There are concepts in the western philosophy that are unable to define those found in eastern thought. Buddhist philosophy covers a large spectrum some of which are metaphysics, epistemology and ontology. One must be aware that conventional western thought is ill-equipped to address certain, perhaps numerous Buddhist concepts. One of those concepts is emptiness. The Buddhist understanding of emptiness is unprecedented in western philosophy. This is not to say that the western is inferior to that of the east, rather it claims that traditional western thinking is ill-equipped to understand the true nature of this concept. There is no fault in being ill-equipped since the problem rests in one’s nature of thought. The west has cultivated a formula of evaluation that is contrary to many eastern ideas. Perhaps this same argument is applied to the east. Rightfully so, the east may not understand and/or translate western thought appropriately.
This essay is not an attempt to compare or contrast eastern and western thought. However, it is important to understand that the basic tenets of philosophy between these distinct schools conflict with each other. The use of western themes is used to illustrate the differences. Furthermore, historically the description of eastern concepts has been proven to be a difficult endeavor worthy of extensive research. This essay is an attempt to clearly communicate the understanding of “emptiness” in its appropriate context.
The traditional western thinker attempts to eliminate the dichotomy of cause and effect in exchange for an a priori justification of causality. On the other hand, Madhyamika philosophy is not concerned with finding an objective, value-free truth, like its counterpart, regarding the causal relationship. Its main concern is finding a pragmatic sense of purpose in the relationship between cause and effect. The debates of whether or not an object is real differ in eastern and western philosophy. Many westerners rely on the concept of platonic forms understanding that these ideas or forms are real, they exist. Madhyamika philosophy states that things are not in reality produced, however, they do serve as objects that are readily perceived in our everyday experience. This is to say that although one perceives an object, say a chair, it truly does not exist. Rather the chair is merely a sum of reducible parts that only exists in the conventional world. Furthermore, the concept of chair as a form does not truly exist. This idea is in direct opposite to the western understanding. Although some westerners may agree that the chair as a whole does not truly exist since it will someday deteriorate, they do maintain that the intellectual or conceptual form exists. The thought that the chair really exists is merely an illusion, this concept with become clearer throughout the essay.
In order to understand emptiness it is essential that one understands dependent origination. Dependent origination is presented as a universally valid pragmatic interpretation of causality. Everything is subject to the concept of cause and effect. This model has both a philosophical and soteriological understanding. Philosophically speaking where there is a cause, there must be an effect. And where there is an effect, there must be a cause. The model of cause and effect truly has no meaning outside of each other.
In a soteriological understanding cause and effect teaches one about the true nature of things. The understanding of the concept of interdependence as illustrated in the concept of cause and effect will bring one closer to the true nature of reality. In Buddhist terms, when one realizes the true nature of things, including one’s own self, the illusion of the world will be dispelled. Penetrating the illusion is liberating and core to the Buddhist tradition. The penetration of illusion eliminates suffering, which is done by following the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha. To clarify this concept it is important to understand the relationship between illusion, let’s use the term ignorance instead, and cause and effect/condition.
Buddhist thought identifies two significant principles: First, that as conscious human beings, none desire suffering and secondly, suffering originates from its causes and conditions. Furthermore, Buddhism asserts that the root cause for ones pain and suffering is ignorance. Pain and suffering do not exist independently; rather they are merely products of causes and conditions. The ignorance of the nature of suffering becomes the catalyst for continuous pain and suffering through one’s life.
The continuous chain of cause and effect merely gives an illusion that things are real. If one looks closely, it will become evident that object/things are comprised of a series of causes and conditions. Returning to the chair as an example, the chair is merely an illusion comprised of countless causes and conditions. However, the chair still has value serving a purpose in the conventional world.
Like the example of the chair, all objects in the external or conventional world appear to us as independent, self-sufficient entities. However, if one looks closer they will discover that they are purely a spiraling collection of causes and conditions. The question still stand, what does this mean?
This means that all objects, things and/or entities to include the human person are empty of intrinsic nature. Nothing is absent of causes and conditions. To say that an object exists, that object would have to be static. However, we know this not to be true. The human body for example is continuously changing, the blood moving through our veins, the movement of our muscles and/or the constant division of cells. Emptiness is the reality that objects as they are perceived are merely illusions. Although the profound insight that both a material object and the self are empty of intrinsic nature, it is the realization of the absence of self nature that truly liberates an individual. Realizing that one is empty of intrinsic nature is not an intellectual function, it is experiential. As a result, the true concept of emptiness is truly ineffable. However, words have been used to try to communicate, in a philosophical sense, an understanding of emptiness. Ultimately, emptiness is a conventional designation. It is simply an ordinary word used to accomplish a specific purpose. Emptiness as a convention is also empty because of it own definition.
The dangers of the term emptiness rest in the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the word. Often in the west it has been associated with annihilation and nihilism. Emptiness is misrepresented in these two definitions. The root of this problem relates back to what was discussed earlier. The paradigm for what is real, ultimate or true is very different in the east than the west. Because of the cultural divide it is more likely that these errors were not committed out of malice, but out of ignorance.
The realization of emptiness is a profound and liberating experience in Buddhism. To realize emptiness is to realize the ultimate nature of all things. This experience is called enlightenment. As mentioned, the understanding of emptiness is not an intellectual function; it is an experiential and/or spiritual function. The Buddha was enlightened after years of meditation and spiritual practice. The Buddha cultivated and developed wisdom according to the Four Noble Truths. Through his persistent investigation into the nature of the reality of things as they are, the Buddha discovered the secret of emptiness. Once one is enlightened there is no more illusion. The concept of emptiness is a medicine for a specific ailment, the disease of clinging. Cling simply relates to the attachment to the illusion that things are real, that they have intrinsic nature and are capable of supplying happiness. Unfortunately, this is not true because clinging only results in suffering. Emptiness is the cure that allows one to discover the cause of the problem.
Accordingly those who have attained enlightenment are the happiest beings in the world. They are free from complexes and obsessions that torment others. The one who is enlightened is in the pure service of others since there is no thought of the self. The Buddha ministered for forty-five years after he was enlightened. He taught others the way toward enlightenment. He taught the emptiness of all things therefore capable of penetrating and experiencing the true nature of all entities. Conversely, how does one operate in the world after experiencing such a profound reality that nothing has intrinsic nature?
One can only speculate what the Buddha experience each day after realizing emptiness. Certainly, it is apparent that his thoughts were clear and concise. He was able to articulate his experience into a conventional designation as one looks to the numerous sutras written. Historically it is obvious that the Buddha fully participated in the convention world, but was he also somewhere else? Could he transcend dimensions? Could he see the atomic structure of all animate an inanimate entities? Where does one begin to answer these types of questions? In short, the Buddha was the greatest quantum physicist able to see the nature of all things.
Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford Univ. Press: Oxford, 1998.
Huntington, C.W. The Emptiness of Emptiness: An Introduction to Early Indian
Madhyamika. Hawaii Press: Honolulu, 1989.
Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. Grove Press: New York, 1959.
To be an effective leader in pastoral ministry one’s disciplines should develop from within. Consequently, as a pastoral leader in ministry it is important to understand that individuals can positively and or negatively effect how one responds to the environment, the workplace, associates and to one’s self. Therefore, in order to understand what it takes to be a minister in today’s world one should develop their understanding of many insights in order to be effective. In doing so one might encounter a more holistic approach to what it means to be an effective leader, an authority in ministry. The Greek root of the word authority is translated as “the ability to enable one to grow.” Therefore, one ought to consider that a holistic approach as an authority in ministry leadership results in empowerment for all, creating independence, fostering creativity, unifying the commitment to reach goals and utilizing the knowledge and experience of the group.
This paper is no more than an insight into essential interests that a pastoral leader seeking a holistic approach to leadership with the intent to provide growth for his/her members as opposed to controlling and dominating them in today’s globalizing world. First, due to the paradigm shift from human resource development to principle-centered leadership the way in which we approach the concept of leadership needs to be addressed. The human resource development paradigm was formulated on competition and control. This set the groundwork for a hierarchical structure that permeated all facets of society. Leaders were the dominant roles in society.
In ministry the dominant players were the church authority, the Pope, cardinals, bishops, and priests. Further, this hierarchy resulted in the dominance over the uneducated, the poor, women and children within the church. The new paradigm, principle-centered leadership, fosters mutual shaping and symbiotic relationship between leaders and followers. It encourages shared responsibilities and an exchange of goals and values of all parties. Further, the integrity of the group extends beyond the leader through its members and the effects on society. For the church this perspective opens the door for the laity and more so for women of the church to be educated, recognized and involved in the goals of the church. The awareness of this paradigm shift is essential for all leaders in ministry to be effective in their work. This enables them to move beyond the Baltimore Catechism of ministry to embrace the works of Vatican II and contemporary theology.
Second, for leaders to be effective they must first be a servant to those they wish to lead. Robert K. Greenleaf author of Servant Leadership, states that “The servant-leader is servant first” (27). This idea is based on the premise that the leader wants to serve first. The key relationship here is between the leader and the people focusing on the “peoples highest priority needs.” Greenleaf portrays the servant leader as someone who leads within his/her own community but leads with the understanding of how their leadership influences all of humanity.
Servant leadership moves away from command and control toward individual participation from the leader. Leaders are held by an ethical and social responsibility to the community. It is within the community that values are shared by short and long-term goals and visions. Servant leadership is empowering for all involved. Responsibilities are shared due to the participation of the leader. It is easy to say then that a servant leader is effective because it is through their actions that they lead. It is by their word that they are seen. They are the Gospel that speaks to the community and by doing so their commitment to service of others extends globally.
For leaders in ministry it is not difficult to look to the life of Jesus as an example of true servant leadership. The Gospels eloquently express the true meaning of servant leadership. For example, the Gospels share stories of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles, breaking bread, healing the sick and respecting the poor. Jesus’ life was a ministry of servant leadership. As we are called to ministry it is imperative that we indulge in discipleship. Discipleship engages an individual to imitate the practices of Jesus. As one is called to discipleship he/she engages within the world as leaders who serve first and therefore lead righteously both ethically and morally. Furthermore, as servants we are always in the process of change and renewal and open to that change. Greenleaf eloquently states, “If one is servant, either leader or follower, one is always searching, listening, expecting that a better wheel for these times is in the making” (23).
Third, for leaders in ministry to be effective they must have an awareness and/or vision. A vision provides direction and purpose that is imperative to identify with. In creating a vision the vision is clarified by the mission statement. A mission statement is actively engaging the leader to be contributive toward society in a specific way. It propels an individual into making a statement about what one’s goals, purpose and principles are. A mission statement speaks of intent, commitment and the end results desired.
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People suggests that in organizations “everyone should participate” and “to be effective, that statement (mission statement) has to come from the bowels of the organization” (139). According to Covey this fosters teamwork and honest relations between employees and management. In other words for leaders in ministry a mission statement should engage the people within the community. This would address the dis-ease of the community or unifying point. Without this type of focus ministers continue to treat symptoms and never achieve effective steps in ministry. Without a mission statement that yields the wisdom of the community a minister can lose sight of his/her vision and begin to care for individuals without direction and purpose.
Creating a mission statement is important. It creates a unity with the individual and/or the group. It confirms the vision, the purpose, the commitment, the reason and the solution. A mission statement reminds the participants of what they are trying to achieve. Establishing the grounds to proceed enables the participants to remain on task to success.
Fourth, for leaders in ministry to be effective they must be able to listen. Covey calls the art of listening “principles of empathic communication.” Covey encourages his readers to listen to understand and not to just reply. Empathetic listening enables the listener to “fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually” (240). For Covey listening involves your ears but more so it involves your eyes and your heart. Listening is engaging all five senses to be fully engaged with the speaker. In ministry empathic communication is essential to be effective. This form of communication strengthens the bond and creates an atmosphere of trust and honesty.
For leaders to be effective in ministry they must be able to effectively listen. This key element is essential in the art of communicating with others. First it is important that people feel like they are being heard. That someone is paying attention to them builds trust and commitment. Second listening is a skill that an individual can improve on. Thirdly, it is important that personal emotions and biases do not get in the way of listening effectively. One ought to question if listening is so important in the way humans communicate why are we not trained to listen effectively and with compassion for the speaker?
Just imagine if leadership within the Church practiced empathetic listening from the community. Can you visualize the importance this would be for women, minorities and the environment? You can even extend that to undeveloped countries, natural resources, the use of contraception and pluralistic viewpoints. The list does not stop there. The art of empathetic listening breaks the barrier a hierarchical structured society. It tears down the walls of ignorance and prejudice to open the mind and the heart of the listener to be humbled. It is there that humans can effectively relate and change the hierarchical structure to a co-determination mind shift.
This leads us to the fifth and last characteristic of an effective leader in ministry, the collaborative process. The most effective way to create an energizing resource of individuals is to engage them in the collaborative process. The collaborative process is designed to engage each participant equally. It creates an environment that is open, friendly, organized and creative. The collaborative process fosters communication, team-building, creativity, and empowerment for all participants. The process encourages respect for each person. In other words, each individual has the opportunity to speak to the group without being interrupted. This gives everyone an avenue to get their ideas across, to be able to effect changes and/or to voice their opinion on policies that should remain in place.
In ministry the relationship is much different from the traditional relationship where one is more influential than the other. In other words, in a traditional group setting there is a leader to the group who dominates over the participants. Once this relationship is dissolved the leader is seen as a facilitator and equal to the individual or the group. The collaborative process creates intimacy and a level of trust between all individuals. This allows for those who genuinely do not speak to express genuine ideas and concerns which in many cases are very productive to the resolution.
Furthermore, one not ought to question the importance of a leader to foster a holistic approach to leadership in ministry. Here the importance resides in the principle authoritative relationship between the leader and the followers. This relationship is then grounded “in the ability to enable someone to grow.” Therefore, the disciplines of the leader encourage the group to create, to be empowered, to engage in dialogue, to commit and to share equally experiences and knowledge.
“In the presence of the night, I call out. “God where are you?” Feeling abandoned in the darkness and the stillness of the open sky, I am alone. Unable to move out of my despair I tremble in the night. Unable to raise my head for fear of having to be aware, to change, to let go, or to be still, I ignore the brilliant star that envelops me.
I have longed for true satisfaction through materialistic and self-ego driven desires. I have journeyed the path of self-preservation looking through the eyes of me, myself, and I and I have judged those who have fallen to sin, let go of relationships, and I have done all of this with the refusal to turn the other cheek. I have laughed at the meek, the simple one’s, the peacemakers, the pushovers, and the do-gooders. I have taken the viewpoint that I am right and that there is no gray. I have looked no further than my own eyes could see or listened beyond what my own ears could hear. I have sipped of the sweet vine and tasted the cracked wheat, for pleasures of the flesh. I have felt the thirst and hunger of a life that was void of spiritual awareness, humility, and service to others.
For, I have fallen to temptations along the way. I challenged my faith, my parents, my friends, and my relationships. I was seeking to fill the ache that I carried so deep within. I unknowingly yearned to be in relationship with God.
Today, I am very much like the one’s that I use to make fun of. I am the meek, the peacemaker, the do-gooder, and the pushover. For me to come to know the sacred is experienced through the transformation of an individual through their commitment and reverence to their spiritual journey. The spiritual journey is to live according to the belief that we are not only alive but we are consciously aware of, in touch with, and motivated by a presence of something far greater than us.
For some the journey of faith has proven to transform not only the individual but also more profoundly their community and future generations. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it best, “The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live”
Ann Oswald Laird
Called to Witness: A Voice of Black American Women
Women’s studies express within the cultural context the misrepresented realities for women in order to fashion a contemporary unbiased viewpoint. Women’s studies draws upon a variety of disciplines to consider a range of questions and issues about women in areas such as representation in literature and scripture, the roles of women in society, and the presence and treatment of women within the Church. Many women have taken on this journey of faith to change the misrepresented and misused viewpoints of women in the United States. In the poem Our Grandmothers Maya Angelou an honored writer, Poet Laureate, and professor at Wake Forest University writes,
before the abortion clinic,
confounded by the lack of choices.
In the welfare line,
reduced by the pity of handouts.
Ordained in the pulpit, shielded
by the mysteries.
In the operating room,
In the choir loft,
Holding God in her throat.
On lonely street corners,
Hawking her body.
In the loving classroom, loving the
children to understanding (Wade-Gayles 16).
For some individuals this journey of faith has proven to transform not only the person but also more profoundly their community, the whole of humanity, and future generations. If one were to look for an example of an individual life that exemplifies a profound faith journey one might acknowledge Delores Williams. She is an associate professor of theology and culture at Union Theological Seminary. Williams is a Womanist theologian whose legacy celebrates her life in the way she came to know her identity as an African-American woman, her community, her role in society, and more so her God. It is through her spiritual journey and the support of family and community that Williams heard the voices of God calling her forward as a co-founder of Womanist theology. Called by God to be a witness to the plight of African-American women Dolores Williams is a black woman who exemplifies the importance of ancestry relations, community, and faithfulness as she challenges societal structures and the Christian perspective that supports the theory that suffering is redemptive.
Womanist theology is a model of Liberation theology that focuses on the diverse and complex lives of African-American women in the United States and attempts to interpret what womanist call God-Talk. God-Talk is an interpretation of the past and present historicity of African-American women and their relationship to God. Womanist theologians bring shape to the often quieted, misrepresented, and misunderstood voice of African-American women in the United States.
Sisters of the Wilderness will provide the primary document to examine the dynamics of the formation of her work and an insight into her spiritual life. Further, primary essays may complement to reinforce her dedication in pursuit of claiming the voice of African-American women. However, in order to maintain clarity the label African-American will be used unless when referring to the voice of Delores Williams African-Americans will be labeled as black Americans and or black people. This is to establish a consistency with the authenticity of her writings.
A cultural context may be helpful to understand the trigger that awakened Williams to be steadfast in her journey of faith. Unrest in America brought about the civil rights movement, which has represented a monumental shift in the relationship between African-Americans and whites in so many facets. The civil rights movement augmented social reform both socially and religiously. White supremacist described the voice of the African-American as militant, violent, enraged, and filled with hatred. Concurrently, militant leaders like Malcolm X fostered such beliefs while passive leadership could be seen in people such as Martin Luther King Jr. Biased judgments against African-Americans influenced American society and permeated the Catholic Church. Concurrently, the African-American community examined faith, reason, and historical praxis to develop what contemporary Church recognizes as black theology.
Black Theology is the model of liberation theology that recognizes the black oppression in America in relation to the gospels. Scriptures dictate that the poor are the chosen ones. For black theology, the chosen one’s are the black community, the oppressed. Black theology emphasizes that Jesus Christ’s mission is for the oppressed and poor. However, one ought to think that black theology spoke for all African-Americans. Unfortunately, even in the expression of black theology the voice of the African-American women remained silenced.
African-American women continued to be subjugated by social and political norms throughout the United States. The contemporary experiences of African-American women were undermined and forgotten in many contemporary theological perspectives. The viewpoint of feminist and more so black theologians did not witness nor did they testify to the oppression of African-American women. Out of the opportunity for African-American women to participate in the theological process womanist theology was conceived.
Womanist theology challenges feminist and black theologians out of their comfort zones. As the white women were being discriminated by the white male supremacy, the African-American women were being discriminated by both the white and African-American men and white women within their social structure. Womanist theologians began to shift their perspective to question, Where is God in the life of African-American women who are bound by surrogate roles in order to survive? Where is the voice of African-American women in a patriarchal society?
As a co-founder of womanist theology, Williams’ began to express viewpoints determined to establish an African-American female perspective to Christian theology. She speaks of her onset and awakening of her in an essay titled Sources of Black Female Spirituality: The Ways of “the Old Folks” and Women Writers. She dedicates this essay to the black women in her youth that have been an intricate part of her journey. Motivated by what she calls “spiritual power” these people have been the drive behind her voice, survival of social and political forces, and becoming who she states, “who I am as a black woman” (Wade 187). She refers to the “mediums”, “the old black folks” as the spiritual powers that enabled her to create a supportive quality of life for herself and her children. The “old black folks” lead and guide her with ancestral stories of faith that stress the importance of community and self-fortitude (Wade 187-188).
Williams discovered through ancestral stories the importance of community and self-fortitude and that “that sometimes, as a black woman, I might have to stand utterly alone without support” (Wade 187). Ancestral stories initiated her reverence to God. Ancestral stories awakened her commitment to God and her connection to her heritage. In doing so, she understood that no matter the obstacles endured in an oppressive society she would not have to stand-up or stand-alone. God provided the support and courage to sustain her calling. Further, her spiritual ancestry formulated the religious faith and practices that inspired her to keep hope alive, to walk alone.
Her mother and grandmother kept the hope alive within the family by inspirational prayers. One phrase that spoke to Williams’ heart was “casting up the highway, rolling down the stones, and setting up a standard for the people” (Wade 189). She attributed this phrase to her unwavering to the challenge of personally changing societal structures that oppress black people. She becomes empowered to become involved in the black civil rights and in the women’s movement.
The civil rights and women’s movement intensified her quest to discover the correlation between the roles of slavery and contemporary perspectives about African-American women. Sisters of the Wilderness: The Challenge of the Womanist God-Talk Chapter 3 entitled “Social-role Surrogacy: Naming Black Women’s Oppression” confirms her passionate response to the historical social exploitation of African-American women. Williams stresses that to come to recognize and acknowledge the plight of black women one must primarily understand the historical social role of surrogacy. Slavery removed the option of freedom to choose for black women. Black women were classified as female slaves and therefore they were coerced into surrogate roles. “Sometimes black women were even forced to substitute for the slave owner and his wife in governing roles connected directly with the slave owner’s household” (Williams 61).
Coerced and voluntary surrogacy has played an important role in the suppressive acts confronting African-American women in the antebellum and emancipation periods. Williams emphasized that whether black women’s roles were forced or freely chosen were a direct response to the social pressures by an oppressive society. In other words, a black woman had little to say about her own roles in life. More so, she had little to say about the ownership of her own body and the right to reserve her sacredness of reproduction. Coerced surrogate role many times extended into the bedroom of the slave owner with the permission of the slave owner’s wife (Williams 69-71).
Surrogate roles of slavery are in direct relations to contemporary oppressive ideals facing African-American women. Williams acknowledges that slavery is against the law, however, she understands that this attitude of white supremacy still pervades American ideology. She raises questions whether forced surrogacy can happen in today’s society. Will laws legitimate surrogacy to take advantage of black women’s ovaries and ability to be incubators for white women who are infertile” (Williams 82)? Once again, Williams’ journey of faith leads her to challenge societal viewpoints that still foster an oppressive society in the lives of African-American women.
As a womanist theologian Williams examines Scripture to seek an understanding of how God plays a role in the suffering of African-American women. Sisters of the Wilderness: Chapter 6 entitled Womanist God-Talk and Black Liberation Theology “confirms her passionate response to the Christological question of the surrogate role of Jesus. She asks, “Whether Jesus on the cross represents coerced surrogacy (willed by the father) or voluntary surrogacy (chosen by the Son) or both” (Williams 162). She examines salvific powers of redemption for black women in what she calls the suffering of Jesus on the cross as “Christian images of oppression” (Williams 162).
In order to have a clearer understanding of how Williams came to look at Jesus in a surrogate role it is important to examine the symbolic relationship between black women and the story of Hagar. Hagar was the female slave of Sarah and Abraham found in the book of Genesis. It was through Hagar that Williams identifies the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed in the surrogate role. It is most profound in the forced reproduction and the unemotional attachment to the surrogate role of Hagar by her oppressor, Sarah. Like Hagar, black slave women surrendered their physical beings to the roles dictated in order to survive. The emotional attachment to Hagar was nonexistent, since Sarah exiled her into the desert. In reflection, Hagar was cast to the desert where upon God blessed her with a well to comfort and nourish her.
For African-American women the well is Jesus Christ. Jesus was the comfort and the nourishment that sustains black women in opposition of the social pressures of the oppressor. Williams’ viewpoint was that Jesus was not born into the world to die on the cross and to save humanity through his suffering. This was an act of an oppressive society upon an individual. Similarly, black women will not find their salvation from the oppressive acts of white supremacy. Jesus suffered at the hands of authority because the oppressive society was evil. Similarly, black women suffer at the hands of authority because an oppressive society is evil. Williams’ sees the symbolic message of the cross as the evil of humanity against humanity. Further, she states that the emphasis should not be on surrogacy for the salvation of black women but on “Jesus’ life of resistance and by the survival strategies he used to help people survive the death of identity” (Williams 165).
Further, Williams’ focus is directed at what she calls the ministerial vision, of righting relations between body, mind, and spirit. Jesus’ ministerial vision was a wake up call to humanity to right the wrongs of the injustice by the oppressor to the oppressed. The Christological motivation for Williams is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection represents life and the survival of the evils of the oppressor on the oppressed. In life, Jesus survived the sin of humanity for he disallowed the evil of humanity to corrupt his relationship with God (Williams 164-165).
Therefore, the liberation for the African-American woman looks not to the veneration of the cross. In the words of Williams, “As Christians, black women cannot forget the cross, but neither can they glorify it. To do so is to glorify the sin of defilement” (Williams 167). Black women’s liberation is in “survival and a positive quality of life for black women and their families are in the presence and care of God” ( Williams 167). Williams’ conclusion places Jesus as a volunteered surrogate in response to the social pressures by an oppressive society. Her understanding of Jesus’ volunteered surrogate role validated her understanding of the suffering that black women have endured in America.
The social pressures in America continue today for African-American women. Liberation from racism and sexism is overwhelming for an individual to bear. Williams’ essay Straight Talk, Plain Talk: Womanist Words about Salvation in a Social Context addresses liberation for black Americans through the support of a community of faith. Williams calls the black community to “reflect upon the adage that an unexamined faith, like an unexamined life, is not worth living. Unexamined faith leads a people to be unconscious instruments of their own oppression and the oppression of others” (Townes 99). Williams understands that an unexamined faith leads to racism, scapegoat, and destruction. To examine one’s faith is to begin to question authority, to articulate suffering, to name, and to discard the destructive images and symbols that create divisions for individuals within a societal structure.
Through the work of Williams, one ought to consider that dishonor transcends all aspects of one’s roles within a society, which for the African-American woman included even the violation of her sacredness, motherhood. Her insight of coerced and volunteered women’s roles transcends ethnicity. As women develop a sense of self that is independent from the patriarchal structure they begin to stand up to the oppressive authority. Further, one ought to consider as Williams discusses that to understand suffering in the world one must first acknowledge that God does not cause such transgressions but humanity itself. Humanity must be prepared to accept the responsibility that their “individuality” was a causal condition to the pain and suffering that seems to permeate the world. The challenge with humanity is the failure to accept the realities of suffering in the world in which they reside.
Furthermore, this shift in responsibility for Williams was experienced through the resurrection of Jesus by his unwavering commitment and reverence to God despite the suffering that he endured. Her insight into the viewpoint that Jesus died on the cross because humanity was evil is without a doubt captivating. The model of the suffering Jesus who came and died for the sins of humanity is not relevant in a society where suffering is still in existence. One must ask, is it through suffering that God calls me or is suffering the effect of an oppressive individual and or an oppressive society?
Dolores Williams calls me to reflect and ask, Does God call an individual to suffer in order to come to know God’s revelation? In reflection of my own life it is not through the unfaithfulness of my first husband that I see the face of God. It is through the faithfulness of my second husband that I see the face of God. It is not through my co-dependency that I hear the voice of God speaking to me. It is through my letting go and letting God, that I hear the voice of God. It is not through my ten years of repeated pain and suffering of miscarriages and infertility that I felt the grace of God. It was in the birth and blessed life of my son and gift of my two daughters that I experience the grace of God. It was not through the death of my father that God heals me. It is through the sharing of his life that God heals me.
ED Wade-Gayles, Gloria. My Soul is a Witness: African American Women’s Spirituality. Beacon Press: Boston, 1995.
Townes, Emilie M., ed. Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope, Salvation, and Transformation. Orbis Books: Maryknoll, 1997.
Williams, Delores S. Sisters in the Wilderness the Challenge of Womanist God-Talk. Orbis Books: Maryknoll, 1993.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson