In 1989, the most implausible historical event took place, and I was present in the midst of it. the Berlin Wall fell. I was a 23 year old, 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army leading soldiers in West Germany. Outwardly, I was a confident, fast-tracking, officer, seeking fame and fortune through the growing military industrial machine of America. But inwardly, I was a doubtful, wounded young man, desperately trying to hide the out-of-placeness felt by so many Black men trying to make their way in a world that considered them, less than.  All of the memories of that time came to my mind recently as I attended Mystic Soul Conference 2018 (MSC18).

Like the buzz of underground activity and rising excitement that was present all across Eastern Europe prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, attending Mystic Soul rekindled my awareness that dominant, oppressive systems of power and control can collapse utterly and mysteriously, even when there is no visible indication present for mainstream news outlets to cover. These Walls can collapse when oppressed and marginalized people, experiencing perpetual out-of-placeness, begin to gather and support one another in contemplative practices and mystical ways. The Divine seems compelled into action and walls come tumbling down.

“The mark of a Spirit-informed movement is incongruity. The sheer power of the systems of oppression looms impenetrably just before they crumble in seemingly inexplicable ways.”

– Barbara A. Holmes

Three such walls have crumbled in my lifetime: the wall of legal segregation in the United States in the 60’s, the Berlin Wall in the 80’s, and the wall of Apartheid in South Africa in the 90’s. Before they fell, no one saw it coming. Forces that held them up seemed insurmountable. Yet, behind each wall was an underground gathering of Spirit-informed, out-of-place, seemingly, out-of-touch people who dared believe that things could be different.

Many of these people were contemplative, mystical types, engaged in individual and collective practices that prepared them to receive great wisdom, fortitude, creativity and perseverance that eventually turned into fulfillment of their dreams.  Walls of all sorts can come down in our own lives, no matter how permanent and imposing they seem. Engagement in contemplative, mystical practices seems to catalyze such occurrences.

The Mystic Soul Project is a catalytic agency with the capacity to bring down walls of injustice present today.

As Barbara A. Holmes, in her book, Unspeakable Joy states, walls, like those in the biblical account of Jericho, can come crumbling down when a band of out-of-place dreamers gather and do seemingly insignificant things. In Jericho, marching around a great wall and blowing trumpets did the trick. In places all across the American South, people prayed, sang together and engaged in nonviolent protests. They faced dogs, fire hoses and jail cells, and walls came tumbling down.   In South Africa, a once violent leader spends 26 years in prison and comes out full of compassion and forgiveness, sparking a revolution that ends five decades of Apartheid rule.

Could it be that a band of out-of-place dreamers, catalyzed by Mystic Soul, will help bring about the end of slavery, subjugation and exploitation of people of color and other marginalized people, including queer and trans individuals, that has lasted over four centuries in America?

Mystic Soul, led by three beautiful and powerful women, Teresa Pasquale Mateus, Ra Mendoza and Jade Perry, has manifested a vision in line with movements of the past that have brought walls down. Theirs, like great leaders of the past, is a vision of justice emerging out of a place beyond the control of any monarchy or government. It emanates from an interior quality of character borne of journeying with the Divine.

For the past two years I have been on this journey of Divine union, where I have become a contemplative. During this time, I’ve mysteriously been guided, sustained and empowered by Spirit into relationships with others who are also on this same journey. Up until Mystic Soul, my contemplative guides had all been white and their emphasis on European theologians and mystics. I am greatly indebted to them and I love them dearly. However, as I embraced the contemplative, mystical way, I began sensing that something was missing. Mystic Soul was that something.

Eurocentric contemplative emphasis is on silence and individual pursuit. Mystic Soul emphasis, drawing from Africana and Indigenous traditions from across the globe, are collective, ecstatic and exuberant in nature. Neither emphasis is better than the other. Both need to be synthesized into a greater whole, and Mystic Soul understands this.

My overall impression of the conference is that it was the most generative conference I have ever experienced. And the real power of it will only be realized over time as relationships are formed, sustained and new ways of being in the world together emerge and begin to change existing paradigms. Mystic Soul was a reminder that we have never been alone in our struggles to overcome incongruity and out-of-placeness in our culture that subjugates the existence of too many people.

MSC18 created a healing environment of human connection with people of all shapes, colors, socioeconomic statuses, faith traditions and gender orientations. It affirmed for me that, my incongruence within the dominant culture is welcome here. In fact, my incongruence as a person of color will be centered and celebrated here.

For the past 8 years I have pursued a calling that came through Jesus’ words announcing his ministry to the world:

God’s Spirit is on me;

he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free…

Luke 4:18, The Message

Faithfully pursuing this calling has cost me. It required that I step away from my dream ministry job at a 10,000+ person megachurch because the transactional realities of the church growth movement didn’t seem to  line up so well with the incarnational imperatives of Christian Community Development (CCD) that had begun to revolutionize my life. Finding communities that are doing the work in ways that truly bring healing and human connection are far and few between.

At Mystic Soul, I met numerous people who have similar stories, stories of trying to change the world while fitting in and being acceptable to mainstream gatekeepers with the power to bless or curse.  I realized I am not the only one going through this. There are others actively working to overcome exclusive ecclesiastical structures and create new ones that are inclusive of all people.

Mystic Soul truly delivered on it’s promise to create spaces that center the voices, teaching, practices, and wisdom of People of Color (POC) at the intersections of mysticism, activism & healing. It was free flowing and packed with options. The Interactive Schedule was overwhelming at first, but I was able to relax and settled in once I realized it was okay not to try and experience everything. I made a contemplative commitment to myself, wherever I find myself during this conference, I am going to be fully present there. This commitment served me well, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The Centering Space, or main area for all the events was set up in a circular format, not auditorium style, which represents hierarchy and a one-way flow of information. From the start it felt like a meeting of equals gathering to get to the heart of the matter. The three amazing co-founders, Teresa, Jade and Ra, welcomed everyone and set the tone. Then, they turned it over to a beautifully assembled cast of facilitators and leaders who carried us through a luminous flow of love, creativity and wisdom over the course of three days.

There were so many standout moments for me. One of the most enlightening was the ReSound Quartet of Black classical musicians performing music by Black composers. I had no idea there was even such a thing. Throughout their performance, the musicians illuminated stories of each composer, bringing them to life and connecting our complex, racialized past to the present. Through their stories of the trials and the triumphs of these composers, they intertwined their own stories. Everyone with a dream of bringing something beautiful into the world felt connected. I was so inspired that I attended the workshop put on by Danielle Taylor, one of the musicians, and learned even more about the contributions of these great black composers.

All during the conference we were encouraged to take care of ourselves and engage in other activities besides workshops and lectures. L!ve Cafe served up caffeine and other treats as poets sang and brought spoken word. The Spirit Care space helped POC care for ourselves by offering spiritual care and support. For non POC there was space to process and unpack whiteness and addiction to dominant culture, as well as receive spiritual care.

The Embodied Healing Space was truly revolutionary and models of it should become standard fare at conventions and conferences across the world. The Haji Healing Salon, based on the South Side of Chicago, anchored this space and stewarded healing resources for transformation activated by powerful instructors, therapists and healers. Their shared intention was that of inspiring and supporting people on a healing path.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I tried Thai massage in the Embodied Healing Space, but I can tell you that it transformed me in that moment. Speaking with numerous people throughout the weekend, they all shared similar stories of transformative experiences.

Mystic Soul is so full of promise, and I could go on and on about the conference. I am convinced this was the most life giving conference I’ve ever attended and I hope that the movement created by the founders will be sustained?

The influence of Barbara A. Holmes on the Mystic Soul movement cannot be overstated and I’d like to end this lengthy post with a quote from her that captures what’s at stake here:

“If a system is corrupt and corroded from the inside out, then any shaking will cause it to fall. Yet the mark of dominant orders is their expert ability to hide the rot and internal decay, so that those who act in opposition find themselves facing the illusion of an impenetrable behemoth.”

The United States is built on the shaky foundation of the supremacy of one people group, and one gender, over the humanity and dignity of many others.  Today, after a few hundred years, the cracks and chinks of that corrupted and corrosive foundation have turned canyon-like, but the permanence of the wall it sustains still feels in tact. Can we truly envision another way to live? Can the foundation be torn out and rebuilt while the plane is in flight. Sorry about the mixed metaphors here.

The amazing thing is, right there in our founding documents, are the aspirational ideals that were supposed to set us apart. They were supposed to make us an exception in the world. We were supposed to be that City on a Hill for the world to see and emulate.  For a short while in historical terms, from the outside anyway, we maintained a veneer of aspirational exceptionalism, one that our founders miraculously penned through the haze of their self-induced superiority: We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal… It did not include people of color, it did not include women, and now we stand on the precipice of the demise of this grand experiment.

Mystic Soul Project is a catalytic force that will help bring down the walls of our skewed systems and structures that have misbuilt our nation. It will be one platform upon which the Beloved Community can grow and flourish and manifest the dream MLK unleashed upon the world. I got a glimpse of that world for three glorious days. It transformed me!