The Future Has an Ancient Heart: Legacy of caring, sharing, healing, and vision from the primordial African Mediterranean to occupy everywhere (iUniverse 2103) by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum.
A book review by Mary Saracino
The preface to the 2013 revised edition of Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum’s ground-breaking work, The Future Has an Ancient Heart is, by itself, worth the price of the book, as it offers a treasure trove of insights and an encapsulation of Birnbaum’s visionary work. But, I urge you to read this extraordinary work from cover to cover.
After the passing of her spouse/life-partner, Wally Birnbaum in September 2012, Lucia began to reflect upon the many ways that her body of work was and has always been imbued with Wally’s presence and essence. In doing so, she was inspired to add several chapters to this latest edition of The Future Has an Ancient Heart to acknowledge Wally’s contributions as logistician for her research and study tours, a formatter and photographer for all of her books, and a critical thinker and insight-sharer as a “peaceful nuclear physicist” who supported her work as a feminist cultural historian throughout their long and happy egalitarian marriage.
The Future Has an Ancient Heart is a banquet of savory and sweet delights that nourishes the mind, the soul, and the spirit. It provides readers with a summary of the profound and leading-edge body of work that Lucia has produced over the course of her long and illustrious career as a feminist cultural historian and a professor in the graduate program in women’s spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, CA.
But, those details fail to reveal the oracular nature of the text contained within the pages of this sumptuous book. Ultimately, what Lucia serves up in this remarkable volume is nothing short of an astute, unflinching, and unvarnished political analysis of the classism, racism, capitalism, sexism white male elite paradigm that her work seeks to expose, and eradicate. Hers is a clarion call for humanity to wake up and remember its origins (its ancient heart) before it’s too late.
Her work is grounded in the multi-disciplinary theory of the African origins of humankind that is rooted in archeological, genetic, and cultural evidence, which points to the emergence of our species, homo sapiens sapiens, in south and central Africa around 100,000 BCE. From Africa, humans migrated to all parts of the world, bringing with them their spiritual belief in a dark woman divinity as well as Her values of sharing, caring, healing, equality among all people, and transformation. (See Lucia’s other books: Dark Mother: African Origins and Godmothers and Black Madonnas: Feminism, Religion & Politics in Italy).
In a world fraught with violence and oppression, with hostilities and wars raging across the globe, Lucia’s vision of a different way is as timely as it is crucial.
In The Future Has an Ancient Heart writes: “For me, the findings of geneticists offer considerable evidence that a persistent, nonwestern tradition originating in Africa has given the contemporary world values that existed before, and extend beyond, conventionally written history. These values have crucial, hopeful relevance today for a world that faces spiritual and actual extinction. Or transformation” (p.76).
She cautions that unless humans bring to consciousness that which we have submerged or held within, we might very well destroy ourselves and our planet.
“Along with others, I have noted that people are not born naturally violent. Violence is usually ignited by elites who sustain dominant hegemonies by manipulating fear, particularly in periods of war, scarcity, and cultural crisis” (p. 227).
She notes that “Our human species began in a cosmology of a harmonious universe, a world view in which we were one with the caring mother of everyone [our original African dark mother divinity]. Patriarchal cultures, at least since the fifth century BCE, have oppressed human beings with slavery, persecution, wars, inequality, and injustice. Yet her memory has persisted, deeply submerged and for the most part unconscious, that once the world was a place of harmony before it became a wasteland of killing, exploitation, and perpetual war that not only murders, but stomps out the deepest hopes and dreams of subaltern dark others and everyone else” (p. 191).
She offers an antidote to despair when she writes: “Genetic confirmation, and acknowledgment in many disciplines that we are all African in origin and ‘one family’ on one planet, offer the hope that all the earth’s inhabitants will express their love for the earth by stopping the killing engendered by predator capitalists” (p. 201).
As a scholar, she aims to also shed light on many different ways of knowing, not just those gleaned from scientific and objective discernment of facts and figures, but also the many portals that artists, writers, and visionaries have privy to… the embodied ways of knowing that spiral through our DNA, carrying forth our spiritual and cultural memory from one generation to the next.
She generously relates the personal story of how she came to hold the beliefs she now holds (and that she notes are continually evolving) by sharing stories about her Sicilian American heritage, her scholarly and personal interests in first the Black Madonna, then eventually in the Dark Mother, and the many and varied people, places, and experiences—from international conferences and symposiums to her students and colleagues at CIIS—that have inspired and inspirited her, transforming her along the way as she walks her talk and embodies the values of sharing and caring.
She notes that there are as many ways to carry those values forward as there are people on the planet. She mentions that her cousin Kathy, a musician, carries her values into her singing while Lucia carries hers through her teaching and her writing (p. 206).
Throughout the book, Lucia delves into the “long endurance of submerged beliefs” (p. 153) that quite possibly will save humankind from destroying itself and the planet. She helps us remember that the future does have an ancient heart, that there is precedence for a reality not based on a patriarchal worldview.
“Resistance, revolution, and contemporary nonviolent revolution first emerged among submerged classes, notably peasant and artisan women, who continued to hold the memory of equality, or justice. Their resistance to the oppression of dominant classes was manifest in an alternative story underneath dominant history” (p. 190).
Transforming the world requires tapping into what she refers to as “maternal energies”, the energies transmitted in the DNA of our mothers; the energies of sharing, caring, healing and envisioning/remembering a better world, that can be found in most women and men across the globe.
She writes: “All beliefs are relative to time and place and other variables….the scientific theory of relativity reminds the observer that knowing is always conditioned by the datum that both the subject and the object are moving…Humans and their environments are constantly changing, a fact historians need to keep in mind when trying to tell a truthful story. Stories are never static; their meanings are conditioned by who is telling the story, who listens to the story, and the climatic, political, cultural, and personal contexts of the story being told, nothing is fixed for all time, there is always possibility…” (p. 217)
Indeed, The Future Has An Ancient Heart is a manifesto of sorts, a wake-up call, a road map of the possibilities, a way in which we can begin to remember what has been forgotten, reclaim what has been lost, transform the human heart and, in doing so, occupy everywhere!
To order a copy of The Future Has An Ancient Heart visit:http://www.amazon.com/Future-has-Ancient-Heart-Mediterranean-ebook/dp/B00954PZX4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1404162373&sr=8-1&keywords=the+future+a+an+ancient+heart
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