Tarot card for September 29: The Wheel of Fortune


The Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune is numbered ten and is usually shown as a great wheel. Sometimes Fortuna is seen, turning the wheel for all eternity. There are people or animals on the Wheel – some are falling off to be crushed, some are struggling to stay on, while a solitary figure makes no attempt to maintain its position but succeeds anyway.

Fortune is not the same as luck. We make our own luck and follow our own destiny. Good fortune comes from the still centre which contains the very heart of ourselves. The seasons will continue to wheel, the sun will rise and set, the planets will move in their allotted courses – with or without us.

If we struggle against the flow of life, we become those struggling to ascend the Wheel, or even one of those crushed beneath it. However, if we realise our own power to create a beneficial future and then trust in that vision, we shall become the still figure, master of our own universe.

The Wheel of Fortune

(via angelpaths.com and Alan Blackman)

Venus Update. Being Surprised by Love and Liberating your Heart

Matthew Stelzner Over the last 2-3 weeks there have been a series of powerful transits involving the planet Venus. These transits are climaxing today and tomorrow, but continue for the next 7-10 days. This sequence of transits began with Venus moving across the Saturn square Uranus alignment that has been a collective backdrop energy since the beginning of last year. Forming a T-square pattern, Venus first moved into a square with Saturn around September 10th and then moved to be more precisely opposite Uranus around September 18th. This relationship between Venus and Uranus has been strong since then, but what does it mean? This overall configuration has something to do with the liberation of love after overcoming challenges and obstacles. It is the kind of transit that tests the strength of your heart while also calling your heart to grow stronger. It gives the opportunity to awaken to new levels of love (and surprising new forms of love) that can only be discovered through endurance and hard work in your most intimate relationships, including, and perhaps most importantly, your relationship with yourself. This is a fantastic sequence of transits for the discipline of self-love, and for the rewards that can come when you are a loyal lover to yourself. When you set a strong intention to love the parts of yourself that you are most critical of, a kind of profound liberation is possible. For the last week the dominant energy has been the Venus opposite Uranus, and so I would expect that many of you might now be feeling the blessings of an awakened and strengthened heart. What makes this time even more healing is that Venus has additional special alignments, with a trine to Neptune and a Square to Jupiter, and with both of these continuing for the next 7-10 days. I discuss this in the video, but this is quite helpful, as it means that the process of heart opening that the Venus-Uranus transit started, continues to grow and expand with the aid of Jupiter, while also melting the heart on a spiritual level with the aid of Neptune. As I mentioned above, there is a kind of climax to this whole process happening today and tomorrow as the Moon moves into an exact (and rare) grand trine with Venus and Neptune. This is a very special alignment for feeling the love of the divine feminine, and melting in her embrace. This can be a subtler energy, but it is not so subtle if you can take the time to slow down and open to the divine love that is seeking you at this time. With Neptune strong it can be helpful to spend time with the beauty and pleasure of the water element, and it can also be helpful to spend time with heart opening spiritual practices. It is also great for artistic inspiration and for connecting with spiritual art and music. To check out more of my work, see my blog, and get information about my intuitive readings, visit my website at: http://stelz.biz/ I have an equinox promotion with discounts on my readings available through this Friday the 1st. In order to be eligible for the promotion you will need to be on my email list. Link below. Sign up for my mailing list here: http://stelz.biz/register-for-my-emai… If you sign up for my mailing list you will also receive my newsletter and special promotions. Check me out on Instagram where you will find unique content that is not shared here: @tarot_and_lola

Chairwork

Chairwork | Aeon

It is a powerful, liberating therapy that lets you (literally) shift perspective on who you are, and who you could become Photo by Jesus Sierra/Getty

Scott Kellogg runs a chairwork-centred private practice in New York City, and teaches this method through the Transformational Chairwork Psychotherapy Project. A certified advanced schema therapist, he has trained in Gestalt therapy and voice dialogue. He is a former clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at New York University and a past president of the Division of Addictions of the New York State Psychological Association. He is the author of Transformational Chairwork: Using Psychotherapeutic Dialogues in Clinical Practice (2014). 

Amanda Garcia Torres is a certified chairwork psychotherapist in private practice in New York City and co-director of training at the Transformational Chairwork Psychotherapy Project. She received her Master’s degree in counselling for mental health and wellness from New York University, and has also completed training in voice dialogue.

Edited byChristian Jarrett

27 September 2021 (aeon.co)

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It was 2002 when I (Scott) had one of my first encounters with a form of therapy known as ‘chairwork’ at the Gestalt Center for Psychotherapy and Training in New York City. ‘It’s not fair. It’s just not fair, and what you’re doing is wrong.’ I was speaking to my daughter Nicole’s soccer coaching team sitting in the chairs opposite. Or at least I imagined and sensed them sitting there, for in fact the chairs were empty.

Nicole, 11 at the time, was an outstanding soccer player. She had made a high-level team, but the coach barely let her play and, for two seasons, she spent most of the time sitting on the bench. Favouritism was clearly at work, and I was enraged. Although I’d repeatedly brought this up with the team leadership, they refused to do anything about it. When the season ended, they kicked her off the team.

I had been studying chairwork for a few months when I attended this afternoon workshop in which I finally had an opportunity to participate from the perspective of a patient. The therapist invited me to sit in a chair, imagine the team leaders in the chairs opposite and talk with them… and I did. I expressed my rage about how they had treated my daughter and the pain I had felt at seeing her unhappiness. Finally, it was okay for me to just speak freely.

‘Switch chairs,’ the therapist said. Doing a role-reversal, I went to their side, sat in one of their chairs, and gave voice to their stonewalling and their ‘this is the way it is’ attitude. I remember my emotional state shifting dramatically as I embodied them. It was hard and I was irritated. I then went back and spoke again from my anger and pain. My emotions felt less intense this time.

Before this workshop, I had spent nearly a year wrestling with intense bursts of rage over this mistreatment of my daughter. Just a few hours after the workshop, I realised that I had shifted profoundly; now, when I thought about what they had done, I did not think it was OK but I was far less reactive. The shift has lasted ever since. Somehow, this 15-minute dialogue had helped me find a resolution to my frustration – something I had been unable to do on my own. It strengthened my conviction in the healing power of chairwork – a therapeutic technique created by the Romanian American psychiatrist Jacob Moreno, the originator of psychodrama, and further developed in the 1960s by another psychiatrist, Frederick ‘Fritz’ Perls, the creator of Gestalt therapy.

My passion and belief in the value of chairwork only grew, and in 2008 I created the Transformational Chairwork Psychotherapy Project and began training therapists in the United States and abroad in the art of chairwork. In 2014, my book Transformational Chairwork: Using Psychotherapeutic Dialogues in Clinical Practice – a handbook for therapists – was published.

Despite these efforts, I’ve always felt that what had eluded me was some way of simplifying the work – of reducing it to an essential set of core principles that could clearly and effectively guide both the practice and the teaching. Then, in early 2018, during a meditation session, I had a vision of what I call ‘the four dialogues’ that showed me how to transform chairwork into a therapy of elegant simplicity and even greater power. I then combined this with a framework we call ‘the four principles’, and this integration has become the foundation of our work.

The first of the four principles is multiplicity of self or the idea that we each can be seen as containing different parts, modes, voices or selves. For example, the way that we behave at work can be different from the way that we behave at home with our families or at a summer barbeque with our friends. Sometimes, during periods of stress or states of intoxication, parts can emerge that are either unfamiliar or undesirable – the kind of situation that prompts you to say things like: ‘I don’t know what came over me.’ This understanding of the human condition builds on the thinking of historical figures such as Plato, St Paul and Sigmund Freud, who each wrestled with the experience of having different parts.

The second principle is that it is healing and transformative for people to give voice to these different parts. In practice, this might involve asking a patient to move to another chair and embody and give voice to their suffering, their fear, their ‘inner critic’ voice, or what they see as their ‘heroic self’ – the part of themselves that takes meaningful action in the world. This alone can be a surprisingly powerful experience. Alternatively, a therapist might set up a dialogue between the different parts of a patient, to bring about greater inner balance and overall better functioning.

The third principle moves from the internal to the external world. It involves patients revisiting and re-experiencing a loss or a trauma as a way of working through the experience. A therapist might invite them to imagine placing the different people involved in various chairs and talking to them – perhaps saying things that they did not or could not say at the time – just as I did in the workshop in New York.

The last principle, the ultimate goal of chairwork – and the ultimate goal of all of psychotherapy – is the strengthening of what has variously been called the ego, the inner leader, and the healthy adult mode – which is the part of the self that strives to organise, regulate and direct the other parts. As this part of the personality becomes stronger, patients are able to experience greater internal emotional regulation and more effective, meaningful and purposeful functioning in the world.

Purposefully seeking to engage difficult emotions can be healing – the dynamic of choice changes everything

Those are the basic principles upon which chairwork is based. The four dialogues are the different methods or formats for delivering chairwork, and these are giving voicetelling the storyinner dialogues and relationships and encounters. Each of these dialogues can be used as a standalone intervention or in various combinations to help patients heal and reduce their distress.

Giving voice can serve as a vehicle for exploring and understanding one’s inner world. A therapist might say to their patient:

I would like to invite you to move to this chair, and I would like you to speak from your heart and speak from your pain.

In the most basic version of this practice, which we adapted from Embracing Our Selves (2011), a manual on voice dialogue practice by the psychologists Hal Stone and Sidra Stone, the patient begins in a chair that we call the centre – which is where their inner leader or healthy adult mode is located. The therapist then invites their patient to move to another chair, so that they can purposefully and consciously express and experience their emotions. For example, they might ask the patient to switch chairs and give voice to their suffering and their pain – both the feelings and the thoughts. This practice can prompt the spontaneous emergence of difficult emotions, which can be quite distressing, but purposefully seeking to engage and experience these emotions can be healing – the dynamic of choice changes everything. In some cases, the emotion will run its course while, in others, another part or mode might be triggered, and the patient will find new internal resources or perspectives.

There’s actually a similar practice in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) called ‘worry time’ in which the therapist invites their patient to make a regular and intentional practice of giving voice to the experience of fear, guilt or depression. Again, no attempt is made to challenge or dialogue with these thoughts – the expression alone is sufficient.

The practice of giving voice can be helpful for several reasons. The releasing of the emotions can be cathartic in and of itself and, during the process of going into the pain, another mode or part might be activated that will provide a counterbalance or alternative to the suffering. A third reason, which draws on the insights of acceptance and commitment therapy (a form of CBT that incorporates mindfulness and acceptance practices), is that the chairs create physical space or distance between the inner leader and the emotion, and so, through the processes of observation and labelling, the patient will have greater stability, and the emotions and disturbance will be less likely to overwhelm them. The idea of internal distance is drawn from Buddhism and mindfulness meditation, and is connected to the development of an observing self or the practice of self-witnessing. The physicality of the chairs helps people to experience viscerally that they have different parts and that they can resist being taken over by an emotion or a mode.

The second of the chairwork methods or dialogues is telling the story. A therapist introducing such a session might begin like this:

I sense that holding this secret inside for so long has been a terrible burden. If you are willing, I’d like you to move to this chair and tell me the story of what happened.

As the British psychiatrists Glenn Roberts and Jeremy Holmes put it in their edited volume Healing Stories (1999): ‘At the heart of any therapeutic encounter there is always a story.’ Many patients enter therapy with the burden of stories, and the sharing of traumatic, secret or shame-filled narratives can be a crucial component of their healing journey. In her foreword to the true-story collection Back from the Brink (2014), the American actress Glenn Close put it this way: ‘In our stories lies our salvation. Finding the courage to tell our stories will save lives.’

The telling the story dialogue recognises the healing power of stories and encompasses several strategies that can help patients work through their difficult memories. The therapist invites their patient again to move from the centre to another chair and to tell the difficult story or part of the difficult story. When he or she has finished, the therapist asks them to stand up, move around, shake themselves off, and sit down, and tell the story again. The hope is to take them through this cycle of repetitive storytelling three or four times. During this process, it is common for a patient to reveal more details with each iteration – a sign that they are becoming less frightened and disturbed by the story and that healing is taking place.

A challenge with this process is that patients can find it intensely distressing. Taking inspiration from the storytelling approach described by the psychiatrist Eckhard Roediger and his colleagues in Contextual Schema Therapy (2018), one potential solution is to ask the patient to share their story from a third-person perspective. For example, if I were working with a patient named John, I might ask him to move to another chair and tell his difficult story as if he were talking about somebody else: ‘John was in a car accident, and this is what happened to him.’ This narrative style allows for high levels of emotional arousal – which facilitates healing – while also enabling the patient to have some distance from the story, which might be particularly useful in narratives where guilt or self-blame are important components.

Martin Luther King had a ‘terrific conflict about the duty to his family and his duty to his fellow man’

The third chairwork format – internal dialogues – is focused on resolving different forms of inner conflict and imbalance. The therapist might begin the exercise as follows:

You seem to be of two minds about the project. I wonder if you would be willing to go to this chair and speak from the part that wants to go forward with it, and then to this chair and speak from the part that is having second thoughts.

One form of internal dialogues involves ‘polarity work’ – that is, helping patients make decisions by clarifying their values and resolving the conflicts between or among them.

For an example, consider the inner world of Martin Luther King, who was frequently in a state of conflict between the important role that he was playing in the civil rights movement and the importance of being a good husband and father. His dilemma became especially acute after he went to India and deepened his knowledge of Gandhi’s teaching. His wife Coretta Scott King recalled her husband saying: ‘A man who devotes himself to a cause, who dedicates himself to a cause, doesn’t need a family.’ She added that: ‘He had a family and he loved his family and he wanted a family but he also said “a man doesn’t need a family” because he had this terrific conflict about the duty to his family and his duty to his fellow man, and he really recognised that he had this obligation to both.’

Or take the example of the British athlete and Olympic medallist Tasha Danvers, who reflected on her own experience with depression when she said: ‘A lot of depression comes from, I think, when you’re not living your truth: you’re not where you wanna be, doing a job you don’t really wanna do, because you feel you need to do it for the money.’

In such cases, there is a conflict between important values. Working for the world, caring for the family, creating financial security and living with integrity are all activities worth pursuing. The polarity dialogue involves anchoring each value in a chair, and then asking the patient to speak from that perspective. As Perls strongly believed, when the patient moves back and forth between the two chairs in which each value is embodied, there is a possibility for creativity to occur. This might take the form of finding a better understanding of how to balance the two polarities; it might involve the development of a new vision of one’s life that involves a synthesis; or it might involve choosing one value over the other.

The depressed man gave voice to his son, who told him it was time to choose life

The final form of chairwork dialogue is relationships and encounters, which relates to the world of interpersonal connections. For example, a therapist might say to a patient wrestling with heartbreak:

I can sense that you are still very stuck – even though the relationship ended two years ago. I would like to work with this, if I may. I’d like you to imagine her sitting in this chair, and I would like you to talk to her and tell her what you are feeling.

This dialogue involves the expression of emotions, such as love, anger, fear and grief. It is also a vehicle for strengthening the patient’s ‘assertive voice’ – their ability to speak their mind with confidence. These are usually two-way dialogues in which the patient also switches chairs and takes on the perspective of the other ‘person’ from the chair opposite (however, if a patient is having a dialogue with a truly abusive figure from the past, we do not recommend that the patient switch chairs, engage in role-reversal with or ‘become’ that person because it could induce empathy for the abusive person, which can interfere with the healing process).

There’s an example of this process in the edited collection Psychodrama with Trauma Survivors (2000) in which the therapists Marisol Bouza and Jose Barrio describe working with a man who had entered a profound, and perhaps psychotic, depression in response to the death of his son. In the hospital following a series of suicide attempts, they decided to do a role-reversal dialogue. The man sat in one chair and imagined his son in the chair opposite. From here, he spoke about his pain, grief and loss, and his desire to join his son in the afterlife. He then switched chairs and gave voice to his son, who told him that it was time for him to choose life and to give his love and affection to his other sons and to the rest of the family. The father took this message to heart and made the decision to get better.

In 2013, I (Amanda) attended a Transformational Chairwork training workshop and had a first-hand, profound and dramatic experience using the relationships and encounters paradigm. Scott (‘Dr Kellogg’ to me at the time) was leading the session, and he asked for participants for a therapy demonstration. I decided to volunteer. At the time, I was a clinical intern working with highly traumatised youth, and I was on the cusp of burnout. My work with a remarkable, yet very troubled, teen girl was overwhelming me. I sat down in front of the room across from an empty chair, and Scott told me to imagine my patient’s abusers. I was instantly outraged. Next, Scott suggested I stand up and defend her. ‘How dare you hurt her!’ I said.

This moment of catharsis was a relief. I had been profoundly disgusted at the abuse my patient experienced but, before that day, I had no outlet for my rage. A few minutes passed, and Scott changed course. ‘Now, imagine your patient. Talk to her. Speak from your heart.’ I sat back down and exhaled. The rage was gone and sadness took its place: ‘I don’t know why your life is so painful. Your stories break my heart.’ My eyes began to water, and I was encouraged to keep speaking. ‘I want you to know that I think you are amazing. You are good. I see you.’ I felt motivated and hopeful. In the months following, my work with the patient improved and I was able to effectively advocate for her care at the clinical site.

From then on, I was also immediately hooked on chairwork. This workshop experience completely altered my perceptions about the possibilities and limitations of psychotherapy. Since that day, I have been on an amazing journey that has led me to becoming a certified chairwork therapist and a trainer of clinicians around the world. Chairwork changed my life.

Relationships evoke conflicting emotions; chairwork is a powerful way for patients to work through them

It pains me deeply when I think of the incredible loneliness created by trauma and suffering, and I feel a great duty to directly confront these experiences. Chairwork has given me a pathway to be with patients in darkness while they are also taking action to get out from the rubble. We can face the scary memories together and, as Scott always says: ‘Trust the chairs.’ When emotional pain presents itself, my patients get to engage with it, challenge it, comfort it and, ultimately, choose to release it. Their minds and their hearts can dialogue, and from there amazing transformation happens.

Scott and I find it striking that we have both had pivotal chairwork experiences in which we had imagined dialogues with difficult or problematic people. Important relationships evoke strong and sometimes conflicting emotions within us, and chairwork provides a powerful way for patients to work through them.

The future is beginning to look bright for those of us who believe in the power of this kind of dialogue work. We are seeing a renaissance in the psychotherapeutic use of chairwork throughout the world. While primarily being spearheaded by schema therapists, who have now made chairwork a central practice in their approach, other therapists are also increasingly embracing this approach, including those practising CBT as well as compassion-focused therapy and integrative psychotherapy more generally. The four dialogues and the four principles have, for the first time, made a freestanding chairwork psychotherapy a possibility. The first manifestation of this can be found in Amanda’s seminar on social justice chairwork psychotherapy, which is focused on finding ways to use this healing practice when working with historically marginalised or oppressed populations.

In the end, how does chairwork help people heal and transform their lives? We believe that there are four factors. The first is that it serves to bring greater clarity to the parts. Patients can experience and label their parts or modes as they are getting activated. This helps them to gain greater control over them. The second is that it facilitates encounters and dialogues among the parts that might not occur naturally. The third is that it promotes intense levels of feeling and emotional expression, which can be especially transformative when patients are having imagined dialogues with others. Lastly, it can trigger a creative process within the individual that can lead to new solutions or new ways of being in the world. Whether used as a standalone therapy or as an adjunct to existing treatment approaches, we believe that chairwork has the capacity to be a liberating force for those who live in pain and suffering.

This Essay is based, in part, on the paper ‘Toward a Chairwork Psychotherapy: Using the Four Dialogues for Healing and Transformation’ (2021) by Scott Kellogg and Amanda Garcia Torres, from the journal Practice Innovations.

More information on this psychotherapeutic approach can be found at Transformational Chairwork and, in the UK, at Chairwork.

To read more about emerging therapies, visit Psyche, a digital magazine from Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts.

Psychiatry and psychotherapy

THE 1960S GOSPEL HIT THAT DEFINED A GENRE AND AN ERA

Recorded in the Wake of the Birmingham Bombing, the Faith-Fueled Power of ‘Peace Be Still’ Endures Today

Angelic Choir of the First Baptist Church of Nutley

The Angelic Choir of the First Baptist Church of Nutley, N.J. recorded “Peace Be Still” under trying circumstances. Courtesy of Malaco Music Group.

by ROBERT M. MAROVICH | SEPTEMBER 27, 2021 (zocalopublicsquare.org)

“Peace Be Still,” a six-minute-long hymn, swept gospel radio in 1963.

Recorded just four days after the devastating bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, it became an instant classic, selling nearly a million copies to an overwhelmingly Black audience over the next decade.

Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2004, “Peace Be Still”—the title track on a collaboration between the Angelic Choir of the First Baptist Church of Nutley, New Jersey, and the “King of Gospel,” James Cleveland—remains, to this day, an enduring cultural touchpoint for the ’60s. “No record ever,” wrote historian Anthony Heilbut, “neither Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ nor the Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road,’ has so blanketed its market.”

Of the thousands of gospel songs recorded in the early 1960s, how did “Peace Be Still” come to define its era? Was it a case of being the right song at the right moment? Were embers of emotion from the Birmingham blast hovering over the recording session that evening?

Peace Be Still cover

The cover of the album Peace Be Still, with artwork by Harvey Williams. The record’s title track defined an era of gospel music. Courtesy of Malaco Music Group.

That was my personal theory—that the song’s raw power was prompted by the terrorist attack. But when I interviewed Angelic Choir members, I discovered they saw things differently. They insisted that the bombing and other violent acts against African Americans did not govern their lives, nor their singing, that night. “We weren’t so disturbed that we couldn’t serve the Lord. We knew the Lord, and we were there to praise and lift up His name. That was the purpose,” one chorister, now in her 80s, told me. “So anything that happened anywhere else, we were just there to praise the Lord and thank Him that we were able to make it.”

Thank Him that we were able to make it. Therein lies the key to decoding “Peace Be Still”—gratitude to Jesus for helping his people overcome the winds and waves of oppression right there in Newark. In many ways, this sentiment speaks to gospel music writ large, which expresses the unflinching refusal of African Americans to surrender to life’s injustices, especially those incited by racial prejudice, and gratefulness to God for being their ultimate protector.

James Cleveland must have had this in mind when he recorded “Peace Be Still” in September 1963. By the time he began work on the record, the 31-year-old wunderkind from Chicago with a gravelly voice and a perfectionist streak had already amassed more than a decade’s worth of experience; a musician, singer, songwriter, and choir director, he’d done everything from steering Detroit’s Voices of Tabernacle to national acclaim for the album The Love of God to teaching a young Aretha Franklin to play piano.Of the thousands of gospel songs recorded in the early 1960s, how did “Peace Be Still” come to define its era?

His collaboration with the Angelic Choir came about thanks to a recording deal he signed with Savoy Records, an independent label with a rich gospel catalog, in 1960. The Rev. Lawrence Roberts, who was an executive at Savoy, also happened to be the pastor of First Baptist in Nutley and was responsible for organizing its choir, which sang in church every third Sunday in the early 1960s. When Cleveland approached Roberts to see if he would be open to letting him borrow the Angelic Choir for his recordings, Roberts agreed, but with one caveat: all sessions would have to take place in the church, where the choir members, who had little recording experience, would be more comfortable and their true essence could shine through.

Roberts’ stipulation proved wise: In 1962, Savoy and Cleveland recorded their first two albums with the Angelic Choir, captured during live, in-service recording sessions in the little wooden First Baptist Church. Both records, crackling with the spiritual electricity that arises between anointed gospel singers and excited congregants, exceeded expectations, won critical acclaim, and garnered big sales. The proceeds allowed the First Baptist Church to raze its wooden frame building and begin building a modern sanctuary.

Things had changed by the time Savoy authorized a third live volume in September 1963. Construction on the church still hadn’t wrapped, so the choir had to record in Trinity Temple Seventh-Day Adventist in Newark, where they were temporarily holding church services. Two key players from the original albums, Los Angeles choir director Thurston Frazier and organ prodigy (and future “fifth Beatle”) Billy Preston, were unable to make the September date. And the world was in turmoil. On August 28, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, calling for civil rights and equal opportunity for Black Americans. Days later, on September 15, segregationists planted dynamite beneath the stairs of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church—killing four girls, injuring several others, and sending a devastating shockwave throughout the country. Places of worship had always been sanctuaries—literal and figurative—for Black people. Now even churches weren’t safe.

James Cleveland

The Rev. James Cleveland was a gospel star before he worked on “Peace Be Still.” For decades after its release, he used the song to communicate his hopes for a better America. Courtesy of Malaco Music Group.

Nevertheless, the project proceeded. Cleveland, who had a reputation for deftly incorporating pop music techniques into gospel’s traditional core, selected “Peace Be Still” for the session after hearing a performance of Gwendolyn Cooper Lightner’s arrangement of the largely forgotten hymn in his newly adopted hometown of Los Angeles. Originally by Horatio Palmer and Mary Ann Baker, its lyrics were inspired by a New Testament story, chronicled in Mark 4:39. Jesus and his disciples were trapped on a boat during a storm: “And [Jesus] arose, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still.’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

For First Baptist, Cleveland added a few touches. At the moment in the lyric when Jesus commands the storm to stop, the Angelic Choir’s full-throated, staccato singing drops abruptly from fortissimo (thunderingly loud) to pianissimo (a whisper). The plunge elicits interjections of delight from the live audience and several choir members. They repeat the dramatic technique once again, to more shouts. The result is nothing short of spectacular sacred theater.

Perhaps lacking confidence in the album’s sales potential due to the absence of Frazier and Preston, Savoy created little fanfare around Peace Be Still’s release. The label pressed a standard 3,000 copies of the album, following a sales forecast that turned out to be off by orders of magnitude. “Peace Be Still” lit up phones at radio stations nationwide. By the end of the decade, it had sold somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 copies, a phenomenal achievement at a time when gospel albums were lucky to hit 50,000 in sales.

“Peace Be Still” launched the Angelic Choir on the road. The group sang the hymn at the Apollo Theater and on television. They sang it at the New York World’s Fair. With Roberts as director, the Angelic Choir and James Cleveland recorded nine albums of live gospel music between 1962 and 1969, earning two Grammy nominations.

“Peace Be Still”’s impact transcends its musical drama. Like folk spirituals, it communicates on multiple layers. There is the miracle of Jesus saving his disciples by commanding the storm to cease. Then there is the allegorical statement: Because it was still risky for African Americans to record protest songs, the Angelic Choir employed the Bible story as allegory to express their hope, through faith in Jesus and personal resilience, for an end to the trials that came with being Black in America.

“Peace Be Still” is but one prominent example of how gospel music celebrates God’s dominion over earthly ills and how, in the form of a loving, fatherly Jesus, he protects and heals his people. The Ward Singers’ 1950 hit “Surely God is Able,” Rosie Wallace’s 1963 single “God Cares,” and “I Have a Friend Above All Others,” sung by artists from the Soul Stirrers to Sam Cooke and Al Green, make the same case. And no matter how bad life becomes in the here and now, gospel enthusiasts are reminded that a heavenly home awaits where, as songwriter Rev. W. Herbert Brewster wrote in the mid-1940s, the faithful will “be drinking that ol’ healing water; and we gonna live on forever.”

Like most Black music, “Peace Be Still” has evolved from coded message to explicit commentary. In 1976, the Heaven Dee-Etts of Trenton, New Jersey, covered the song as “All I Need is Peace.”

On it, lead vocalist Mary Glanton prays for relief from life’s trials: “Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes, Lord, my pillow gets wet with tears.” On her 1983 cover, gospel singer Vanessa Bell Armstrong transforms the song into a daily devotional, calling for peace “in your home, on your job, late in the midnight hour” and “when you don’t know which way to turn.”

By the 1980s, James Cleveland was using “Peace Be Still” to communicate his hopes for improving race relations in America, even in the face of injustice; just a month after Cleveland’s death in February 1991, three Los Angeles police officers beat Rodney King after a high-speed chase. Their acquittal in April 1992 sparked five days of civil unrest in Los Angeles.

Leading up to the song’s dramatic climax is the disciples’ final desperate plea for Jesus to rescue them from destruction: “The winds and the waves shall obey thy will.” The danger of the wind and the waves represents different things, to different people, at different times. For some, it represents hunger or poverty, for others it is mental or physical anguish, and for others it is violence or discrimination. But listening to it today, “Peace Be Still” can still calm the soul whenever and wherever the storms of life are raging. Its performance evokes both a nostalgic yearning for the timeless lessons taught in the little wooden churches of yesterday and hope for a better tomorrow.

“I think ‘Peace Be Still’ has lasted all these years,” remarked the Reverend Dr. Stefanie Minatee, whose mother Pearl sang on the record, “because people are living in turbulent times and they are looking for something to hold onto.” Jacqui Watts-Greadington, a latter-day member of the Angelic Choir whose aunt, Bernadine Hankerson, sang with the choir in 1963, agrees. “I often say that when trouble comes, you think about songs like ‘Peace Be Still.’ Those are the songs that carry you through.”

ROBERT M. MAROVICH is editor-in-chief of “The Journal of Gospel Music,” a Grammy-nominated liner notes writer, and author of Peace Be Still: How James Cleveland and the Angelic Choir Created a Gospel Classic and The King of Gospel Music: the Life and Music of Reverend James Cleveland.

Tarot card for September 28: The Princess of Swords

The Princess of Swords

Like the other Sword people, the Princess of Swords is intellectually inclined, perceptive and intuitive. She is, again, a keen observer, who brings clarity and insight to situations in which she is involved. She is a forceful and self-determining young woman who ill-tolerates injustice, weakness and manipulation. She is probably not as secretive nor as hidden as some of the other Sword people – in fact, she tends to express her insight quite forcibly at times.

She has the same qualities as a keen observer of life, and people, that we see in the other Sword Courts. She’s also a skilled arbitrator, having extensive negotiating skills and a ruthless cutting edge.

This card is another of those that has quite a bad reputation with some Tarot commentators – maybe because of her tendency to tell things as she sees them regardless of the consequences. Yet, unless she is badly dignified, the woman represented by this card will usually be honest, and frank.

She cuts away the blubber that often surrounds difficult emotional matters, and gets to the heart of things quickly and effectively. Generally she is objective and rational in her approach to life.

When this card comes up to represent a change of mood, however, we see the darker sides of the Princess emerging. Then we are looking at a woman who is angry, emotionally distressed and probably feeling vicious. She may then be spiteful and unkind, even heartless. Somebody in this kind of mood is often cruel, regularly seeking revenge, and looking for trouble.

The Princess of Swords

(via angelpaths.com and Alan Blackman)

Miracles may be superphysical phenomena

Tim Andersen, Ph.D. · Dec 29, 2020 · (Medium.com)

Photo by Jacob Bentzinger on Unsplash

In 2010 a Pew study on Religion showed that 80% of Americans believe in miracles (a Harris poll said 72% in 2005). That is not far from the percentage that believe in God.

Is such a belief justified?

In his short book, Miracles, C. S. Lewis points out that the existence of miracles is not a scientific question but a philosophical one:

[W]hether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.

C. S. Lewis, Miracles

A rationalist philosophy holds doubt as one its fundamental principles and this is the very basis of science. This is why miracles or the supernatural can never be excluded entirely, only doubted, and disproved in specific cases. (The late James Randi made it his mission to disprove these specific cases, but could never disprove the general case.) The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell explained it this way:

I do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove that Satan is a fiction. The Christian god may exist; so may the gods of Olympus, or of ancient Egypt, or of Babylon. But no one of these hypotheses is more probable than any other: they lie outside the region of even probable knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them.

Bertrand Russell, Why I am not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects

Two opposing philosophies, on the one hand the Christian viewpoint of Lewis holds that human beings who doubt are victims of their philosophy, on the other Russell holds that probability or likelihood must be the arbiter between different beliefs or there is no reason to hold one over the other.

Yet, each has a common ground. Russell does not discount the existence of the supernatural nor does Lewis say that all tales of miracles and the supernatural are valid. In fact, both come together in this: we cannot disprove that miracles and the supernatural exist.

As a scientist, I tend to look for rational, physical explanations for phenomena yet I too would never discount the possibility that, to paraphrase Horatio from Hamlet, there is more in heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in my philosophy. Indeed, some of the natural laws we have discovered in the last century are more fantastical than any miracle.

Quantum physics suggests that matter is made of particles and waves (wave particle duality), that a cat can be dead and alive at the same time until we look (Schroedinger’s cat thought experiment), that distant particles of matter can influence one another instantaneously (Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox or nonlocality). If you think interpretations of the Holy Trinity don’t make sense, you will find interpretations of quantum physics even more confusing.

Special and General relativity, Einstein’s signature contributions to physics, tell us that mass and energy are equivalent (E equals m c squared), intervals of time and space are different between different observers (special relativity), gravity is the result of space and time itself being curved (equivalence principle and geodesics), stars can be so dense that nothing, not even light can escape (black holes), the universe began as a single point of space and time that exploded everywhere, containing all the matter and energy that exists in the universe we see today (Big Bang cosmology). Compared to this, tales of miraculous healing, levitation and the like are small potatoes.

What distinguishes these, however, from the miraculous is the scientific method. We know these things, not because we heard about them from somebody and believed or even because we witnessed them with our own eyes, but because we not only have data from repeated, controlled experiments to prove these theories, but, if anyone doubts, they can simply go out and check for themselves. There is nothing stopping them from demanding evidence just as St. Thomas “doubting Thomas” the apostle demanded evidence for Christ’s resurrection (and got it along with some chastisement).

These days and the last 200 years or so however we have gotten it into our heads that these theories are part of the “natural” world and anything that doesn’t have the sense of obeying a repeatable physical, mathematical law is “supernatural”.

Yet, the term supernatural is a misnomer for if miracles do occur they are part of the natural order of things, just a higher order than purely physical. Hence I prefer the term superphysical, that is, separate from the physical world but intersecting and influencing it.

While it is commonly believed that miracles are never subjected to the scientific method, this is far from the true. They can and have been subjected to laboratory tests. For example, an 8th century Eucharistic miracle, in which a doubting priest, upon saying mass, found the bread and wine turned into flesh and blood was studied in the 1970s and the flesh found to contain human cardiac tissue type AB and the blood was ordinary human blood. There was no trace of preservatives.

While natural explanations abound because the miracle is an historical and not a repeatable event, all we have to go on are the results of tests that can be performed now.

The miraculous explanation was certainly a falsifiable hypothesis meeting the criteria as a scientific theory. If the relics were not human tissue, then perhaps the issue of a miracle would be resolved. Because they are, the scientific method has shrugged its shoulders, and it is up to philosophy to decide what the reality is unless more evidence can be obtained.

That a superphysical explanation of any phenomenon is even admissible in the court of science may seem like a step into the Dark Ages but there are philosophical arguments in favor of not rejecting them out of hand.

I plan to answer a few objections to the idea of superphysical phenomena in the following: these are arguments from common sense, multiplicity of explanations, history, and psychology.

Common Sense

The first objection comes from one who wants to believe that everything has a rational, sensible explanation. It seems as though our experience with the world and the fact that events generally have physical explanations should lend weight to miracles also having a physical explanation. These are the same people who like science documentaries that give sensible explanations for events in the Bible.

A counter-objection to this argument comes from Russell’s own statement. We must base acceptance or doubt on probabilities. What is the more likely explanation for the results? It turns out that common sense is based on an illusion of confidence.

Perhaps it is that a charlatan somehow obtained human flesh and blood and presented them as having transformed from the Eucharist. Certainly charlatans abound. Yet it is fallacious to say that this is more likely than a miracle having occurred. This is the Black Swan flaw in arguments for the non-existence of things. If you have never seen a black swan, it doesn’t prove that one doesn’t exist. It doesn’t even make it less likely. We could say a charlatan is the likely culprit if there were some evidence pointing in that direction, but that evidence does not exist. That is why James Randi disproved charlatans not by scoffing at their unscientific explanations, but actually using the scientific method to disprove their claims. The evidence is key to tipping the balance of probability.

Thus, we cannot use probability to discount the superphysical explanation without falling into a logical fallacy.

Multiplicity of Superphysical Explanations

Yet, Russell’s objection comes back to haunt us if we start down the road of believing in this and other similar miracles as true. If we believe that bread and wine can transform into flesh and blood, what is to stop us from believing in anything? It is a slippery slope argument.

This objection is that once we open the door to theories beyond the physical, we are outside the realm of science and can make up anything we want.

After all, the superphysical explanation that the church accepts is that God or Christ of the Bible transformed the Eucharist as a miraculous sign. Yet, Russell would object and say, how do you know it wasn’t Zeus or the spirits of your ancestors or any multiplicity of other superphysical explanations? Your superphysical explanation, having no evidence for it, is no better than mine, surely.

The flaw in Russell’s argument comes from science itself which has the exact same problem with its physical hypotheses. Science relies on Ockham’s razor to distinguish good explanations from bad ones. Ockham’s razor is not a tested scientific fact but a philosophical position that the simplest explanation is best. When many different theories can explain the same phenomenon, Ockham’s razor can help sort out what the best explanation is given a lack of additional data.

For example, in providing physical explanations for a miracle, you could say that rather than a charlatan it could be pure accident that some human flesh was somehow substituted for the Eucharist. While this is within the realm of physical possibility, how human flesh got from point A to point B without some intentional action seems far fetched to the point of being humorous. Ockham’s razor is telling us that other physical explanations are poor ones despite the lack of data against them.

Ockham’s razor can be applied to superphysical as well as physical explanations for events when a lack of additional evidence exists. Indeed, you can come up with as many fantastical physical arguments as you can superphysical ones for any phenomenon. You don’t really need to make a distinction between the two kinds here. And the only thing that stands between you and an explosion of explanations is Ockham’s razor.

Thus, since the context of this miracle is the Lord’s Supper, Ockham’s razor suggests that if you are going to propose a superphysical origin for the miracle, without additional data, a Christian one is the simplest one that raises the fewest questions.

This is not to dismiss Russell’s (or Lewis’s) position that it is appropriate scientifically to doubt any and all explanations in these cases. But to say that the physical explanation is preferred is a philosophical, not a scientific, position. It effectively means that you prefer a naturalist, materialist, or physicalist philosophy that excludes anything outside the physical from the get-go.

Somebody who holds such a philosophy would interpret anything miraculous, no matter how improbable, as an illusion, even something as all encompassing as the apocalypse.

Those who believe that there must exist things beyond the material (even abstract things like truth, beauty, right, and wrong) must also admit at least the possibility of the superphysical since they have already admitted to an extra-physical reality.

History

Another common objection to the superphysical comes from our beliefs about history. This was a favorite of Carl Sagan. We can feel good that we don’t need to worry about appeasing gods like people in ages past did. In the modern world we have science to explain phenomena, but ancient people did not have science so they turned to the superphysical to explain anything they could not explain otherwise. We know, for example, that a person experiences mental illness when in the past people may have said the person was possessed by demons.

Ancient Jewish and Christian faith communities saw miracles as part of a larger narrative of God overcoming evil and not at all separate from the natural world. In the middle ages, however, pagan superstition invaded the Christian church and a rise in all kinds of miraculous sightings occurred, not all of Christian origin. These were all seen as part of the natural order of things but largely deviated from the purpose of the miracles of the Biblical Christ.

The idea of a miracle as being a violation of natural law is a product of the 18th c. enlightenment. This was also the point where a miracle’s factual validity eclipsed its theological meaning in importance. To the early Christians, the point of the miracles described in the Bible was not that they broke the “laws of nature” for they had no conception of the laws of nature. Rather, they were signs of God’s power over nature, including life and death, a fact that most theists today would readily acknowledge. Miracles were in this sense mere demonstrations of a power that, as expressed in the book of Job, the Almighty continually exercises.

Of course, people in ancient times had a good understanding of what was common and what was uncommon. That is why they had a concept of miracles at all. A baby seeing a miracle would not see it as miraculous because they would have no context of how the world normally works to recognize it as one.

Nevertheless, it is true that the ancient worldview included miracles and superphysical events while ours largely does not. Having replaced the superphysical with physical explanations, we do not need to attribute anything to the superphysical, so the argument goes.

The problem with this argument is twofold: (1) just because a person is predisposed to claim something is beyond the physical does not mean they did not witness something superphysical and likewise just because a person is predisposed to claim something is material does not mean they did not witness something superphysical as well. (2) Our ability to explain most phenomena as physical does not mean we can explain all phenomena as physical (this is from our objection based on common sense above). After all, miracles are supposed to be exceptions and hence must be very rare.

Psychology

Another objection to believing in miracles comes from psychology. Of course, many miracles, if experienced by only one person, can be attributed to hallucinations, but I am talking about people with more ordinary psychological experience.

A Baylor study showed that people whose lives are uncertain and unstable are more likely to report miracles. This went mostly across educational and income level lines although people in abject poverty were, of course, more likely to have unstable lives and report miracles.

Thus, the psychological objection is that seeing or believing in miracles is a psychological coping mechanism, a way for people to bring stability to their lives by a superphysical helping hand.

I find this argument pretty weak. One could just as easily argue that these are the people who need miracles more than anyone. Thus, if some being wanted to help people in need, surely they would help those suffering the most.

Studying Miracles

Many scientists see a need to study miracles and understand what they are and why they happen. This is something that I think religions should embrace. If science is done honestly, they have a lot to gain in terms of scientific evidence to support their claims and, if science disproves a miracle, it was never a miracle in the first place. Some miracles are easier to study than others of course. Single historical events can only be studied so much. Claims of on going miracles exist, however. Marthe Robin, for example, was bedridden for her adult life and witnesses claimed she only ate communion bread. Such a miracle has the advantage that it can be observed for a long time.

At the end of the day, we cannot say that miracles never happen. Probably most miracles that have been claimed are false, but only one miracle needs to have happened for us to say that miracles do happen. To find that to be the case through the scientific method would be itself miraculous.

Tim Andersen, Ph.D.

Research in general relativity and quantum field theory. Principal Research Scientist at Georgia Tech. Book The Infinite Universe (2020) on Amazon.

The Infinite Universe

The Infinite Universe

Dedicated to exploring the philosophy and science of time, space, and matter.

Internal Family Systems applied to the U.S. of A.

“The United States carries a variety of legacy burdens, some brought by early Europeans and some gathered as the country developed. We believe that the following legacy burdens are linked and have been particularly instrument in shaping the nature of exiling in this country.

Racism: Used to justify the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, who were abducted from their homes.

Patriarchy: Sprang from European and eligious roots.

Individualism: Produced by the survival struggles of pioneers, individualism fosters contempt for vulnerability and a belief that failure is a personal fault.

Materialism: Produced in part by the economic and physical hardships suffered by immigrants to the American continent, it is no doubt made worse by the routine, threatening cycles of financial boom and bust that typify capitalist economies.

(from Internal Family Systems Therapy, 2nd ed., by Richard C. Schwartz and Martha Sweezy)

A Fearless Embrace of the Truth: Transcending the Distortions of Ego & Bias

Craig Hamilton Find more inspiring videos, audios, and articles at https://craighamiltonglobal.com Truth is a controversial word these days. Some others are convinced that their truth is the only truth, while others think it’s all relative. With the distortions of bias and ego, it’s extremely difficult to find objectivity as we navigate our lives. In this talk, Craig explores the cultural, philosophical, and spiritual roots of our relationship to truth, and offers practical wisdom about how to find clarity in a relative world.

Tarot card for September 27: The hierophant

The Hierophant

The Hierophant (or Pope, High Priest) is numbered five and is concerned with matters of faith, religion, belief and morality. This is the wise teacher, full of esoteric and occult knowledge. He can help us to understand the mysteries around and within us.

The Hierophant is a holy man, but is in essence both male and female. He has a healthy connection with life and living – someone who has experienced life in full and now has the experience and wisdom needed in order to teach others.

He is usually seen holding his index and middle finger extended, as though pointing at something. This symbolism is important, because the human Will is considered to be directed by these two fingers. The Hierophant is an archetype which represents the culmination of human development.

His abilities reside like seeds within every one of us. We all have the ability to travel where he has already explored. He holds the keys to transformation.

The Hierophant

(via angelpaths.com and Alan Blackman)