My granddad was a Pentecostal Pastor/Bishop and he and my grandma had a Sanctified church. When I was growing up, every year, my brothers and I would spend our whole summer with them down in Alabama.
In their church, we witnessed the spiritual gifts of prophecy, laying on of hands, and speaking in tongues. People were prayed over, counseled and anointed with olive oil. Foot washing ceremonies and Holy Ghost possessions were also important experiences in the church.
I remember sitting with my brothers in those old wooden pews on Sundays from early morning until late into the night playing the tambourine and singing. For the most part we didn’t enjoy being there and passed the time napping, crunching on apples or sucking on candies from the old ladies’ purses. We whispered about the strange happenings in church that we didn’t understand and tried not to get pinched by our grandma for playing and giggling.
By the time I was a teenager and old enough to ask my grandparents more about the hows and whys of what went on in their church, I had left the Christian tradition and had no interest in learning about their ways. I was too smart (arrogant) and so frustrated and jaded by the things that weren’t right about Christianity, I missed out on learning first hand some of the magic and power that they were able to understand, tap into and work within it.
I chose a different path and initiated into other spiritual traditions and these traditions are home to me. However, over time I found myself coming full circle and returning to the ways of my grandparents when it came to the practice of healing. You see, though I have been trained in several systems of healing, today, my primary healing modalities are from the African American folk healing tradition and the main practice I work with is laying on of hands.
My grandparents were gifted healers who prayed and called on the Holy Spirit to do this work. It is said that during the 50 plus years of my grandfather’s ministry, many miracles occurred.
I remember asking my grandma how they did the laying on of hands healing, she said “You just pray. Some folks do it better than others, some folks been called.” I was not satisfied with her answer and kinda shrugged at that. I was in a hippy graduate school in San Francisco at the time, and had gone to several workshops on energy healing and such, so I was all in my head that western learning way. I was looking for some kind of step by step technique and really wasn’t gettin’ it. A series of coincidences, experiences and my grandparents’ passing away all changed that.
With their transition came a strong desire to gain a deeper understanding of and connection to Black American spiritual ways, and with the desire to learn and understand came a gift.
A lot people are searching today, looking for a spiritual path, a teacher, a guru, or initiator. They want power and fancy titles connected to which ever spiritual tradition is currently most fashionable, it seems. What is interesting about this to me is that many of these same people don’t even know where they come from (spiritually) or what they already have right at home, found within their own family customs and practices. People are so ready to run and dive head first into somebody else’s magic without even having a firm grasp or understanding of the magic that is uniquely theirs.
Within family traditions there are ways of healing that often hide within the mundane or religious acts that your grandparents and great grandparents did on the regular. These things may seem silly or simple and they may be dressed up with a religion that you feel no connection to, or worse, have been oppressed by.
I get it, many of us have wounds around home and family and some of us don’t feel connected to our cultural or spiritual heritage. These things are enough to tempt you to shut the door on what is yours. But if you seek the truth behind that gesture, saying or act or take the time to learn your people’s heart held understanding and interpretation of that Bible verse, you may find some of your family’s indigenous truths and ancient ancestral wisdom.
When I meet people who are searching for a spiritual home or practice, I tell them to start with what they have. If they don’t know, I encourage them to do whatever it takes to find out.
The search for this wisdom may mean reading your people’s folklore, visiting with older family members who remember, or getting a family tree together. It could mean learning old songs and collecting family recipes. Find what is yours and learn as much as you can about it. You owe it to yourself and your people to know it up, down and inside out before you go looking to find a place in someone else’s spiritual house.
This is a lesson I’ve learned over the many years of my spiritual journey.
We all come from some place and all people have spiritual practices, magic, healing rituals and spirits. What is yours may be wrapped up in a package that you just ain’t feelin’, but if you dismiss it without gaining true knowledge and understanding of what it holds, you lose. Learn. Connect. Respect. Keep what works for you and leave the rest alone.
What is yours is yours. Nobody can give it to you, and no one can take it away.