Dwight sits down with Rev. Rhetta Morgan to discuss the power and purpose of heartbreak, the magic of sitting with grief, and the connection between healing self/others/world. What does it mean to heal and hope in the midst of the unspeakable? “I want to invite people to go in the direction of the illogical,” Rev. Rhetta says. “It is illogical to be hopeful when everything around you is falling apart. I want you to do it anyway. I want you to go in that direction of the transcendent.” This conversation digs into the complexity, beauty, pain, and alchemy of radical hope and its power in the chaos and crises of our current moment.
Reverend Rhetta Morgan is a singing healer, spiritual activist, and interfaith minister who has been gathering tools for healing and inspiration for over 40 years. She is a valued teacher at Pendle Hill, offering workshops and lectures on topics including faithfulness and action, grief and healing, and nonviolent action. Through her gifts of prayer, poetry, facilitation, and sermonizing she cultivates hope and nurtures connection in her community as a pathway back to belonging and wholeness.
You can learn more about Rev. Rhetta’s work on her website, https://reverendrhetta.com/
Listen to Rev. Rhetta’s First Monday Lecture, "Into the Night: Holiness of Darkness," here.
Find the transcript for this episode here.
Follow us @pendlehillseed on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and subscribe to The Seed wherever you get your podcasts to get episodes in your library as they're released.
Pendle Hill is a Quaker center, open to all, for Spirit-led learning, retreat, and community. We’re located in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, on the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape people. To learn more, visit pendlehill.org.
This project is made possible by the generous support of the Thomas H. & Mary Williams Shoemaker Fund.
["I Rise" plays]
Rev. Rhetta 0:09
When I say I'm healing me, I'm really seeing that as all. Every inch of healing that I'm able to do affects and impacts all of us.
Welcome, everyone, to The Seed: Conversations for Radical Hope, a Pendle Hill podcast where Quakers and other seekers come together to explore visions of the world that is growing up through the cracks of our broken systems. I'm your host, Dwight Dunston.
Today, it is my honor to welcome Reverend Rhetta Morgan to our conversation. Reverend Rhetta is a singer-healer, spiritual activist, and interfaith minister who has been gathering tools for healing and inspiration for over 40 years. She is a valued teacher at Pendle Hill, offering workshops and lectures on topics including faithfulness and action, grief and healing and nonviolent action. Through her gifts of prayer, poetry, facilitation, and sermonizing, she cultivates hope and nurtures connection and her community as a pathway back to belonging and wholeness.
Rev. Rhetta 1:23
So great to be here with you on the podcast. In our inaugural season, our first season, even before we knew exactly what it was going to land on, I was like, "I got to talk to this woman, who was a dear friend loved one." Yeah, just so honored to have you here today. How we often like to start the podcast with our guests, is just by asking them what it's like to be them today. So, Reverend Retta, what's it like being Reverend Retta today?
Rev. Rhetta 1:56
Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me. It's an honor to be here. It's very exciting amidst these very complex times to participate in the birthing of things that are contradictory to a lot of things that are going on. So thank you for inviting me. I would be inclined to say it's extraordinary to be Reverend Rhetta.
[Dwight and Rev. Rhetta laugh]
And I'll tell you why. Because I'll be 65 in September, and I feel like my life has gone through a number of cycles, big and small. And one of the wonderful things about getting older is you see in bigger cycles, because you've had more decades and more time. The other thing is there are things that I started off wanting to heal in my teens and 20s that I can now look back on over a really long arc of time and see maybe not exactly where things changed, or how it's shaped, but just see this arc of movement and shift.
And so it is extraordinary, I would say, and especially the work that is my passion, my ministry, my work, my activism has been to heal myself. That's what has been about, that simple. And on that journey, who can I share that with? So yeah, the particularity of healing through trauma, facing things like oppression and the way our capitalist society can beat down on us, right? To wrestle with that, to be in deep self reflection and prayer, to be in community around those kinds of things. And so at this stage, this age, in the pandemic, there are tools that I feel like I've been practicing forever that make this a particular challenge. But not...it's like, you know, if you grow up oppressed, this is just life as it is. For some people, it's a big world event! That's kind of the way life is, right?
Rev. Rhetta 4:08
So I feel like I have tools and have been navigating really intense and challenging circumstances since forever. So being able to see how my healing has unfolded helps me be very hopeful.
I also have, I think, an incredible access to my own grief. And I don't feel afraid of it. So yeah, there's all of that and then I'm very, very silly on the other side, right. And so, yeah, there's a lot of things that I think make it pretty, pretty cool to be me. Now, you asked to the people they might have...
...they might say--what they're gonna say? So point me in their direction. They say anything else, I'm gonna have some words for them. Well, thank you for that. I want to talk with you more about specifically about the grief work. But you said that your ministry and your activism is for your own healing. I wanted to slow that part down. Because I think a lot of people, at least in the way I grew up, ministry and activism was something you did in the outside world to heal the outside world, to change the outside world. But you're saying that it's actually inward facing, or it's for an inward transformation. And I know what you do in the world--I know that it changes the world, but you're saying, "My intention is for my ministry, my activism to help me, to change me, to heal me." Just, I'm curious how you came to that framework.
Rev. Rhetta 5:35
Thank you for that question. So, my ministry is based on a sort of interfaith, inner spiritual principles that follow the major themes of spiritual wisdom throughout time in all cultures, right. And one of those things that I think run through most traditions is oneness, right. So when I say, "I'm healing me", I'm really seeing that as [healing] all. Every inch of healing that I'm able to do affects [and] impacts all of us. Sometimes we feel isolated, like, we're the only one and there's no one else. But the fact is, we are all on this planet together. We are, in fact, one ecosystem. We are one garden with many blooms, right, you can use all kinds of analogies. And so, thinking in that way, when I think of "I heal myself," I use the platform of my particular experiences, my identity, and the relationship to those experiences to try and shift where there's tension or constriction. Alchemy is a word that comes up a lot for me these days, right? That kind of wrestling back and forth. And it feels almost magical in the ways that something that was really challenging can open up, can stretch. You can get new insights if we dare to sit in the places that are hard. We can access wisdom, you know, we can learn about who we are in ways that help us grow compassion, for instance, for ourselves, and the things where we struggle. And they're not automatically healed up--like, there's some things that I may not heal in this lifetime, to tell you the truth, right. And so the lesson becomes about having compassion for that and walking with it.
So all of those kinds of things are part of the journey. And as I learned those for myself, they can only have impact on who I am out in the world, right? If I heal, for instance, part of the sense of violence that I grew up in or experienced, if I heal my relationship to that, then I can transmute standing in--you know, like the eye of the storm thing--standing in violence and keep my own groundedness and centeredness and peace. If I can bring that into a meeting, or an action, or our thinking about how we want to change the world, if I bring that centered groundedness with me, that's going to impact what questions I ask, how I listen, where I'm listening from. I have always believed that that will impact even the kinds of aha moments or revelations that come up that become innovative ways of thinking about how we design campaigns and those kinds of things. Right. So the more intimate the work I do, has the possibility and potential of actually influencing all that I give out in the world.
Yeah, I hear that the self healing in connection to the whole. I loved how you said, right, if I'm able to heal this part of myself in this specific kind of way, when I show up in space, or in relationship and community the kinds of questions, or thinking, or, yeah, creativity that I can bring into that space has the potential to look differently than if I had still been grappling with something or holding on to something or having something not healed, not moved, not shifted. You mentioned, and I think this might be a good time, because our listeners might be curious about your work and what you do in the world. And we ask people what's something that's changed you or expanded the way you see the world and your work within the world. And yeah, you sent us this song called "We Will Go On," so I want to play that, and then we'll debrief about it, and just hear some reflections.
Rev. Rhetta 9:31
We will go on in your name, in your name.
We will go on in your name.
We will bless you and your loved ones
As we carry this unspeakable.
We will go on in your name.
We’ll be more love in your name, in your name.
We’ll be more love in your name.
We will bless you and your loved ones
As we carry this unspeakable.
We’ll be more love in your name.
We’ll sing a new song in your name, your name.
We’ll sing a new song in your name.
We will bless you and your loved ones
As we carry this unspeakable.
We’ll sing a new song in your name.
Thank you for that song, Rhetta. It feels more than a song, that gift. Thank you for that gift. And yeah, I would love to just hear the source that that song came from, what it felt like to put those words together, put the melody together, put the message together. Yeah, how that song, you felt like transformed you and expanded how you see the world and your work within it.
Rev. Rhetta 11:49
Thank you for that question. Yeah, so I was co-facilitating a grief circle last Friday. And, so heavy. [It] was a small group and a Zoom call. But I felt in the space where I was as if I was holding, you know, like 1000 pounds. The group had that kind of feel about it. And, you know, there was some sitting in silence, people would speak and the words--which is often the case for me--they arise out of this combination/intersection of feeling, hearing, intuiting, right. There isn't real language, but I like to sort of lean into a poetic kind of feel, as if there's this field of creativity, and I tap into something and sort of get out the piece that's meant for me to share in the world. So it feels almost like taking dictation. You know, like something's happening, imprints a particular kind of way. And I just write down what I fear, hear, into it. So it's already there. You know, songwriting is a skill. If I'm working on crafting a song, I'm sitting there working with words, I play the notes over, and find what feels good. But when a song writes through me, I just write down what I hear. It's there, right? So this literally was between one person speaking and another person speaking. I heard this, and I wrote it down. And that person spoke, I say, "Well, I just got this song, let me sing it for you." There's something about personal experience in community. It is the combination of the energies present in that moment, where I humbly was the one that came through, but really, it came through the circle, it came through that moment, right. And that is expansive for me to remember. It's not me, right? My name is the author on the page, but there's something more--there's the matrix of the community. There is the eternal field of artistry that's always been and will always be that we drink from, right. There's the divine, there is the earth and how I am in relationship with that, the grounding, the sense that the notes come up from the ground, right. All of those things are active, I think. So it helps me remember to be humble. Even in the middle of holding this heavy energy of grief. There's something amazingly--I want to say joy-filled. It's not like I'm going to be jumping up and down kind of joy, right? But there's something really nourishing and life-giving about the possibility of joy and healing in the midst of the unspeakable. Right. That's the theme of the song that we will come together, we will go on. Because sometimes in the unspeakable, it feels like we can't go on. And yet we will. Life does go on, and we will go on. And if we decide or sort of tap into that eternal well, and go on from there, we can actually find our rootedness, our joy, as we go on. Even with the unspeakable happening all around us.
Yeah. I just...Ase. There's not much to say beyond... you know, to try and parse out, because you just broke it down for us. I'm thinking about, you know, we're in this time, 2022 now. Two years ago, we were in the midst of it felt like the beginnings of a great transformation. And also, you know, just hearing you talk, maybe we had always been ebbing towards this moment where there would be this great reckoning, you know, as a species, really grappling with ways of relating to one another having to really wrestle with, "Are we interconnected or not?" Oh, here's this moment where it's very obvious that we are interconnected as a species. Lots of things, I think, got illuminated for us. And right in the midst of the beginning of the pandemic, and then the racial reckoning that we had in this country, you were involved in some specific things. You were supporting people on the grounds, doing deep work, deep activism work, deep culture work. Yeah, I'm just curious if you can tell us, the listeners, just a little bit about all of the different things you were doing in that time and the kinds of things that the people you were supporting, or in collaboration with, were grappling with, and just some of the learnings that you have from this deeply illuminating time. Like, if you were listening, I don't know how you got out of this time without being transformed, right? If you were connected, I think something in you move society was moving. So yeah, I just would love to hear about some of the other things you were up to. And then just what gave you the fortitude to just be in those spaces. You've been speaking to some of the ways that you ground, but specifically in that time.
Rev. Rhetta 17:15
Hmm. So, specific to the pandemic, I'd just moved from Philadelphia out to Doylestown: lots of land, lots of quiet, very different environment. And I keep thinking that that is incredible as an act of grace, I feel like that I was able to be in a space where I could form, build, cultivate a relationship to land, as a sort of the ground floor for a lot of my healing and the service or the kinds of work I did, so many things felt to be swirling and unsure, coming apart. So many different versions of truth, devastation of all the death, you know, that we had, right? So to be able to be in touch with land, as a salve as a kind of medicine, the simplicity of taking your shoes off, and just being there with it. Remembering that this is a living being that is able to transmute, that is able to heal, that holds us and has this amazing complexity of systems that help to nurture all of us, right. So, it's like a version of the Divine, actually, in form that I can touch. That was really one of the main sources that fortified me. And then relationships--you know, the friends, the communities that I was a part of--getting to share in the grief, the sadness, the rage, the frustration, and particularly the exhaustion. There's something about how many layers of things we were all grappling with and carrying. And that sense that things happen so fast, you couldn't recover! Like, my experience of life before--and I'm sure there are stages, you know, where that happens, like, you can have two or three hard things happen at once, you can't get your breath--well, we've had about 200 things happen without catching our breath! You know, so that quality of "it's a different playing field." Who are we going to be, you know, in this space? I think that's the thing that I noticed: that we all reacted, and there was a lot to react to. And because there wasn't a lot of pause in terms of being able to heal ourselves and recover, we didn't have much of a chance to metabolize what was going on and build a story around it that was empowering for us, right? So I think that contributed a lot to the extensive exhaustion. Nobody had the energy to think about a story, because we were so busy reacting. But the kinds of things that came to me were that the purpose of this continual heartbreak is to reform our hearts. Right? So the heartbreak literally is breaking us open. And I feel like I had the gift, or the grace, of being able to sit in the heartbreak, because this has been a practice of my own personal healing all along.
Carrying this idea that the heartbreak had purpose was, I think, comforting, and it sort of reoriented me to be with the heartbreak in a different way than I would have if I were just despairing that, you know, the world's going to hell in a handbasket--that old saying, right? I felt that we were in--and still feel--we are in the midst of this incredible transformation as a species. And there's so much that's possible. There's lots of tragedy, things that we aren't going to be able to recover from. That's the truth, the climate crisis, it's already here, the devastation is already happening. And I think often in a crisis situation, there are moments opportunities for quickening, where you can have this radical emergence of wisdom or insight is like a hotbed of possibility, both for the devastation and for the incredible insight of our vulnerability. It's also...can jolt us awake to how extraordinary we actually are. A lot of what's happening is this kind of sleepy time behavior, the reaction to not stepping into your full truth, the ways we tell lies all the time. Our culture is one where there's so many levels of dishonoring that have become the norm, dishonoring self, dishonoring certain identities, dishonouring the differences in our truths, like there's a lot of dishonouring, and a lot of things that take away our energy, our sense of power, of sovereignty. Like, you know, I think you and I have done work around this idea of accessing your superpower. But a superpower is actually really just our power that we are afraid of. Right? I don't think we really know who we are. And there's a sense that I experience: this breaking us down might break us open so that we are jolted into accessing who we are so we can face these times. The way you talk about--not as a time when everything is falling apart, and we should despair, because maybe we won't be here. But another way to look at that is maybe everything's falling apart so that we can be reformed in the kind of extraordinary beingness that has always been there. And we can access that in relationship with each other in community, we can reflect back from ourselves to the other, you know, how extraordinary we are, and walk in that, and live in that. You know, I believe that. I live in that sort of mythical story. It's really, really challenging to carry that out into the world. Right, right. Like, I hold that. And I live on land with what, three, four acres out there. So I can hold that out there on the land by myself.
That was going to be my question. I was gonna be like--for the common folk…
[Dwight and Rev. Rhetta laugh]
You know, because I'm like, our listeners are listening, and I'm changing. I'm being transformed by this conversation, because it's just getting me to think of--especially that, you know, that dishonoring; that piece hit me. The culture of lies: that hit me, and what has been normalized. And like if you were gonna give our listeners a nugget, or maybe it's a practice, or an exercise: because that jolt you talked about--we get really good at not paying attention to those jolts. I think we're actually socialized out of it. We want to jolt the listeners back, you know, or we want to root them back in that jolt to listen to. What would be a practice or exercise or takeaway that would support our listeners to really tune in. I think--I think you're asking us to tune in.
Rev. Rhetta 24:45
Yeah, great question. The thing that came to mind as you were talking is this: "wake up!" Right, and to say that. Like when you get up. Like, I have a practice where I have set my alarm on my phone to remind me hourly--I have an hourly reminder, and I shift what I need to be need to be reminded of fairly often. But you know, I'm sure there's a way to do it, I don't know how to do it. Like, I might have a recording so that the alarm was "Wake up!" with deep love, smacking-a-tush kind of 'get your ass up from here!' You know what it reminds me of? People like Harriet Tubman, right? And the folks running, the slaves are running, everybody's scared, they want to run back. There's this story about her pulling out a gun and said, you know, "You're gonna go forward or you're gonna die, but you're not going back." Right? Like, that's medicine, that working class in me? That's the medicine, right? Get up!
But a statement like that can have different meanings at different times, right? You know, we think of being asleep: you're kinda drowsy and kinda "ahhhh," and then the answers to questions [are] "I'm not sure..." or "I don't know..." "This is so terrible," right. But the energy of that Wake up! is about jolt. That's the jolt, right, that's pulling us from the drowsiness into a field where we do know, we might not know everything now. But we know what we know now. And we can be in the position nowaday of knowing. We can be in the field of unfolding wisdom. Like, we can choose to be that, even if we're fatigued from the many layers. I believe we're in the many layers because we're being transformed. So not to be distracted by how tired we are.
Rev. Rhetta 26:50
So remember: if we get up every day, and make it to the end of the day, we're doing something! We might be exhausted--and we do want to address that. I don't want to--I don't want to speak as if we want to just kind of ride past exhaustion. But what's interesting is: people are exhausted, they continue to be exhausted. And a lot of folks aren't sure how to address it. So we keep going in the exhaustion, until, unfortunately, people kind of fall out of life for a while, have to really stop and you know, that's a pathway, right? But yeah, we can wake ourselves up. So that is, that is a thing.
Rev. Rhetta 27:25
Using our voice: affirmations, you know, reminders. We have to be in relationship to self reflection to know what we need to be reminded of: it's different for different people. I said, "wake up." But there could be another two or three words that folks hearing this, [it] might come to their mind related to specific things that they're dealing with right now. For people who are overachievers, yours might be more pulling inward, right? Yours might be a deep breath. So those kinds of things. I would say, you know, consider agency over your own story: like, listen to how you talk about the life you're living, and be curious about a story that is energy-providing if we are exhausted or tired. What would it be like to lean into, to access, a story that actually gives us energy, right? It's energy-draining to think that the world is falling apart, right? It might be energy-uplifting to think we are in a transformational time. Yes, it is chaotic. It's very difficult. And it's an incredible honor to be on the planet with the depth of possibilities that are now.
All of this is made all the more challenging depending on the kinds of distractions or hardships you have in your own life. Like, each one of us has to be honest about where we are. And I would say that at any level, no matter how difficult, right, be willing to self-reflect and find the spark that will pull you toward, you know, your groundedness--the energy that catapults you into action on behalf of justice. Each person listening has wisdom, right, and is more qualified to find a practice for themselves at this time, because you know what your story is, right?
Rev. Rhetta 29:44
Your connection to an empowering story is one breath away. Take a deep breath, ask the question, and listen inwardly. I think it's possible for each of us.
To close I just want to hold space for any last things that you want to share with our listeners.
Rev. Rhetta 30:01
Mmm. I want to bless life. Let's keep moving toward each other, rather than away, and holding where and as we can a sense of possibility and hopefulness. I want to invite people to go in the direction of the illogical. It is illogical to be hopeful when everything around you is falling apart. I want you to do it anyway. I want you to go in that direction of you know, of the transcendent.
Well, we got our homework. Everybody listening has their homework. So, thank you so so much, Reverend Rhetta Morgan. Such a blessing to be able to call you and when you pick up, to call you family. So, so much love.
Rev. Rhetta 30:49
Thank you. Thank you. Right back at you.
["I Rise Project" plays]
Pendle Hill is a Quaker center open to all for spirit-led learning, retreat, and community. We’re located in Wallingford, PA, on the traditional territory of the Lenni Lenape people. Visit us at www.pendlehill.org. To learn more about Reverend Rhetta’s work, visit www.reverendrhetta.com
The podcast was produced and edited by Ariel Goodman, with the support of Pendle Hill education director Frances Kreimer and education associate Anna Hill. Our episodes were mixed by Leah Shaw Dameron. Our theme music is the I Rise Project by Reverend Rhetta Morgan and Bennett Kuhn, produced by Astro Nautico Records.
If y’all are listening to these last 30 seconds, you made it to the end with us. And we would so love it if you could subscribe, rate, or review us wherever you get your podcasts. It helps us to keep planting those seeds.
This project was made possible by the generous support of the Thomas H. and Mary Williams Shoemaker Fund.