Wellness in the Age of Trump and Terror
I, like many women of color, have experienced an inordinate amount of trauma over the course of my life. Even when I reminisce about my childhood, I can’t remember a time when the world seemed safe or essentially good to black girls like me. Due to my intimate experience with systemic pain and trauma, the current state of the U.S. does not shock me. The racism, misogyny, and Islamophobia (among other oppressions) at the heart of the Trump administration are not new. But under Trump’s leadership, racism, misogyny, and Islamophobia have violently ruptured the surface of America’s collective conscious experience -- like a volcano erupts and shoots scalding, homicidal lava across the land. Many people are awakened, many people are affected, many people are in pain, and many people are living with extreme fear and anxiety. Me too.
Many of us feel compelled to act – to speak out, to protest, to advocate, to gather, to comfort, to fight for justice. But for many, particularly white people, this is the first time they have attempted to act effectively under duress and anxiety. This is the first time that the oppression feels personal to them and they don’t know what to do. For others, particularly people of color, this is yet another trauma on top of a lifetime of traumas. Many of us have been fighting for years. We’ve reached our physical limits and we’re weary. No matter the reason or racial identity, many who feel compelled to fight for justice find themselves deterred by listlessness, hopelessness, perplexity and fear. Me too.
Clergy and other community leaders often ask me what they need to do in order to fight for justice. My response is always the same: we must all start by being formed for justice leadership. We can’t keep fighting, absorbing and healing from traumas, and hoping in the face of disappointment without a fortified and formed spirituality that directly speaks to the issues of injustice. The beautiful thing about our current blatantly-unjust political climate is that it is a holy ground for this type of spiritual formation. We are formed, fortified and even reborn in the liminal spaces and during the shadowy times. As Clarissa Pinkola Estés so beautifully says, “Like Mary, we often give birth – in the middle of nowhere, unaccompanied, with the most meager of circumstances – to the God of love.”
The morning after the election – while feeling like I was in the middle of nowhere, unaccompanied, with the most meager of circumstances – I invited my students to participate with me in a series of practices*, with the hope that these practices would help to form and fortify us as we seek to be justice leaders in the age of Trump. My students participated with full hearts and unbelievable courage. In my ten years of teaching, I’ve never experienced such a stunning combination of mutuality, vulnerability, empowerment, and integration of the soul and mind. Indeed, in a small but forever-powerful way, we collectively gave birth to the God of love.
I share these practices with you, with the same hope for you. May you be fortified and formed by the God of love as you seek to do justice in the age of Trump and terror.
We began by publicly and collectively lamenting the injustices – both those of which we are aware and those of which we are not. We lamented the victims of sexual abuse who now have a President who brags about sexual assault. We lamented Muslims who now live in even greater fear. We lamented the people who are already victims of the New Jim and Jane Crow and now are incarcerated under an even more unjust U.S. Justice Department. We lamented the silence of white liberals who should have spoken out about Trump in their conversations with their loved ones who supported. We lamented the 81% of white evangelicals who turned their backs on Jesus and voted for Trump. The list went on and on. There were many tears, many wails of anguish, and many Amens.
It’s easy to meditate on how racist or sexist or ignorant or entitled your oppressor is. But while those meditations are often true –they aren’t particularly fortifying. So, I proceeded to read an excerpt from Francis Spufford’s incredible essay Yeshua. Here’s an excerpt of the excerpt:
“Lost people arouse [Yeshua's] particular tenderness. In all their varieties. People whose bodies or minds don’t work properly. People especially mangled by the [evil of this world]. People who one way or another fall foul of the purity rules, whether it’s their own doing or not. People who live beyond the usual bounds of sympathy, because they are ugly or frightening, or boring, or incomprehensible, or dangerous. People who are not like us, whoever “we” happen to be; people who are not the right kind of people, whatever that is being defined as. In theory, he has come to help the lost sheep among the God-fearers, the lost sheep of Israel – that’s what he says – but in practice, over and over again, he gives his whole attention to whoever he meets, including a multitude of foreigners, and members of the occupying army. The lack of limit in what he asks of people, the limitlessness of what he wants for people, washes away the difference between insiders and outsiders.” (Unapologetic, 2012, p. 125-126).
Then, we took turns speaking out truths about who God is: compassionate, the God of justice, a mother bear who fiercely protects her cubs, a lover who knows our worst pain, the one who came and comes to a world full of strife, oppression, genocide and injustice, etc.
Speaking truth about God strengthens us by expanding our hearts and enabling us to receive the good gifts of God, even in the midst of distress. As Andrew Harvey writes, "Constant adoration is the one force nuclear enough in its intensity to do this great work. Constant adoration, constant opening of the heart, in whatever circumstance, in whatever pain, in whatever difficulty and whatever grief, in whatever bitterness. Constant opening in adoration to divine beauty, the divine magnificence, the divine generosity, of all the different names of God..." (The Return of the Mother, p. 170).
Then we did what is probably the most difficult thing to do: we prayed for Trump, his team and his supporters. One of my mentors is about 25 years older than me and has dealt with more oppression than most people I know. He’s prevented resentment from taking root in his heart by spending significant time (at times, up to 2 hours/day) praying for his oppressors by name. This is hardcore, but incredibly fortifying. Praying for the oppressor is an incredibly effective way to humanize the oppressor. If we fall into the trap of dehumanizing our oppressor, we inadvertently dehumanize ourselves – for our humanity is interconnected.
Though I don’t like everything about the AA Big Book, I like the anatomy of its resentment prayer (4th edition, p. 552). Following its guidelines, we made a list of all of the things we want for ourselves – health, safety, strong relationships, financial security, spiritual vitality, etc. – and prayed those things for Trump and his team.
In praying these prayers, we interceded on behalf of our own humanity, Trump’s humanity, and the humanity of all living beings.
We connected with the "Source without source" verbally, behaviorally and/or silently. Some people did lovingkindness/metta meditation. Others did walking meditation. Some engaged in intercessory/petitionary prayer. Others journaled. Others sat in silence. All swung wide the doors of their hearts to love.
During the last hour of class, we discussed what kind of leaders we want to be in this age of division, hopelessness, and fear. And we each created an individualized ethos -- an aspiration to guide us away from our shadow self’s, less self-actualized responses to pain and disillusionment, and toward a higher standard of leadership. (My ethos is pictured here.) Then we each identified three tangible and accessible practices to help support us as we seek to lead from our ethos. Since I tend to be intense, overcommitted/hyperactive and solemn when I’m afraid, I chose practices that would help me to play, connect with nature, and be still. My students committed to practices that would empower them to instigate difficult conversations with loved ones, participate in local direct-action protests, preach more boldly, see and bless the humanity of “the other,” and more.
My mind sometimes forgets, but deep in my soul I know that all of the love, wisdom, healing, strength and hope in the universe is available to me, if only I swing wide the door of my heart to the “Source without source.” These practices help me to remember.
*We went through all of these practices, in the order listed, in about 2.5 hours. We spent the first 90 minutes on 1-4 and the last 60 minutes on 5. Since then, I’ve found it helpful to do 1-4 together as a regular liturgy, but I usually spend about 15 minutes total.