Sweat Lodges, Hush Harbors, and Retreat Centers
by Rev. Lorren Z. Buck, Co-Core Facilitator, Racial Healing Initiative
As we seek to foster healing and transformation, the Racial Healing Initiative team gathered at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in ritual and retreat. Together we sought to reclaim the legacy of our people as we healed and prepared to embark on a journey to bring this work to retreat centers. Before our voyage, some thousands of years prior, the Muh-he-conneok Peoples of the Waters That are Never Still, built and sustained community. On these sacred lands we sensed their endurance, strength, and hope. There we stood in earth’s womb and acknowledged her saving grace which has been a refuge for many living beings. Together we remembered. We remembered our spiritual heritage of loving resistance and fierce compassion. Our legacies include people of great wisdom, champions of justice, and with immense fortitude. People who convened in sweat lodges, hush harbors, and retreat centers. In these places, they purified their spirits, nourished their souls, and conditioned their bodies for the battles ahead. Together we remembered how they, too, helped to build the spiritual foundation for a loving world.
Hush Harbors were secluded spaces in which enslaved Black people worshipped, almost exclusively in wooded areas tucked away from the plantation. They were considered invisible institutions, per author Albert J. Raboteau, because powerful people gathered in secret under the cloak of night as Spirit, the earth, and ancestors witnessed their cries of joy and sorrow. This during a time when they were not allowed to worship unsupervised by their oppressors. Yet, despite restrictions and life-staking repercussions, they stole away to hush harbors where their faith was continued from Africa and strengthened in the Americas.
The acclaimed Negro Spiritual entitled Steal Away effectively captures the sentiments of what it means to find oneself in the quiet places of the soul. The soul yearns to express its divine self in public and it is in secluded spaces, likened hush harbors, sweat lodges and retreat centers, where it is nurtured. The hope and pursuit of freedom has never been banished from the minds, souls, and hearts of people across ages of time. No matter the threat or challenge, people have gathered, rallied, and united their energy with the ancestors and the Almighty who joined them on the journey of liberation. The Racial Healing Initiative team shares these sentiments as we take the message of racial healing to retreat centers.
Our vision is to empower retreat centers in their commitment to racial equity. This process begins with honoring our experiences from the foundation that every living entity has learned to heal. We will access patterns within our culture to interrupt and/or nurture. As we incorporate new ways of being, we will explore practical theories, not only for dismantling oppression, but also for regenerating new structures for sustainability. All theories must be embodied if there is hope for germination. At this stage, we will practice skills and strategies that are intended to grow our consciousness and capacity. Finally, we will maximize economic and social thriving through executing our transformative plans.
The courage it takes to define oneself apart from external oppressive demands is what lives in us all. We stand as divine creation and creators who are not limited by our circumstances, no matter how dire. We were born to be free. To freely love and have that love given to us as a sweet savoring, soul nourishing balm. We are not just an extension of our ancestors; we are our ancestors. Their memory and power lives in us and through us to behold every good and wonderful thing which is our birthright.
This road is not absent of grief, and we lay aside every weight which besets us so that we may experience the fullness of what this life has to offer. We give homage to the communities who have been both companions and conspirators along the railroad of liberation. And to the retreat centers who continue this work of human flourishing, we say: Ashe and Amen!
Rev. Lorren Z. Buck is one of the core facilitators of the Racial Healing Initiative, with a background in racial equity and justice, sexual health education and executive non-profit leadership. The Racial Healing Initiative is a nationwide racial equity initiative grounded in retreat centers across the United States, and is supported by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the Fetzer Institute, the Hemera Foundation, Commonweal, the Retreat Center Collaboration, and the Center for Healing and Liberation.
Photo: Hush Harbor, Unsplash