Category Archives: Spirituality

A Spiritual Warrior for Human Rights

FILE – In this Sept. 17, 1965 file photo, Fannie Lou Hamer, of Ruleville, Miss., speaks to Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party sympathizers outside the Capitol in Washington after the House of Representatives rejected a challenger to the 1964 election of five Mississippi representatives. (AP Photo/William J. Smith, File)

February is black history month in the U.S., and I recently learned about Fannie Lou Hamer, an inspiring and heroic woman who fought for civil rights, women’s rights, class rights, and overall human rights. What caught my attention was that her courageous fight against oppression was motivated by a spiritual awakening that she had at the age of 44.

During her lifetime, Hamer was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by racists, including members of the police, while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters and helped hundreds of poverty-strickened people through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative.

Hamer (1917-1977) was the last of 20 children born to a sharecroppers in Mississippi. Tricked into picking cotton when she was only six, the owner of the plantation promised her snacks and sweets that her family could not afford from his store. She only attended school until the 6th grade, having to return to the fields to help support her aging parents. By age 13, she would pick 200–300 pounds (90 to 140 kg) of cotton daily while living with polio.

In 1944, she married Perry Hamer and the couple toiled on a Mississippi plantation. Because Hamer was the only worker who could read and write, she also served as plantation timekeeper. The Hamers wanted to have children, but in 1961, Fanny Lou received a hysterectomy by a white doctor without her consent while undergoing surgery to remove a uterine tumor. The Hamers later adopted two daughters.

In the summer of 1964, Hamer attended a meeting led by civil rights activists in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). It was the first time she learned that black people had the right to vote. Hamer’s biographer, Dr. Keisha N. Blain says that, at that moment, Hamer found her calling. Blain explains:

“It was certainly a political awakening for Hamer, but it also was a spiritual awakening.

“She felt that it was God’s plan for her to become an activist and take a leading role in the expansion of black political rights.

“The one reason that she never gave up despite all she had to struggle through was that she really believed that ‘God was on her side.’ She truly believed that it was not so much a political mission, but a spiritual one. She saw herself ‘speaking light into a world of darkness’.”

Once the owner of the farm where she worked learned that she had tried to register to vote (which was initially denied because of a trumped up ‘literacy test’), she was immediately fired. Despite having to move house, loose most of her possessions, and ultimately flee for her life, Hamer was free to pursue her calling. Reflecting later, she said “They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.”

Hamer is perhaps most famous for her speech at the 1964 Democratic Convention during which she described her brutal beating in a Mississippi jail during her struggle to register to vote. President Lyndon Johnson was so frightened by the power of her message that he called an impromptu televised press conference so she would not get any television airtime. But her speech was later aired and inevitably moved even Johnson and many others to help pass the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

Hamer speaking at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J.

During Hamer’s time as an activist, she traveled extensively, giving powerful speeches on behalf of civil rights. Woven into her speeches was a deep level of confidence, biblical knowledge, and even comedy. One of her famous lines, that appears on her tombstone, is “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She often inspired other activists with her singing of spiritual Gospel songs during times of great stress and even terror.

In 1964, Hamer was one of the 11 SNCC delegates (including John Lewis and Harry Belefonte) who visited Ghana. The visit was revolutionary for her, for she saw for the first time black people in charge of their own destiny, including holding positions of political power. (Hamer would run for both for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and the Mississippi State Senate in 1971.) After a three-hour interview with the Diallo Alpha, Director General of the Ministry for Information and Tourism, Hamer received a musical instrument only found in Africa.

In the end, Hamer grew frustrated with politics. She said she was “tired of all this beating” and “there’s so much hate. Only God has kept the Negro sane”. A great cook and knowledgeable about growing crops and raising animals, in 1968, she returned to her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, and began a “pig bank” to provide free pigs for black farmers to breed, raise, and slaughter. A year later she launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative, buying up land that blacks could own and farm collectively. With the assistance of donors, she purchased 640 acres and launched a coop store, boutique, and sewing enterprise. She single-handedly ensured that 200 units of low-income housing were built—many still exist in Ruleville today.

Hamer may be remembered best as a civil rights activist, but she was foremost a spiritual warrior. Her faith and calling is what sustained her. Hamer was convinced that God was working through the civil rights movement to usher in the Kingdom of God.  Her favorite Bible passage was from the Gospel of Luke 4:18:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he as sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, and recover the sight to the blind, to set at liberty to them who are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

In the end, Hamer died of breast cancer after suffering for many years with various physical illinesses, some sustained from her beatings. May God rest her soul.

May God grant us all the her spiritual strength to preserver in whatever area of activism we are called upon to passionately undertake.

Discover More about Fanny Lou Hamer

Read the speech Hamer gave with Malcolm X in Harlem, New York.

Read the full report of the SNCC visit to Ghana.

Read an article about Hamer’s pastoral and prophetic styles of leadership as acts of public prayer by Breanne K. Barber.

Buy Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America by Dr. Keisha N. Blain 

Search for more information on Fanny Lou Hammer in the digital collection at the University of Southern Mississippi

Establishing Spiritual Airways

PrayerflagsYesterday was the World Day of Psychosynthesis and more than 150 people interested in Roberto Assagioli’s vision of psychosynthesis celebrated in an event hosted by two Swedish groups, Psykosyntesföreningen and Psykosyntesförbundet along with the European Psychosynthesis Association (EPA).

The day is meant to establish a spiritual connection between everyone who is generating and working with psychosynthesis concepts and techniques. Each of us is encouraged to take time during the day to reflect on how psychosynthesis is a living, evolving idea that can be successfully applied through many formats and in various contexts.

This day was inspired by a note that Assagioli wrote. What is special about this particular note is that it is dated, something relatively rare to find on his thousands of archived notesA copy of the Assagioli’s original note appears below along with its transcription. Continue reading

A Spring Breeze of Religious Experience

The spiritual philosophies of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the Bengali poet and Nobel Prize winner of Literature in 1913, and Roberto Assagioli are remarkably similar in their fundamental understanding of the relationship between the Infinite Self and the personal self.

While deriving from diverse cultural and linguistic inheritances, the spiritual philosophies of each man underwent a similar evolutionary process. To begin with, both men grounded their philosophy in the moments when they were able to touch the Infinite, becoming intensely conscious of it through the illumination of joy.

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Burning Old Growth for Joyous Renewal

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In the Umbrian countryside, it is time to burn old growth.

We are now at the end of Lent – a time before Easter when Christians seek purification through fasting, prayer, and charitable acts. The forty days of Lent are, in many ways, similar to the Islamic time of Ramadan, which I was fortunate enough to experience while living in Egypt. During Ramadan, Moslems are expected to fast as well as give alms and read the Qur’an.

Assagioli wrote extensively on what he called “the science of applied purification”, insisting that this work must be undertaken in order to transform the lower characteristics of our personality and bring unity to our soul. He described purification of the personality as a process of re-orientation and elevation of the higher mind. Using our will, we burn the dross of our affective and instinctual energies, habits, tendencies and passions. Once clear of the obstacles that prevent us from receiving our higher intuitions, we are free to receive wisdom from the Higher Self. In other words, purification is a necessary process that we all must endure along the journey towards personal psychosynthesis before we are adequately equipped to seek spiritual psychosynthesis. Continue reading

Writing to Awaken

During this past year, many of us have faced deeper questions about our lives and its purpose. So the beginning of 2021 might be a good time to start a spiritual diary.

Writing a spiritual diary is different from writing a memoir or a diary in general as the focus is on your spiritual life – in other words, what is happening inside your soul. Besides a blank notebook and pen, it requires you to have some courage and a great deal of honesty. By focusing on what’s happening in your inner life, you allow yourself to more carefully observe the small changes that are happening in your heart and mind. In your written reflections, you can work through troubling issues, set new spiritual goals, and discover higher qualities like patience, determination, and beauty that have always existed inside you.

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The Virus of Fear

Assagioli’s note from his archives.

Let’s talk about fear. How arbitrary it can be. Besides personal fears and anxieties, Assagioli writes about “waves of collective fear and panic.” These waves appear daily in our news headlines – the pandemic, ongoing climate disasters, financial injustice, racism and political upheaval. These are some of the external fears that can so easily feed our internal ones.

Assagioli calls this collective fear a widely diffused psychological poison or smog. He says:

“So often when we feel a sudden fear with no apparent reason, it is not ours at all. It is a psychic infection —like a virus.”

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Celebrating Women in Psychosynthesis

Olga Froebe Studio Assagioli

A spiritual portrait of Assagioli painted by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn and hanging in Assagioli’s studio in Florence.

Assagioli is often criticized for his controversial essay, “The Psychology of Woman and her Psychosynthesis.” in which he describes “womanly functions” such as the maternal function and the wifely function. His recognition of the differences between men and women in this essay can cause anxiety among psychosynthesis psychologists today.

But in a 1965 lecture on the same topic, Assagioli explains why this subject raises our suspicion and/or fear. He says that many people think that when you recognize these differences, that you are implying that men are better than women. These differences, however, do not imply that women are of less value or inferior to men. Assagioli actually said such thinking is “simply stupid”! Continue reading

Heavenly and Earthly Desires

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The Journey of the Three Magi. Postcard from Assagioli’s Archives (ID# 010305)

Desire, in all its dimensions, is beautifully woven into the Christmas story. This word desire can evoke so many different images and feelings. Assagioli saw desire as an integral part of ourselves and subject to both our personal will and the will of the Higher Self.

In fact, the word desire fundamentally holds this idea of a higher or transpersonal will.  I was amazed to learn that the word comes from the Latin roots dē, which means to “come from” and sīdus which means “heavenly body.” In other words, our longings literally “come from the heavens.” This idea may have originated from astrology, which attempts to understand how the heavenly bodies – stars and planets alike – can define who we are and what we want to become. Continue reading

An Ordinary Extraordinary Christmas

breakfastThe day started out normal enough. Breakfast of homemade bread and jams, creamy sheep cheese from Sardinia, ricotta, and peanut butter from a large jar brought long ago from the Netherlands, all swallowed down with cappuccinos in our usual breakfast cups. That morning we were just a bit more rushed, hurrying out by 8 am to attend the morning mass at the Monastery of St. Luca in Fabriano.

Benedictine nuns in the sober habits sang the psalms in clear – sometimes wavering – voices accompanied by one of the sisters playing the dulcimer. A monk priest said the mass. Afterwards we stood around the 16th century pews listening to Don Ephrem tell stories of when he was first ordained as a priest in Syria. Barely speaking Arabic, he was sent off to a high mountain village to say the Christmas mass.

But first he had to hear confession. The problem was nobody spoke Arabic, they all spoke a mountain dialect. Behind the confessional screen, he begged for mercy, asking the elderly women penitents to recount their sins in a language he might understand. French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, slowly spoken simple Arabic? No, none of those. Only mountain dialect, a slowing dying blend of indecipherable Arabic and language once carried on the wind.

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Rocky’s Prayer

Day of the DeadThis weekend, many Italians are traveling to village cemeteries to pay homage to their ancestors. The Catholic feast of All Saints Day on November 1st is a national holiday followed by All Soul’s Day. It is a time for the living to ritually remember the dead – both saint and sinner alike. In preparation, the (mostly older) women are scrubbing tombstones clean and buying votive candles and pots of chrysanthemums to decorate the graves of loved ones. Coinciding with the beginning of darker days and longer nights, this time allows us to pause and consider our own life and death.

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Fava bean flowers

The two days devoted to honoring the dead correspond agriculturally to when Umbrian farmers seed their fields. They are also busy burying onion bulbs and garlic cloves with the hope of enjoying sweet shoots in the spring. There is a local saying among our neighbors that All Saint’s Day marks the planting of fava beans. In fact, eating fava beans was once thought to be a way to be in communion with the dead. The bean flower is white with black markings that take the form of the Greek letter thet or θ, which is the first letter of thanatos, meaning ‘death’. Continue reading