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She Who Cannot Be Shamed, Tamed or Contained


A 95-page, full color collection of art, essays, questions and practices to liberate our spiritual imaginations. On this global pilgrimage, you will encounter ten ancient images (reimagined by one of Christena’s favorite modern artists) of the Black female Divine ranging from She Who Clears Our Path to She Who Declares that You are Enough to She Who is Unapologetically Black — and beyond! Come along on this expansive journey towards She who cannot be tamed, shamed or contained by any religion, country or people.


From the Introduction:

In the span of one tempestuous January afternoon, I transfigured. In order to retrieve a delivery of books on the Black Madonna, I had just braved the windy inferno that lay between my porch and the cavernous mailbox at the end of my driveway. Before studying the texts, I decided to casually flip through the books and peruse the illustrations of the Great Black Mother within. And that’s when the shift began. Before I even read anything, my soul immediately recognized that these photos and drawings of the ancient Black Madonnas affirmed my questions about the Divine — questions that first surfaced when I was a young girl and were quickly buried.

In Sunday School, I learned that questioning the goodness of a God who murdered the entire world in a flood would not be tolerated. At home, I learned that asking why Dad was the head of everyone, including Mom, was a punishable offense. In my Christian fellowship at college, I learned that wondering why we call God He and why He had to be white would be met with suspicion and social exclusion. So, I placed my questions in a time capsule and buried them deep under the soil of my soul, promising to return to them when it felt safe.

My reluctant excavations invariably led me to more progressive beliefs. I spoke out — I advocated for women, for people of color, for unmarried people, for myself. But as the time passed, I never felt fully free. And I never asked the deeper questions:

Why does white patriarchy get the last word on the Divine?

Why does white patriarchy get to decide what is sacred and what is profane?

Why does white patriarchy get to create God in its own image?

No, these questions stayed trapped in my time capsule. But the thousand-year-old Black Madonnas depicted in the books in front of me liberated my questions with the force of a cork popping off a thousand-year-old bottle of champagne. They burst forth so forcefully, so viscerally, so permanently that I would have been frightened had I not been unexpectedly certain that these questions would not stimulate destabilizing ambiguity. I knew they would stimulate empowering freedom.

We must all dig deep into our souls to liberate the questions that have been locked away in our own time capsules. We must traverse the globe to unearth the Black divine feminine that has been violently gentrified by white patriarchy. We must encounter She Who Is Unapologetically Black. I’m so glad you’re joining me on this international journey!

This deepening resource, which includes recommended reflection questions and interfaith spiritual practices, is a wonderful tool for personal and/or community exploration. So don’t forget to purchase copies for your friends!

About the Author

Christena Cleveland Ph.D. is a social psychologist, public theologian, author, and activist. She is the founder and director of the recently-launched Center for Justice + Renewal, a non-profit dedicated to helping justice advocates sharpen their understanding of the social realities that maintain injustice while also stimulating the soul’s enormous capacity to resist and transform those realities. Committed to leading both in scholarly settings and in the public square, Christena writes regularly, speaks widely, and consults with organizations.

Dr. Cleveland holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara as well as an honorary doctorate from the Virginia Theological Seminary. She integrates psychology, theology, and art to stimulate our spiritual imaginations. An award-winning researcher and author, Christena has held faculty positions at several institutions of higher education — most recently at Duke University’s Divinity School, where she led a research team investigating self-compassion as a buffer to racial stress. She is currently working on her third book which examines the relationship among race, gender, and cultural perceptions of the Divine. Dr. Cleveland is based in North Carolina where she lives with her spouse, Jim.

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