Saints | October 31, 2021 by Dr. Dorsey Blake
The full moon that should have
a blue tint rises among the branches
of the oaks with a tinge of orange
due to the smoke of the forests on fire
like the thinnest of veils
between the world of the living
& the world of the dead
as the druids believed of this night
of their old year. We all go out
masked, not to protect ourselves
from malignant spirits
but to protect one another
from the plague that brings death.
We do not fear witches nor ghosts
but the men, women
with hearts of rot, crazed
with greed & power, unjust & cruel.
We vote for life or for death
at this crossroads of time.
- Rafael Jesus Gonzalez
The universe keeps unfolding its great mysteries of connection. Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of participating in the 18th Annual Taoist Gathering, hosted by Zhi Dao Guan, The Taoist Center. Dr. Alex Feng, founder of the center, had asked me to present at the gathering. I was overwhelmed by the invitation and immediately said yes. Who can turn down such an invitation from Dr. Feng himself? I had attended portions of the gathering in the past. However, its schedule had often conflicted with our Annual Howard Thurman Convocation, limiting my attendance. After saying yes, I wondered: “What do I know about The Dao or Daoism?” The theme of the gathering was Resilience Through the Dao. I did know about resilience. You cannot grow up Black in this nation without knowing about and experiencing resilience as constant companion, anchor, guide, rock, tutor of the way forward.
The song, “Hold On: Everything Will Be Alright,” comes out of the pain and trials of being Black in America – slavery, the reduction of human beings alive with the vitality of life to chattel property and its aftermath. Hold On, regardless of the external conditions that prescribe and circumscribe your lives. There is another reality, force, an assurance. This flow of life and reality of life was from the beginning, even before the beginning, is and will continue to be long after you physically leave this planet holds you, balances the trials with affirmation, transmutes denigration into worthiness. Resilience is being able to resist, to respond, to withstand, to be flexible, to survive, to flow from obstacles into affirmation. The survival of Black Americans is a testament to resilience.
The Dao is the cosmic, mysterious, surrounding, encircling, buoying, ultimate and unifying principle underlying form, substance, being, and change. Dao encompasses all that is, everything. Clearly, it has been that upon which the African American Experience has been floated and held, regardless of whether it has been recognized or deemed so.
As I began to speak, I realized that I knew about Daoism and had experienced the Dao through devotees Dr. Feng and Dr. Charlene Ossler. Dr. Feng is my Qi Gong teacher. Dr. Feng embodies the Dao is his instruction and illustration of the need for inner stillness, to find our center, to embrace our interconnectivity. As my acupuncturist, I learned about my body, its integrity and resilience. From Dr. Ossler’s welcoming presence as she receives you at the center, it is clear that we are part of something larger than our individual, separated lives, but share a deep and abiding legacy. Her amazing eye for color reinforces the beauty that there is in life. I found that I knew about the Dao through these great manifestations of it.
Many churches observe November 1 as All Saints Day. It is a day set apart to celebrate the lives of the saints that have gone before us. We know of Sts. Peter, Paul, John. Some of us know and venerate St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Teresa, and others. There are many additional saints. There are efforts to canonize Dorothy Day as a saint, something by which she would have been repulsed. She declared emphatically: “Don’t call me a saint.” She correctly observed that saints are put on pedestals while disembodying what the saints embodied. Dr. Thurman’s thoughts were alignment depicting this as what happened to Jesus. In his book, Jesus And the Disinherited, he called what commonly passes as Christianity as a betrayal of the religion of Jesus. To be considered for sainthood one must have performed miracles and have been dead for at least five years. Is there anything in the concept of sainthood that has relevance for us today?
Without the legacy of what has gone before, we would have to start from the beginning. The simple act of brushing – or soaking – our teeth would have to be learned. The simple act of worship as a part of a culture that powers our lives would be new to us. Values such as equity, honor, justice, compassion would not be part of our composition, personality. Without those who touched us in deep, fundamental places we would not be the people we are today. Without some of those who lived in the presence of our lives, we would not be the resilient people we are today. Who were they that influenced you? I want to define a saint as one who helped you to see and celebrated divine presence in you, that made you know that you were in fact somebody, a child of the cosmos, the universe, the All-Pervading Presence, the More Than, God, the Dao.
Through their tutoring, we have been able to see in the present what they saw in the past and benefit from hindsight. They have given us examples of how to walk in the luminosity of the darkness regardless of how dark the dark was. They have helped chart our journey, lent their strength to our “maybe years.” On All Saints Day I want to honor them – the unacknowledged saints. For “there is but a short step” between our lives and theirs, between life and death.
We are also recognizing and commemorating Dia De Los Muertos, an interplay between life and death. Sagrada Sacred Arts in Oakland is dedicating this year’s Dia De Los Muertos to the memory of “the children who never came home.”
This is heavy truth.
We are not here for retaliation, we are here for truth telling,
we are here to honor the children.
- Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, First Nation, BC Canada
Sagrada created a beautiful brochure in contrast to the ugliness of what is described on it. It reads:
The recent identification of children’s unmarked graves in British Colombia and Saskatchewan has awakened a public awareness and collective anguish about truths that for generations were experienced in tears and whispers and the search for justice by indigenous families. The Canadian National Center for Truth and Reconciliation estimates 4,100 children died at the residential schools across that country, based on death records, but has said the true total is likely much higher.
In the US, there were more than 350 government-funded, and often church-run, “boarding schools” from 1820 to as late as the 1970s. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous children, many forcibly abducted, were sent to schools hundreds of miles away. Often they were beaten, starved, or otherwise abused when they spoke their native languages or expressed their native ways, and forced to adopt white culture and Christian customs.
Many of these children died alone and unmourned, their families never hearing of what happened to them.
This ancestral trauma continues from one generation to the next. These stories must be given voice, deeply heard and acknowledged for healing to begin.
I had heard about this atrocity and the ongoing trauma resulting from such arrogant and barbarous official policies – from both nation and church. This alliance between church and state is an immoral one, that denies the loving of neighbor of self. Where were the saints? Did not Jesus unmistakably declare: But whoever is a hindrance to one of these little ones who believe in me, better for him to have a great mill-stone hung round his neck and be sunk in the deep sea.
I think of children, the fresh, young expressions of life, God, the Eternal being crucified in such a horrible fashion. What a betrayal of Jesus’ high opinion of them: So, he called a child and set it among them, and said, “I tell you truly, unless you turn and become like children, you will never get into the Realm of heaven at all. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the Realm of heaven; . . .
Did not the church remember the one in whose life it claims to abide?
I was pleased to learn that on June 22, this year, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American woman to head to a federal cabinet agency, ordered a landmark probe stating: The Interior Department will address the intergenerational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be. I am pleased that at least Canada has a National Center for Truth and Reconciliation. Could not this nation implement such an institution.
At Sagrada I was given a candle with an orange ribbon wrapped around it to remember these children and their families, during this time of remembering the dead. My soul is saddened; yet, the simple gesture reminds me of so many deaths that happened at the hands of institutional, corporate wickedness.
Saints incorporate the spirit of God in the places where they live, in the lives of those they encounter. To be a saint officially as determined by The Church, one must perform miracles. Was not Dorothy Day’s life a miracle. I grew larger in the present of Saint Howard, St. Martin. Sts. William and Hazel Blake. This incorporation of the spirit of God means that I always carry within me that spirit of resilience and hope, that character of embracing the unity of all life, all people. It means that I am never without the connection to the source and goal of life, God, The Dao.
The only church worthy of my membership and support is a church where there is a community and communion of saints, present day saints, who through our lives seek to make the world better, who through our living seek to be “benedictions of peace, justice, compassion, breathing life not death in our daily sojourn."
Lord, make me to know the measure of my days on earth,
to consider my frailty that I must perish.
- Johannes Brahms, The German Requiem