In the 60’s when I first saw A Raisin in the Sun with Claudia McNeil as Lena Younger, Sidney Poitier as her son Walter Lee Younger, Ruby Dee as his wife Ruth Younger, Diana Sands as Walter’s sister Beneatha Younger, and Ivan Dixon as Beneatha’s sweetheart Asagai, I had no idea that years later I would be Spirit-led to interpret it metaphysically.
Since the 60’s, I have seen several other performances of A Raisin in the Sun but none as powerful as the story portrayed by LaTanya Richardson Jackson as Lena, Denzel Washington as Walter Lee, Sophie Okonedo as Ruth, Anika Noni Rose as Beneatha, and Sean Patrick Thomas as Asagai. I felt their pain and their transformation so deeply that I couldn’t help but think about their journey’s metaphysical meaning.
The production reminded me of my mother’s teachings: that the Bible is an open book and does not end after Revelation. I was taught that its stories continue as witness to our own lives – our own parables, testimonies and lessons. Like scripture, our life stories teach us that even if we appear to be weak, we are really strong; even if we appear to have less, we are much more; even if we appear hopeless, we are still the unlimited power of Spirit.
In A Raisin in the Sun, Lena Younger, also known as Mama, is more than just the matriarch of her family. From a metaphysical interpretation, she is the indwelling Spirit, or Christ consciousness. She is representative of the Spirit in us. She is the center of her family and the divine mind of her home. She is the open door – the only place through which God can enter.
It doesn’t matter that the “Younger” story, the story of a family undergoing a new birth in consciousness, does not take place in ancient history but on Chicago’s south side anytime between WWII and 1960. The fact that the catalyst behind the Younger family’s journey is an insurance check is no less important than any other healing, journey or biblical conquest – for the only meaningful conquest is the spiritual conquest over our material mind.
The fact that the check appeared to represent the life of the family’s patriarch Walter Lee, Sr. called into question the value of his life, his dignity and his spirit. His entire existence brought them to the moment of the play: their understanding of not merely physical self-worth but spiritual power. The play is one of the most important classics in literature because their struggle between the material and the spiritual still exists in our lives today.
Are we waiting for a lottery check, or a bonus, or job, or spouse, or healing, or an insurance payment – or do we realize that the power of Spirit is always present in our lives?
The Younger story raises several spiritual principles – four of which I am Spirit-led to discuss here in this fourth month of April: a season of rebirth.
The first spiritual principle undergirding this play is that Spirit is here.
Mama was in the house, in her family’s conscious awareness as a guiding force. No matter what happened, there she was with her Bible, always praying without ceasing – practicing the presence with a faith that surpassed whatever challenged the family in the physical.
The Kingdom of God always shined its light within her.
LaTanya Richardson Jackson shined God’s light of truth in a phenomenal way – not as the stereotypical salt of the earth Mama who is merely God-fearing, but as a bold, sassy Mama – praying without ceasing for the triumph that is her birth right: God’s image and likeness. Richardson Jackson commanded respect. She portrayed a resilient faith that no one wished to defy, demanding that her family see beyond the appearances of stress and strife and even fads to the unchanging power of God. We loved her because she is love, the unconditional love that never leaves or forsakes us – even if we screw up.
Mama speaks one of the famous lines in the play after she slaps Beneatha – who confesses that she is an atheist. Mama tells Beneatha to repeat after her: “In my mother’s house, there is still God.”
But the check is not God. Mama tries to steer the family clear of false idols. God is not about money or riches. God is Spirit. Mama embodies the true consciousness of Christ in that she doesn’t worry about the check, is not consumed by how it will change their lives. The Spirit that lives in her is constant. As Paul said in Acts 17:28, in God, I live and move and have my being.
This means no matter what happens on the outside, God is on the inside. Spirit is here. We just have to practice the presence of God. In the presence and under the power of God, there is only absolute good; there is only perfect divine order; there is only perfect health and wholeness. In this consciousness, we know that Spirit is here.
I rise this day – centered in the presence of God, the presence of Christ, the presence of the Spirit that is here.
Mama never stops giving to her family. Even when the appearance of doubt and lack seize the Youngers and the money is stolen, her unconditional love prevails. She is there for everyone, even her daughter-in-law, so adequately named Ruth.
Sophie Okonedo is one of my favorite actresses, who was amazing in The Secret Life of Bees. One could not help but think of Ruby Dee watching Okonedo. Ruby Dee created the role, and so it takes an amazing talent for any actress to reclaim that role for herself.
Ruth has been depicted metaphysically as the spiritual light, whose presence goes before Naomi – never leaving her or departing from her. We see this special bond between Mama and Ruth. Ruth is there for the family no matter what – the light in us that never leaves us. Thus, when Walter Lee loses most of the proceeds of the insurance check and Ruth tells Mama that the family must move regardless. Ruth says she’ll get down on her knees and clean all of the houses in Chicago to get the money move, which we know is impossible.
What she is really saying is that Spirit will provide their needs. As Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
When we are centered in the light of Christ consciousness, we realize that the manna of substance and supply comes from infinite channels; our oil keeps pouring; a few fish and bread feed thousands; our good is not only present but it multiplies.
Before we partake of a meal or purchase any fulfillment, let us acknowledge God as our supply.
One of the most important attributes of God that we see in Mama is grace. She teaches the grace of love to her family. The whole family was waiting on money that would buy them a new house and put Beanie into college and put away what was then a lot of money for a rainy day. And Walter Lee lost it to a con artist. But did Mama sweat him? No, after she nearly passed out, she forgave him. Everyone in the family eventually showed him love.
Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Walter was brilliant and award-winning. I wondered how he was going to play the son of a woman who is near him in age. He was ingenious – not a hateful Walter Lee like the one portrayed by P-Diddy – but one who so vulnerable, so crushed by life that he appeared five feet tall until he embraced his true Spirit. I felt Walter Lee’s vulnerability with his wife like never before, the sincerity of every kiss. But I also felt his pain with such intensity that even I was devastated. Although I have seen him perform on stage before, this performance made me realize why Washington is the legion that he is.
As Walter Lee, he needed the grace of God. He found it in Mama. He found it in his wife Ruth. But he also exhibited it in every aspect of his being. God’s grace is amazing. The story teaches us that we sing the song, but we don’t practice the presence of knowing and believing in grace until we realize that the only thing left is God.
We hit rock bottom but do not find defeat there. We find lessons to uplift us in the realization that we are not here to fall short, not here to be punished. There is no karmic debt or error thought unless we are judging ourselves in the material. But when our flesh, our things, our money runs out, we realize Spirit is stronger than anything else.
Jesus says judge not by appearances, judge by righteous judgment. Righteous judgment is grace.
In 2 Timothy 1:9, Paul says God “saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
I acknowledge the grace of God going before me, blessing each and step along the way. I see the grace of God forgiving me and everyone I meet. I allow the grace of God to bless my work place and everything and everyone around me.
Another important teaching in A Raisin in the Sun, is when Beneatha’s Nigerian boyfriend Asagai asks her when she is so distraught about her brother losing their inheritance.
Anika Noni Rose ( who I love in so many roles, especially the devoted assistant to Jill Scott in The No. One Lady Detective) did not merely portray Beneatha, she became the sultry college student – twirling in her own world of divine ideas. The handsome Asagai was brilliantly portrayed by the ageless Sean Patrick Thomas. He asks Beneatha “Was it your money [Walter] gave away? Did you earn it? Would you have had it at all if your Father had not died?”
“Come with me,” Asagai says, “to Nigeria. I will show you our mountains and our stars and give you cool drinks from gourds and teach you the old songs and the ways of our people, and in time, we will pretend that you have only been away for a day.”
Nigeria – Africa – represents the Kingdom of God – which to Beneatha is a magical place where all wrongs are righted, where all sins are forgiven, where all good is restored.
Leviticus 23:10 says “When you enter the land that I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain.”
Jesus says it differently. In John 4:38, he says “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefit of their labor.”
We see this in the Younger family’s receipt of the insurance check. None of them worked for it, and yet Spirit blessed them with it, and they were able to buy a new home. Mama manifested their good – a home representing the consciousness of the Kingdom that is available to us – what Jesus called the Father in him. Not a place that we need to travel to but a consciousness where we are freed in the magic of knowing that we will always be blessed – whether we have earned it or not.
I reap what I have not worked for; Spirit does the hard work.
When Walter Lee makes the decision to see beyond the appearances and realize the power of Spirit to help guide his family to a new life, Mama tells Ruth: “He finally come into his manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain.”
In Genesis 9:13, God says, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” God’s covenant is the pure power of Spirit blessing us after the storm, after what appears to be the worst, most-challenging periods of our lives.
I believe what Mama is really saying is not that Walter Lee came into his “manhood” but that they all came into their “Spirithood” – that defining moment when there is nothing left to hold onto in the flesh so you have to take the reins of a greater purpose in life.
There is no better time to come into our ‘Spirithood’ than the present.
No matter what the sin, the shame, the setback, the violation, the appearance of things, Spirit is here to bless us. Spirit is inexhaustible supply; we have what we need. Spirit is grace; we will be forgiven. Spirit will even allow us to reap what we have not sown; God does the work that we are appointed to do (Job 23:14 NKJV).
SPIRITMUV® (www.spiritmuv.com), founded by Rev. Cecilia Loving in September 2007, exists to build a community of like minds dedicated to self-transformation through the cultivation of spiritual development. At the heart of its teachings is the principle that the Kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21) and that we all live and move and have our being in Spirit. The following are some of the services that SPIRITMUV provides: a meaningful, motivational, life-transforming worship service every Sunday (www.spiritmuvvideo.com); a daily meditation (www.spiritmuvmeditation.com); online spiritual messages (www.spiritmuvblog.com); and workshops and classes on spiritual principles (see, e.g., www.godisabrowngirltoo.webs.com). Rev. Loving is the author of Prayers for Those Standing on the Edge of Greatness, God is a Brown Girl Too, and God is a Lawyer Too: Ten Laws of Unlimited Success, as well as several workbooks.