Saint Moses the Black by Yani Burgos

At the 2018 Mystic Soul Conference in Chicago, I was introduced to Moses the Black.

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When I first saw the 6 or 7 foot portrait of this stunning being, I wondered why the leadership of the Mystic Soul Project chose him as one of the conference’s saints. I recognized names like Dolores Huerta and Sylvia Rivera, but had no idea who this man was. In general, iconography has never really interested me - and yet this man’s eyes drew me in. Teresa Pasquale, Executive director and co-founder of the Mystic Soul Project, shared some details as to who this man was not long after I was left awe-stricken - Moses was a black servant of a government official who was ultimately dismissed for theft and suspected murder. A large guy, he became the leader of a gang of bandits spreading terror and violence. At one point, he sought refuge with a monastery while being pursued...and because of the community he found, joined them and became one of the original Desert Fathers and Mothers, who in the Christian tradition are held up as some of the foundational mystics.


Through my time with Life Together I have experienced the gift of contemplative practice - to learn to be still, to listen for the Spirit, to chant, and to pray in a way that has allowed me to encounter the Divine in ways I’ve never expected. And yes, I’ve heard from others what it has meant for them to commit to their prayer lives, yet I knew nothing of the foundation of these practices, nothing of the history of people of color who sought God out in ways few have ever committed to.


According to stories from Wikipedia (I clearly have some more research ahead of me), Moses’ example is one of hospitality, forgiveness, and nonviolence. I wonder what we, in this moment, can learn from our mystic forefathers, mothers, and elders who were on the journey to encounter Spirit where they were. And I wonder how those of us who have spent time with Life Together can further deepen our practice together, and experience transformation like Moses the Black. As Abba Isidore told Abba Moses, "Only slowly do the rays of the sun drive away the night and usher in a new day, and thus, only slowly does one become a perfect contemplative."