I'm in awe of Jarena Lee.
We can all imagine what life must've been like for Lee, an African American woman born in 1783 into a country where slavery was still legal. Though she was technically born into freedom because of her location in the northern part of the U.S., still her early life was one of servitude. She became a live-in maid at the age of 7.
But her encounter with Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Church, changed the course of her life. When she heard Allen's sermons, her heart and soul were captured and she experienced what she called "my sanctification," when her heart was being turned toward God. During her time of conversation, like many mystics, she had both visions of God and visions of Satan as a "monstrous dog" trying to tempt her.
But the time came for her calling. As she says in her journal, "between four and five years after my sanctification...there seemed to sound a voice...which said to me, 'Go preach the gospel!'"
Here reply is both humorous and so characteristic of many called by God:
"I immediately replied aloud, 'No one will believe me.'"
The voice persisted and Jarena Lee waited for discernment, to understand if this truly was the voice of God. Eventually, she heeded God's voice and became the first female African American preacher in the U.S.
She preached nearly two hundred sermons to audiences both black and white. Just as remarkable, she visited states where slavery was legal and preached to slaves who had to walk upwards of twenty miles to hear her preach.
She faced racism and abuse, both for her gender and the color of her skin. She argued that she, as a woman, had the right to preach. She had times of doubt and despair but still she persisted in preaching the gospel and fighting against the sin of slavery.
Jarena Lee is a mystic to be celebrated, studied, and emulated for her human and supernatural courage to speak the truth even when obstacles threatened to overwhelm her. She is a lively and timely voice for our time, when people of color continue to face discrimination and indignities.
For more information on Jarena Lee, read her biography "Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee: Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel."
Around the web:
As I mentioned in my last post, I had a wonderful conversation with Lisa Delay on her podcast, Spark My Muse. In the episode, we talk about the challenges of contemplation, the realities of hospitality, and the ways in which my husband and I are trying to cultivate a mystical faith in our family life.
I also published a piece at Good Letters about the suffering that is often forgotten during our national celebrations. Sometimes we need the wise ones among us (perhaps the mystics and the misfits) to remind us.