black women who served in for­mal and in­for­mal lead­er­ship po­si­tions in our church and in the wider com­mu­nity. They did not iden­tify them­selves as Black fem­i­nists or wom­an­ists al­though their com­mit­ments and ac­tivism could be thought of as re­flect­ing fem­i­nist and wom­an­ist val­ues.

APG: All of this is one be­cause Black fem­i­nism is my spir­i­tual prac­tice. I iden­tify as a Black fem­i­nist be­cause the an­ces­tors who in­spired me to en­gage this prac­tice iden­ti­fied as Black fem­i­nists (Au­dre Lorde, June Jor­dan, etc.). When I say, “I am a Black fem­i­nist,” I am say­ing a prayer that in­cludes and cites them. I am quot­ing them with my life. The an­ces­tor rev­er­ence that I prac­tice is in­formed by New World Ifa/yoruba prac­tices and ex­ists along­side the Ifa/yoruba prac­tices that we hold sa­cred in our house­hold. I also see Black fem­i­nist his­tor­i­cal fig­ures and writ­ers as rep­re­sen­ta­tions of key en­er­getic forces in the uni­verse in a man­ner sim­i­lar to the way Yoruba prac­ti­tion­ers un­der­stand the Or­isha. That means that my prac­tice is also very grounded in na­ture, which is also in align­ment with the prac­tices of Black fem­i­nists, who have his­tor­i­cally ad­vo­cated for the planet with­out be­ing called “en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists.”

ZS: I con­sider my­self an em­bod­i­ment of the cross­roads be­tween an­ar­chism and Black fem­i­nism. White West­ern an­ar­chism is known for its tagline “no gods, no masters” as a re­jec­tion of the long-stand­ing mar­riage be­tween re­li­gion and pol­i­tics that had a vise grip on so much of Euro­pean his­tory, which is un­der­stand­able. How­ever, com­ing into my­self as a Black an­ar­chist has meant un­der­stand­ing that for so many Black folks through­out his­tory, faith was in­stru­men­tal in smash­ing the sys­tem. I think of the prac­tices of en­slaved African Mus­lims, such as the Ma­roons, who would go into spir­i­tual seclu­sion to pray, med­i­tate, and seek guid­ance from God in how they were go­ing to lib­er­ate them­selves from slav­ery. Pig­gy­back­ing off of what Alexis said, I think about the poetry of Black fem­i­nist writ­ers such as Lu­cille Clifton, Au­dre Lorde, and so many oth­ers who are play­ing with im­agery and sym­bol­ism from a wide spec­trum of re­li­gions. What’s even more beau­ti­ful is the in­her­ent in­ter­spir­i­tu­al­ity of how that in­ter­play man­i­fests when an an­thol­ogy of their work comes to­gether in or­der to con­struct this mul­ti­lay­ered Black fem­i­nist cos­mol­ogy of lib­er­a­tion. So much of how I dream of smash­ing the state, how I en­gage in the process of oth­er­world build­ing, has a lot to do with Black fem­i­nist fore­moth­ers whose poetry and writ­ing let me know that the per­sonal is po­lit­i­cal, and spir­i­tu­al­ity is so much of what is go­ing to see you through to the other side.

DR: I was a fem­i­nist long be­fore I got in­ter­ested in Ju­daism, so there was no ques­tion for me that ev­ery and any en­gage­ment I had with my tradition would be pred­i­cated on the fact of my per­son­hood. I pray in com­mu­ni­ties that con­sider the full par­tic­i­pa­tion and lead­er­ship of peo­ple of all gen­ders and sex­u­al­i­ties to be non­nego­tiable; I am or­dained clergy; my the­ol­ogy is in­formed by, and builds upon, the great work of the fem­i­nist thinkers and lead­ers who have been work­ing over the past 40 years. There are plenty of places where Ju­daism has ei­ther not been fan­tas­tic about the sta­tus of women, or has missed a memo; we can em­brace what is, over­all, a pow­er­ful frame­work for ho­li­ness while also do­ing the work of heal­ing, re­buk­ing, and grow­ing our tradition within the tex­tual con­ver­sa­tion and the com­mu­nity to­day. For me, it’s also about build­ing into the empty spa­ces as well. For ex­am­ple, my most re­cent book, Nur­ture the Wow, looks at the way tra­di­tional spir­i­tual prac­tices can trans­form some of the hard, crazy­mak­ing mo­ments of par­ent­ing—but also at how par­ents can trans­form some of our un­der­stand­ing of things like God, prayer, and spir­i­tu­al­ity. The peo­ple who wrote the books and de­signed the re­li­gious frame­works

“I don’t sep­a­rate my spir­i­tual prac­tice from other life-af­firm­ing prac­tices that sus­tain me. Such prac­tices could in­clude brunch, Ash­tanga yoga, or dance par­ties with a friend’s tod­dler." —Nyasha Ju­nior...

were not the same as those who en­gaged in the la­bor of child­care for most of his­tory, so there are en­tire com­plex facets of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence that are miss­ing from our con­ver­sa­tions about what ho­li­ness even is and how one might get there. So that’s re­ally about build­ing a bridge on which traf­fic flows in both direc­tions.

KR: My fem­i­nism and re­li­gious iden­tity en­hance each other. My fem­i­nist anal­y­sis pushes me to ask ques­tions of re­li­gious texts and re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties: Whose per­spec­tives have dom­i­nated in the in­ter­pre­ta­tions of re­li­gious ideas? Who is be­ing left out? This prac­tice of look­ing re­li­gious texts in the eye and wrestling with them, rather than gloss­ing over the un­com­fort­able parts, al­lows me to feel like I can claim my re­li­gious place with hon­esty and in­tegrity. On the flip side, my re­li­gious prac­tices help me con­nect to sources of strength and hope when it comes to en­gag­ing in fem­i­nist and an­tiracist work. When this work is done in com­mu­nity with oth­ers, it also be­comes a source of joy and mu­tual in­spi­ra­tion.

If you iden­tify with or come from a re­li­gion with pa­tri­ar­chal roots, how do you sus­tain your­self?

NJ: I think that this ques­tion re­flects a sim­i­lar per­spec­tive as those who find fem­i­nism and re­li­gion to be in­com­pat­i­ble. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, women within faith com­mu­ni­ties are not think­ing about “pa­tri­ar­chal roots.” They are liv­ing, lov­ing, and serving in many dif­fer­ent ways within their com­mu­ni­ties.

DR: Ju­daism def­i­nitely has pa­tri­ar­chal roots, but it’s also a deep and pow­er­ful path to con­nec­tion with the di­vine and com­mu­nity. I try to al­low my­self to be not only nour­ished by, but also chal­lenged by my tradition. As Rabbi Abra­ham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “Prayer is mean­ing­less un­less it is sub­ver­sive, un­less it seeks to over­throw and to ruin pyra­mids of cal­lous­ness, ha­tred, op­por­tunism, false­hoods. The litur­gi­cal move­ment must be­come a rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment, seek­ing to over­throw the forces that con­tinue to de­stroy the prom­ise, the hope, the vi­sion.” Par­ent­ing is also a key spir­i­tual prac­tice for me—one of the most chal­leng­ing ones, for sure, but prob­a­bly the one that’s trans­form­ing me most pow­er­fully.

APG: Ob­vi­ously Black fem­i­nism does not have “roots” in pa­tri­archy, ex­cept that it is a re­sponse to racist het­eropa­tri­archy. But of course some­times that’s the prob­lem. In seek­ing to re­spond we may take on the val­ues of those forms of op­pres­sion in an in­verse and per­va­sive way. I know for my­self the forms of op­pres­sion that Black fem­i­nism seeks to evolve us all out of are deeply in­ter­nal­ized and cause self-judg­ment, di­vi­sions from po­ten­tial comrades, and be­hav­iors that show that a part of me still has more faith in in­sti­tu­tional power than in the peo­ple. I sus­tain my­self by sim­ply deep­en­ing my prac­tice of Black fem­i­nism. The Com­ba­hee River Col­lec­tive State­ment teaches us that “Black women are in­her­ently valu­able.” And Black fem­i­nism is the prac­tice of be­liev­ing and act­ing on that, even when it is pure faith/ev­i­dence of things un­seen in my daily life and in our cur­rent so­ci­ety. So specif­i­cally, I chant quotes from the an­ces­tors who in­form my Black fem­i­nist prac­tice. I make in­ten­tional spa­ces to share food and poetry with other Black women and other peo­ple whose lives are in­formed by Black fem­i­nist pos­si­bil­ity. I read the sa­cred texts cre­ated in the past and be­ing cre­ated now by Black fem­i­nists. I ex­er­cise de­vo­tion.

ZS: I think the no­tion of “roots in pa­tri­archy” is an awk­ward mis­nomer. Is some­thing rooted in pa­tri­archy or dom­i­nated by it? What does it mean for a re­li­gion to be “rooted” in any­thing? West­ern athe­ism is rooted in white-su­prem­a­cist pa­tri­archy, ex­cept no­body would de­scribe it as that even though its prin­ci­pal ac­tors are white men who make their money say­ing epi­cally foul shit about…well, ev­ery­one else who isn’t one of them. Sub­se­quently, I can’t think of a re­li­gion, faith, or mode of spir­i­tu­al­ity that isn’t some­how con­nected to or a re­sponse to pa­tri­archy.

I think pa­tri­archy is one of the roots of many re­li­gions, but I don’t think it’s the soil it­self.

I med­i­tate, tend to my al­tars, go into spir­i­tual seclu­sion when called, wa­ter my plants, ob­serve the cy­cles of the moon, and study. I study the work of Black fem­i­nists, abo­li­tion­ists, po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, poets, sci-fi/fan­tasy writ­ers, fic­tion writ­ers, etc. I study the writ­ing of Su­fis, Bud­dhists, witches, heal­ers, em­paths, folks in the realm of African tra­di­tional re­li­gion. In the fall and win­ter, I spend my evenings sit­ting on the shore­line of Lake Michi­gan watch­ing the moon rise and pray­ing.

KR: While there have al­ways been pa­tri­ar­chal struc­tures that dom­i­nate, and as Zaynab points out, this isn’t lim­ited to re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties, there has also al­ways been re­sis­tance. Even sto­ries from the ear­li­est days of Is­lam have women not only ques­tion­ing the Prophet’s de­ci­sions, but also ques­tion­ing the lan­guage of the Qu’ran. There is pa­tri­archy in my re­li­gious tra­di­tions, and I don’t dis­pute that, nor do I think it’s unique to re­li­gions. I just don’t be­lieve it’s the only thing that’s there. God and Is­lam (or any re­li­gion) have to be big­ger than hu­mans can imag­ine them to be. That’s the whole point of a be­lief in the di­vine or the tran­scen­dent. And in that case, I just keep re­mind­ing my­self that I’m not re­ally ac­count­able to other hu­mans for how I in­ter­pret these things. If I’m hurt­ing some­one in any way, then of course I’m ac­count­able, but

I don’t owe it to any­body to align my be­liefs or prac­tices with theirs just be­cause that’s what they think Mus­lims are sup­posed to do.

What feeds the re­sis­tance to mul­ti­plic­ity or du­al­ity? Why do peo­ple strug­gle to com­pre­hend mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties?

NJ: Many peo­ple as­sume that re­li­gion is gen­er­ally op­pres­sive to women, and they ques­tion how it could be use­ful to women who iden­tify as fem­i­nists. In many in­stances, these ques­tions are from peo­ple who are out­side of those com­mu­ni­ties and/or who do not un­der­stand fem­i­nism.

KR: I agree with Nyasha that the as­sump­tion tends to be that re­li­gion as a whole is op­pres­sive to women. That nar­ra­tive plays a huge role in how main­stream fem­i­nist his­to­ries are told and in the panic that some peo­ple ex­press at the idea of women choos­ing to be re­li­gious. Peo­ple can’t imag­ine that be­ing the case with­out some deep level of brain­wash­ing or false con­scious­ness. That said, re­li­gions aren’t all re­sponded to on an equal level. Iron­i­cally, var­i­ous Catholic sym­bols that re­main through­out

Que­bec (street names, crosses, etc.) are now seen as un­prob­lem­atic “cul­tural” sym­bols, while women who wear hi­jab are por­trayed as be­ing in need of sav­ing, which echoes a bunch of colo­nial­ist myths.

DR: One of the books that’s been most in­flu­en­tial dur­ing my spir­i­tual for­ma­tion was Carol Lee Flin­ders’s At the Root of This Long­ing. She iden­ti­fied what she de­scribed as the four ma­jor tenets of spir­i­tual prac­tice—be si­lent, quell the ego, shed de­sire, and stay en­closed in the kind of space where you can do deep in­ner work—and ob­served that all of these would only be lib­er­a­tory prac­tices if one started with these priv­i­leges in the first place—male priv­i­lege, in a nut­shell. Fem­i­nists have fo­cused on hav­ing a voice, know­ing one­self, em­brac­ing the body, and tak­ing back the pub­lic sphere (and the night) pre­cisely be­cause they didn’t come to them freely. The “just add women and stir” method doesn’t work in a lot of ways; Flin­ders’s lens has helped me en­gage a lot of the un­der­ly­ing pre­sump­tions in my tradition in ways I wouldn’t have seen, and to try to think about what a path for­ward into whole­ness can mean in the con­text of Ju­daism.

APG: I don’t think that Black fem­i­nism as a spir­i­tual prac­tice or in com­mu­nion with any spir­i­tual prac­tice is con­tra­dic­tory at all, since Black fem­i­nism is based on the re­silience and power of gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple who acted based on pro­found faith in dire cir­cum­stances and who may have had a va­ri­ety of named or un­named faith prac­tices. My re­la­tion­ship to Black fem­i­nism is ex­pan­sive, and my eval­u­a­tion of Black fem­i­nism is that it is ob­vi­ously ex­pan­sive be­cause it has al­ready con­tained and em­braced mul­ti­tudes. Which means that, this ques­tion is about con­stric­tion, and there are def­i­nitely dom­i­nant prac­tices and thought pat­terns that at­tempt to con­strict peo­ple and move­ments by say­ing you have to be this or that. When usu­ally it’s this and that. I don’t think that type of con­stric­tive think­ing is use­ful for the world that Black fem­i­nism or re­ally any pro­gres­sive move­ment de­mands. How­ever, it is very use­ful in lim­it­ing peo­ple’s be­hav­iors to ac­tions that re­pro­duce the sta­tus quo.

ZS: I think the in­abil­ity to con­cep­tu­al­ize mul­ti­plic­ity re­veals a lot about white supremacy, par­tic­u­larly white sub­jec­tiv­ity as it leaks into white fem­i­nist thought. White peo­ple have never had to think of them­selves in the lan­guage of mul­ti­plic­ity. Oc­cu­py­ing the po­si­tion of dom­i­nance makes it so that ev­ery­one else has to ex­ist in mul­ti­plic­i­ties as they are try­ing to fig­ure out where they land on the hi­er­ar­chy of white supremacy, but the dom­i­nant don’t have to do that grunt work.

Euro­peans thought they were “es­cap­ing re­li­gion” when they came up with en­light­en­ment and the no­tion that in­tel­li­gence, par­tic­u­larly po­lit­i­cal in­tel­li­gence, means re­ly­ing on “ob­jec­tive rea­son” and shuck­ing re­li­gion from the equa­tion. In­stead they only rei­fied the sin­gu­lar stand­point, and one form of col­laps­ing iden­tity re­places an­other. These modes of dom­i­nance have in­fected so many Indige­nous and an­cient ways of know­ing our­selves in mul­ti­plic­i­ties and mul­ti­tudes. So it’s not sur­pris­ing to me that white West­ern thought, par­tic­u­larly white West­ern fem­i­nism, frames the in­te­gra­tion of more than two iden­ti­ties as “un­holy col­li­sion.”

What is the great­est mis­con­cep­tion about your fem­i­nism and/or faith iden­tity?

NJ: Peo­ple make as­sump­tions about my faith be­cause

I am a Black woman. There is a stereo­type of Black peo­ple as super-re­li­gious. Like­wise, peo­ple as­sume that I iden­tify as Black fem­i­nist or wom­an­ist be­cause I am a Black woman. APG: Some­times peo­ple as­sume that be­cause I take a love­based ap­proach, I am not an­gry and not crit­i­cal of ex­ist­ing sys­tems and prac­tice. Ac­tu­ally, love-based Black fem­i­nism, grounded in a love for Black women that ra­di­ates out into our whole com­mu­ni­ties and in­cludes the en­tire planet, in­spires me to be very an­gry some­times and to sharpen my cri­tique in the ser­vice of nec­es­sary change.

ZS: Peo­ple make a lot of as­sump­tions about my spir­i­tual world­view as a queer Mus­lim. So much of the queer Mus­lim nar­ra­tive has been crafted to ap­pease het­ero­sex­ual Mus­lims on the na­ture of our in­clu­sion in main­stream Mus­lims spa­ces thor­oughly en­trenched in op­pres­sion. “We be­lieve in the same things you do, we’re just queer!” Queer­ness in this sense is sub­tly posed as a de­fect, and so much of the ex­ist­ing nar­ra­tive of de/hu­man­iza­tion buys into it to make a point. “If you could just look past our sex­u­al­ity or gen­der iden­tity and see that we’re the same as you, all would be good in the ummah!” Ac­tu­ally, I don’t be­lieve in the same things you do. I be­lieve my queer­ness is the ex­act thing that en­ables me to see the di­vine dif­fer­ently, to see how spir­i­tu­al­ity can work dif­fer­ently, to ex­plode and ex­pand bound­aries, up­end def­i­ni­tions. My queer­ness doesn’t mean I want to as­sim­i­late into what is, it means I want to vi­o­lently smash what should have never be­come. I don’t “do” queer Mus­lim or­ga­niz­ing to as­sim­i­late into the land of happy het­eros, I do it to get free.

KR: One of the most un­com­fort­able, and just plain of­fen­sive, per­cep­tions about me is be­cause I’m white and don’t wear a head­scarf, I’m some­how a more palat­able kind of Mus­lim, pre­sum­ably less Mus­lim and less threat­en­ing than if I were a woman of color. There’s a sense that any kind of crit­i­cal per­spec­tives or pro­gres­sive ideas I hold are be­cause of my white­ness, as if white Mus­lims are uniquely en­light­ened, and by ex­ten­sion equipped to “civ­i­lize” Mus­lims who aren’t white. Never mind that most of the strong­est fem­i­nist teach­ers and men­tors in my life have been women of

“When I say ‘I am a Black fem­i­nist‚’ I am say­ing a prayer that in­cludes and cites them. I am quot­ing them with my life.” —Alexis Pauline Gumbs

color, and that some of the most misog­y­nist Mus­lims (and non-mus­lims) I’ve met have been white. And that Mus­lims are just as com­plex and di­verse as any other group of peo­ple.

What gifts come with your spir­i­tual prac­tice? How does it trans­form you?

NJ: As a bib­li­cal scholar, it is dif­fi­cult for me to sit through most church ser­vices. The choir may be great, but some­times, there is an abun­dance of bad the­ol­ogy. For me, the gift is the gath­er­ing of the com­mu­nity. The beau­ti­ful hats, the juicy hugs, and the but­ter­scotch candy make it worth­while. Be­ing in Black sa­cred spa­ces is heal­ing. These are spa­ces where I be­long and where I see peo­ple who look like me and who love me.

APG: Oh my good­ness, ev­ery­thing! Ev­ery­thing I have can be traced to this love prac­tice called Black fem­i­nism. My re­la­tion­ships with other Black women and women of color are sourced by it. My re­la­tion­ship with other Black folks, other queer folks, plants, an­i­mals, the river, ev­ery­thing. Most im­por­tantly, this prac­tice—which is, like Krista said, both a daily in­di­vid­ual prac­tice and a reg­u­lar com­mu­nal prac­tice—has given me per­mis­sion and tan­gi­ble faith in lov­ing my­self, which is what the in­ter­sect­ing op­pres­sions that sus­tain cap­i­tal­ism try to steal from me ev­ery day. I can­not imag­ine my life with­out this love. As June Jor­dan says, “Love is life­force!”

DR: Lit­tle by lit­tle, it has grown me into some­one who is more open, more com­pas­sion­ate, more em­pa­thetic, more sen­si­tive to in­jus­tice, braver, more in tune with my in­tu­ition, more in touch with the flow and stream of all life. It makes it harder and harder for me to si­dle past the junc­tures in my life where my val­ues aren’t be­ing lived out as they should be. It helps me to see the di­vine and the sa­cred in ev­ery per­son and ev­ery thing—and to un­der­stand my obli­ga­tions to the greater whole. It has em­bed­ded me in amaz­ing com­mu­nity, and sa­cred texts such as the To­rah and Tal­mud seem to al­ways re­veal new in­sights and un­der­stand­ings, no mat­ter how many times I’ve seen some­thing. One of our foun­da­tional texts (the Mish­nah) says of To­rah, “Turn it, and turn it, for ev­ery­thing is in it. Re­flect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don’t turn from it, for noth­ing is bet­ter than it.”

KR: Like Alexis, I’ll come back to the el­e­ments of both per­sonal prac­tice and com­mu­nity. I gen­er­ally pray five times a day, and while I can’t pre­tend that ev­ery sin­gle one of those prayers is car­ried out with full at­ten­tion and fo­cus, even the act of reg­u­larly stop­ping what I’m do­ing to take time out to pray is an im­por­tant re­minder to put my life into per­spec­tive and to take a step back from what­ever I’m caught up in. The phys­i­cal acts of wash­ing be­fore prayer and then mov­ing through the po­si­tions of the rit­ual prayer re­mind me to pay at­ten­tion to my body, and be­cause the prayer times are set ac­cord­ing to the po­si­tion of the sun in the sky, it helps me pay at­ten­tion to the world out­side. And it’s a time to ask for guid­ance and to reori­ent my­self.

I also have an in­cred­i­ble on­line com­mu­nity that has de­vel­oped through shared re­li­gious and fem­i­nist be­liefs, and this com­mu­nity has gifted me with some of my clos­est friends and sources of on­go­ing in­spi­ra­tion. ZS: I think the gift of be­ing a seeker is the crux of my prac­tice. I first en­coun­tered the no­tion of be­ing a seeker when read­ing about witch­craft as a teenager, par­tic­u­larly Wicca. In Wicca, a seeker is the first stage be­fore be­com­ing an ini­ti­ate. I felt drawn to the ti­tle of seeker be­cause it de­scribes my out­look on life: a per­son in­ter­ested in ac­quir­ing spir­i­tual knowl­edge ab­sent of any de­sire to as­sume of­fi­cial ti­tles of re­li­gious au­thor­ity. Even in be­com­ing a Mus­lim and a Sufi dervish I’ve never re­ally left that stage of be­ing a seeker that I en­coun­tered as a teenager. I’m still a seeker of knowl­edge, of the di­vine in odd and in­ter­est­ing places, in the un­ex­pected, in the dark as well as the light and ev­ery­thing in be­tween. My gift is my cu­rios­ity, my be­lief in the in­her­ent abun­dance of spir­i­tual knowl­edge, and the end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties in com­muning with the di­vine and with oth­ers. Thank you to all the par­tic­i­pants in this roundtable for shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences.

ZAYNAB SHA­HAR is a writer, faith or­ga­nizer, and as­pir­ing the@lo­gian liv­ing in Chicago, Illi­nois.

NYASHA JU­NIOR teaches, writes, and fre­quently tweets on the in­ter­sec­tions of re­li­gion, race, and gen­der. See her work at nyasha­ju­nior.com

ALEXIS PAULINE GUMBS is the au­thor of Spill: Scenes of Black Fem­i­nist Fugi­tiv­ity and coed­i­tor of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Mother­ing: Love On the Front Lines.

KRISTA RI­LEY is ed­i­tor of Mus­limah Me­dia Watch (mus­limah­me­di­awatch.org), holds a PHD in com­mu­ni­ca­tion stud­ies, and cur­rently works at a col­lege in Mon­treal.

RABBI DANYA RUT­TEN­BERG is the au­thor of Nur­ture the Wow: Find­ing Spir­i­tu­al­ity in the Frus­tra­tion, Bore­dom, Tears, Poop, Des­per­a­tion, Won­der, and Rad­i­cal Amaze­ment of Par­ent­ing and other books, and Rabbi-in-res­i­dence of Avo­dah, which trains young Jewish lead­ers in so­cial justice work.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.