“With biological children and with ‘spiritual children’ older African American women shared their ‘mother wit’—their proverbial wisdom found in the Scriptures, cultivated in community and applied to daily life.”
“The mother wit schoolhouse was life, the textbook was the Bible. The lesson plan highlighted the generational passing of insights for living.”
“I’ve never been through a storm that did not pass over.”
This is just one of the numerous pearls of wisdom passed down to me from generations of Mother Wit in the Black church tradition. It’s the kind of wisdom you can only get through experience. Reading a book won’t give it to you and taking a class won’t be of much help to you either. The wisdom that flows from the elder women we affectionately call the “mothers of the church” is hard earned wisdom. From the very beginning the Black church in America found itself embedded in struggle and though not nearly recognized often enough, Black women have always served as its backbone. Mother wit was born in the bush of slave religion out of necessity. Women turned to the Bible to place their struggles within the context of faith. They took the strength and comfort they received from the Scriptures and passed it on to others, nourishing the entire Black church in the process. Mother wit sustained the Black church through the horror of Jim Crow and the lynching tree. Mother wit fortified the Black church during the civil Rights movement amidst all the violent backlashes it incurred. The Black church would be lost without the spirituality of black women.
The church mothers spoke words of life to their community in the same way the desert mothers and fathers did. Far from the enigmatic koans of the Zen Buddhism tradition, the words of life they spoke were plain and full of practical reason. Facing opposition in school or on the job? Don’t let nobody turn you around” would be their reply. If they felt you were resisting God’s call upon your life one would sharply tell you “Your arms are too short to box with God.” And if you found yourself overwhelmed by the problems of life a church mother would surely tell you what was told to me. “I’ve never been through a storm that did not pass over.” That simple phrase has been such a source of strength and comfort to me throughout the years. It always comes back to me when I feel overwhelmed by difficult situations. I cannot argue with its truth even when in a very pessimistic frame of mind. No storm, no matter how big or strong continues indefinitely. Every storm eventually comes to an end. This word of life rooted in the ground of practical wisdom continues to be a sustaining source for me.
A product of the Black church tradition, I am in debt to the spirituality of Black women. Their form of spiritual guidance meets people at their point of need. It’s accessibility to the every-day person adds to its strength. Spiritual guidance in the hands of Black women strengthens and comforts. It challenges and rebukes when necessary. It leads and instructs. It lifts up and places those who have fallen back on their feet. The strength of Black women of faith has been the strength of the Black church and I as well as many others would have never survived without it.