Today I was thinking about Sankofa. It's a symbol that's very important to me, and if you've read Zora and Nicky, you'll know it was featured as a key to Nicky's healing, as well as to Zora's finding her identity.
Writer, heal thyself! I'm realizing in a very personal way how so much of our healing requires us to explore within, including examining our pasts, and the deepest secrets hidden in our souls. I wrote about this a bit in God Alone is Enough.
“We can say beginners in prayer are those who draw water from the well. As I said, this is a lot of work on their part. They must wear themselves out trying to recollect their senses. Since they’re so used to being distracted, it takes a lot of effort. They need to get used to not caring about what they see and hear while they’re spending time in prayer. Instead, in solitude they should reflect on their past. Everyone needs to do this, often. But the extent to which each person must do it varies. In the beginning, this kind of reflection is painful.”
Were you expecting her to say that? I wasn’t. Not everyone enjoys looking back, especially at aspects of life that are painful. “What good will dredging up all that stuff do?” you may ask.
Teresa felt so strongly about self-knowledge that she insisted we never abandon it. “On this journey there are no giant souls without a need to return often to the stage of a suckling infant.” Self-knowledge nourishes the soul. If you’re still not convinced, she states it even more explicitly: “Along this path, self-knowledge and the thought of one’s sins is the bread all palates must be fed with, no matter how delicate they are. They cannot be sustained without this bread.
I have no problem partaking of the bread of life, but the bread of knowledge of , including my sinfulness, does not sound like a tasty morsel I’d want to consume on a regular basis. Obviously Teresa is not expecting us to choke on examinations of our lives, but she does find it important enough to emphasize.
The wisdom of this teaching can be found in other places as well. One of the languages of the Akan culture of Ghana is made entirely of symbols, called Adinkra symbols. My favorite, Sankofa, is pictured below.
The Sankofa symbol is most traditionally illustrated as a bird standing with feet forward and neck twisted around behind. In the bird’s beak is an egg, representing the essence of its culture. In the Akan alphabet, Sankofa stands as a symbol harking us to “go back and fetch it.” The broader understanding of this symbol is that it is our duty in life to stop in our tracks, turn, and look back at our lives and history; claim the essence of who we are based on that history; and then turn and walk with grace, strength, and power into the present and the future.
Right now I'm stopping in my tracks and trying to just be quiet. I can't even begin to look within and at my past (that box of grief!) until I get quiet before the Lord. I just want to pray. I can't do this journey without being saturated in prayer.
This weekend I am finally finishing the Exorsistah 3, and boy am I relieved. But before, during, and after the hard work of writing a novel, I will be taking brief repasts to be quiet.
mair -francis, who is looking back at the past (the portrait below, circa 1996), and seeing she was not bad lookin' at all!