"Who Are You & Who Are You Becoming?"
A question, a lifestyle
“Vocation is a gradual revelation—of me to myself by God…. It is who we are, trying to happen.”
—Evelyn & James Whitehead1
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Who are you and who are you becoming?
Change is going to happen.
Change is inevitable.
Octavia Butler, in Parable of the Sower, tells us “The only lasting truth is change, God is change.” So how do we hold that? And hold on to (some sense of) ourselves?
“Who are you and who are you becoming?” is the first question I ask the guests on “Dear Soft Black Woman.”
This season I am asking myself that question a lot.
I know for a fact who I am not willing to be or who I hope not to become.
I started asking this question before I read this chapter by Nancy Lynne Westfield on an Epistemology of Hope in Deeper Shades of Purple. In that chapter, Westfield writes,
"A Black woman who would have the audacity to define anything, but most especially her own thinking, is a Black woman deeply in touch with the necessity of resistance and hope."
From this I draw out the affirmation: We have the power to define and redefine ourselves.
And this can be a major tool in helping us chart paths of expansion denied to our enslaved ancestors.
Devocations and Defiances
Westfield explains how Alice Walker’s definition of womanism is a testament to epistemic hope. Written like a Webster’s dictionary entry is a stylistic choice to establish a world where Black women’s wisdom is honored.
I recently stumbled upon the word “devocation'“ (not devotion, read that again). De-vocation.
If a vocation is a call to/an affirmation of your belovedness that meets you in the world and calls you into a way of being then a devocation is a call away, a confusion of the truth of your belovedness.
When I think about this, in contrast to what Westfield shares, I find power in Lucille Clifton’s recognition of a devocation she encountered in school, and in her journey as a poet:
In an interview response to a question about knowing herself as a poet, she says,
“I more knew who I wasn’t. I say now that when I was young I learned that when people said the word “ni**er” that they were talking about me. And they were wrong. And so it led me to question everything. Teachers say that they want you to question, but trust me, not really...”2
"i'm not done yet" as possible as yeast as imminent as bread a collection of safe habits a collection of cares less certain than i seem more certain than i was a changed changer i continue to continue where i have been most of my lives is where i’m going —Lucille Clifton
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“i’m not done yet”
This Lucille Clifton poem, “i’m not done yet,” continually reminds me of the beautiful interlocking truths of change, agency, and belovedness in a world of uncertainty, lack, and devocations.
But it also holds so much mystery for me. In another poem, she writes, “today we are possible.”:
birth-day today we are possible. the morning, green and laundry-sweet, opens itself and we enter blind and mewling. everything waits for us: the snow kingdom sparkling and silent in its glacial cap, the cane fields shining and sweet in the sun-drenched south. as the day arrives with all its clumsy blessings what we will become waits in us like an ache. —Lucille Clifton
Today we are possible…tomorrow though?
Do you see now why I write affirmations? Why affirmations are so important to me?
Paulo Freire says the ontological vocation of humanity is to be more human.3 We are called into being more (which sounds a lot better in Portuguese).
I am often asked questions about my future plans and I am not opposed to answering these questions—but sometimes I need to live for the possibility of today. Heavy on my shoulders is the weight of tomorrow (and didn’t Jesus say “tomorrow will worry about itself”?).
In this, I still hold: We have the power to define and redefine ourselves.
It may be in the face of things that can or cannot change, but we cannot deny the fact that we will. Whether or not we want to. But the comfort in this affirmation is we get to be involved in our becoming.
We have the power to define and redefine ourselves. Devocations be damned.
What are the things that call you away from your vocation? Is it a stereotype, a lie, a story you’ve been told about yourself, the memory of a failure, a social/political barrier, or___?
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