Truth Telling – A Step in the Four-Fold Path

by MaryBeth Ingram, St Matthew’s Westerville; participant of the Learning Journey and host of the Reconvene Group.

Some labyrinths are one large winding path going from one side to the other on a sweeping long arc.  Each loop brings you back to the beginning and then folds you around the curve to return to the other side.  The Four-Fold path allows for something more … it invites dwelling and revisiting by designing it as four quadrants. Fair warning:  you will double back more than once to each quadrant just when you most think your work “there” is done. And that’s how it is for me with Telling the Truth.

I began this journey of learning about racism knowing nearly nothing.  Not willfully blind but blind all the same because as a white person I swim in waters that are created and maintained for me so subtlety, so deceptively, that I’ve been unaware.  I can blame only the Holy Spirit for blowing through my blindness that I began to see. Began to hear truth about race and racism. I decided to take a deep dive into reading and learning, and what I found  astonished, amazed, gobsmacked, stunned, and I could go on and on. To use the words in Paul’s Acts of the Apostles, “something like scales fell from my eyes”. Suddenly I thought, “I get it.”

No.  I don’t. Not really.

So I read more, studied more, listened more, went to the Cincinnati Freedom Center which is a marvelous education.  Even went to Alabama for a week’s pilgrimage of Civil Rights sites including the moving “National Memorial for Peace and Justice” but informally known as “the Lynching Memorial”. And I get it.

No. I don’t. Not really.

I am still reading and still listening and still going on trips that inform and educate and yet I have learned that truth telling has to go deeper.  It has to be visceral. Your heart opens when you finally “get it” at a level of understanding that reaches into every cell, every breath you take. As if it was your own experience.  Your own pain.

I don’t suffer from migraines. Or back pain.  But when I get the rare pounding headache or the rare aching back and my body won’t stand up straight I realize that I am getting a dose of pain that some people live with every day of their lives.  For a moment I have a visceral understanding of what it must be like to have that as a constant burden. It would be good to sit in that moment, longer, and really absorb that understanding. What if we could sit in the understanding of what it might be like to bear the burden of a skin color that is hated, feared, or worse, subjected to violence.  It’s one thing to have empathy for others who experience hate or violence but something completely different when you imagine it happening to you.

I am beginning to “get it”.

Dr. Barbara Holmes is a teacher at the Living School at The Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico.  To paraphrase her, it is the attending to the details, understanding the specific events, ancestors, life stories, causes of oppression – “historical and spiritual specificity” that is required to approach the state of “I get it”.  She calls it “salvific”. She is right. To tell the truth, to soak in the specific understanding and imagine another’s experience is to save yourself from ignorance.  

Sure you can read one or two good books about race and racism and you will learn and likely open up your eyes and that’s valuable.  But when you open your soul to the pain that was and the pain that is race and racism, you come close to “getting it”.

Will I ever really “get it”?  No. I’ll never experience what’s been experienced by those whose skin color is different.  But I know there’s been a tear in the fabric of my whiteness and my eyes see like they didn’t see before, my heart feels like it didn’t feel before and my soul screams out about the pain that has been and is born by those who have more melanin in their skin than I do.  

And that’s the power of the Four-Fold Path – it returns me over and over to discover a deeper truth.