Fortress Press

Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church (Second Edition)

Joy Unspeakable

Contemplative Practices of the Black Church (Second Edition)

Barbara A. Holmes (Author)


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Joy Unspeakable focuses on the aspects of the Black church that point beyond particular congregational gatherings toward a mystical and communal spirituality not within the exclusive domain of any denomination. This mystical aspect of the black church is deeply implicated in the well-being of African American people but is not the focus of their intentional reflection. Moreover, its traditions are deeply ensconced within the historical memory of the wider society and can be found in Coltrane's riffs, Malcolm's exhortations, the social activism of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. The research in this book-through oral histories, church records, and written accounts--details not only ways in which contemplative experience is built into African American collective worship but also the legacy of African monasticism, a history of spiritual exemplars, and unique meditative worship practices. A groundbreaking work in its original edition, Joy Unspeakable now appears in a new, revised edition to address the effects of this contemplative tradition on activism and politics and to speak to a new generation of readers and scholars.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506421612
  • eBook ISBN 9781506421629
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 264
  • Publication Date October 15, 2017


Preface to the Second Edition

Original Preface

Introduction: An Unlikely Legacy

1. Contemplation: A Cultural and Spiritual History

2. Retrieving Lost Legacies: Contemplation in West Africa

3. Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep: The Inner Life During Slavery

4. Come Ye Disconsolate: Contemplation in Black Church Congregational Life

5. Joy Comes in the Morning: Contemplative Themes in African American Biblical Interpretation

6. Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Contemplation, Activism, and Praxis

7. Black Lives Matter and the Black Church: Twenty-First-Century Contemplative Activism

8. Deep Rivers: The Contemplative Leadership of President Barack Hussein. Obama

9. At the Crossroads: Art, Activism, and the Contemplative Life

10. Afterword: Toward a Future Together

Suggested Reading



A valuable resource for both academic and community readers.

"Joy Unspeakable gives voice to a central but previously neglected aspect of Black religious experience. With this revised edition, Barbara Holmes brings the exploration forward, addressing the crucial issues of a 21st century landscape with insight and creativity. She traces the through-line of contemplative activism within and beyond the Black Church -- from the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade to the Black Lives Matter Movement -- highlighting the role of the arts in the struggle for liberation from the Spirituals to Coltrane to Beyoncé. Holmes expands our understanding of contemplative practice, providing a valuable resource for both academic and community readers."

Liza J. Rankow | Founder, OneLife Institute for Spirituality & Social Transformation, Oakland, CA