Barbara Peacock – Soul Care in African American Follow
The crucial practices of soul care
A review of
Soul Care in African American Practice
Paperback: IVP Books, 2020
Buy now: (Amazon) (Kindle)
Reviewed by Ope Bukola
After a few years of rapid work, I took a long break for a long sabbatical year in 2019. I was hoping to use the time to do less and listen to God more. Based on some contemplative prayer readings, I attended a three day prayer retreat in California. On the flight, questions arose: Would I be able to sit quietly for so long, would the barebones accommodation be comfortable and, most importantly, would someone be there who looked like me? Although I was attracted to contemplative practice, the little I knew about it made me doubt that it was "for me" as a Protestant black woman at 30 something. I know my share of prayer fighters, so intentional prayer as part of black Christian practice has had a strong response. But contemplation? Not as much.
Since then, I've learned about the African roots of Christian contemplative practices, from Church Fathers like Augustine and Tertullian to 20th century giants like Howard Thurman. When I first met Dr. When I heard Barbara Peacock's book "Soul Care in African American Practice", I was immediately drawn to the term "soul care". In the book, Peacock highlights the spiritual practices that generations of African American Christians have received, and calls on black Christians to make intentional soul care a priority.
When Peacock writes of “soul care,” she means prayer and spiritual guidance for the purpose of spiritual training. She intentionally uses the language of "soul" to redefine the spiritual direction for African American Christians. Their claim is that although the terminology spiritual direction is not used traditionally, its practices lived in community. She examines the lives of notable black Chrisitans and makes a direct connection between their spiritual practices and their faithful perseverance. The stories are intended to encourage us to remember the deep spiritual sources from which we can draw, and to urge us to slow down and claim these practices.
It is impossible to talk about the Christian tradition of African American people without realizing how racism against blacks shapes the tradition. While Peacock reminds us that Christianity has been in Africa since before the transatlantic slave trade, she ties “soul care” for African Americans directly to the horrors of slavery. When enslaved people sang spirituals asking Jesus to walk with them and reaffirm their impending deliverance, they relied on belief in a deeply personal God who was not absent in their struggle. For Peacock, this personal belief and hope, which resonates strongly in African American Christian practice, is the central attribute of spiritual alignment. Soul care is first and foremost about bringing attention to God so that He becomes the central focus of the journey.
As the book introduces notable African American Christians, the specifics of soul care become clearer. First, it is rooted in spending time in the Word: we read about young Frederick Douglass' spiritual journey of being disciplined and memorizing and repeating scriptures, similar to Lectio Divina. Second, it is a means by which we develop conscious distance. We read about how Dr. Renita Weems, author of Listening for God, learns to detach herself wisely while realizing that “distancing creates the need to bond. In our situation, the intention is to become more attached to God. “The most critical practice that underpins all spiritual guidance and soul care is prayer. The rich prayer life of leaders like Ms. Corretta Scott King and Dr. Howard Thurman is brought into focus. All of these practices – Bible reading, detachment, meditation, prayer – are part of the "spiritual line of direction" that African-American spiritual directors like Dr. Jessica Ingram, author of A Journey into the Experience of Prayer, would like to share with the whole faith community so they can build healthier souls to serve others.
A mainstream throughout the book is that individual soul care is necessary in order to maintain divine service and action against injustice. This is especially important to us in the midst of the ongoing pandemic and the struggle for racial justice. As Christians participate in repairing our health and communities, we must make feeding our souls a priority. Yes, our time is limited. However, there is no compromise between time for familiarity with God and action against injustice. In fact, Peacock argues that you can't do the latter effectively without the former. She writes about her own experiences with burnout – an experience that is unfortunately all too familiar, especially for black women who still bear the burden of being perceived as "strong" and inexhaustible. As Peacock describes, soul care gives us the courage to “contemplative action,” that is, “action that emerges from our real encounters with God. It does what God calls us to do when He calls us – no matter how fearful we are or how ill-equipped we feel. "
I wish Peacock had offered more specific steps into the practice of soul care, especially for beginners. The many examples of great leaders are encouraging, but also a little intimidating. I would have loved if she had taken this further with a chapter that gives more guidance on practicing soul care and differentiates between the need for spiritual guidance, counseling, etc. She does this partly with beautiful questions and pictures for reflection that accompany each chapter.
It is becoming a cliché these days to remind people to make time for self-sufficiency. Self-care is admirable, and I encourage African American Christians to take conscious care of our physical and emotional health. But if we are to rest for our souls, crucial soul-care practices – intentional prayer, mediation, education – must be high on our list.
Ope Bukola is the founder of Ẹnlẹ́, a technical studio that builds products to improve access to knowledge and wellbeing. Her latest project is Behold Prayer, a mobile app that Christians can use to practice silence every day and meditate on the scriptures. You can follow Behold on Instagram or Twitter.