Welcome to “Fire in the Bones”

This blog is dedicated to essays and musical performances that celebrate the extraordinary experience of being “spiritually cooked.” Familiar to ecstatic spiritual traditions around the world, this direct encounter with the Divine radically awakens the senses, opens the heart, and immerses you in the greatest bliss, love, and joy. It delivers an exit from suffering and access to the endless source of strength and inspiration needed for daily living.

Those of you familiar with Brad’s life story know that he was a nineteen year-old college student when he first experienced being cooked in the spiritual heat. When a ball of fire climbed up his spine and he was bathed in a luminous light, his body began to spontaneously shake. He felt his heart become many hearts, pulsing in unison with all of life. As he later described it: “When I first felt the lightning-bolt impact of God’s divine shaking love, it pierced my heart like an arrow.” As one 19th century African American preacher said after a similar visionary experience: “I used to wonder what made people shout, but now I don’t. There is a joy on the inside and it wells up so strong that we can’t keep still. It is fire in the bones.”[1] Afterward Brad’s life became an ongoing experiment in hosting this spiritual fire, which is inseparable from what he would later call the “Big Love” – the eternal, universal, and all-encompassing love that is the foundation of spiritual mystery. This love is the “joy on the inside” referenced by holy people from across religious traditions. As another described it, “Its glow, warmth and tenderness fill the universe… [it is] the eternal love, the soul of nature and all of one endless smile.”[2]

The Big Love

During his forty-some years as an ecstatic healer and spiritual teacher, Brad was led to people and places all over the world who live in primary relationship to this Big Love and “fire in the bones.” He wrote:

“I found myself traveling the world, meeting shamans, healers, and spiritual teachers. Although they spoke different languages and wore different kinds of clothing, they all had one thing in common: they were devotees of the Big Love. In my odyssey I learned that there is an invisible and name-less ceremonial space that brings together all worshippers of the Big Love. The altar of this place of spiritual unity offers forgiveness and compassion, and mercy instead of judgment. In this home of diverse spirits and presences, God is the Big Love.”[3]

As we have discovered, those familiar with the Big Love know it as more than a concept, doctrine, belief, or philosophy; it is a feeling in the heart and spiritual electricity in the body. The Big Love feels at once like heavenly fire in the bones and holy water in the veins. It is carried most potently through song, and it makes the body tremble, quake, and shake. The Kalahari Bushmen, custodians of the oldest living ecstatic religion and healing tradition in the world, call it n/om. Others, like the 19th Century revivalist preacher Charles G. Finney, call it the Holy Spirit. Finney describes his experience of being spiritually cooked:

“…the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me…like a wave of electricity… Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God.” 

Hillary’s spiritual path began when she was a young woman, after a tragic automobile accident claimed the lives of her grandmother, father, and brother. With no strong roots to her loosely Catholic upbringing, she was drawn to Zen Buddhism. When her world as she knew it was stripped away, she found comfort in a tradition that recognizes (and embraces) the experience of being plunged into raw contact with the bare essence of things – the impermanence and not-knowingness of life.

Later when Hillary met Brad, she recognized that he embodied the improvisational presence and beginner’s mind of a Zen master, but he also had a relationship to something with which she was unfamiliar: the sacred vibration and spiritual heat. A devotee of the Big Love, he helped her get spiritually cooked in the old fashioned Kalahari way. Never in her wildest dreams did Hillary think she would be living with this kind, wild, gentle, shaking shaman.

The Birth of Sacred Ecstatics

Over the years we have helped people from all walks of life cross over into the spiritual heat. Because our own spiritual journeys took us inside so many different traditions, it was natural that a kind of syncretic ecstatic orientation would emerge, one that honors and recognizes how the experience of being spiritually cooked is shared among ecstatic traditions, despite their differences in form and metaphor. Sacred Ecstatics, our most recent name for this work, is the result of many years of being in healing dances, ceremonies, and worship services with people who know how to turn up the spiritual temperature, climb the rope to God, wake up their spiritual hearts, catch a song, and plug into spiritual electricity. We have found that this is what human beings long for most – to be immersed in the Big Love, to feel themselves unquestionably, inexplicably, and wholeheartedly dissolved inside this ultimate mystery. When this happens it comes as a sweet and holy fire that fills us with a sacred vibration. We want as many people as possible to be pierced by this Big Love so that it takes root inside them and becomes an inexhaustible source of life, joy, creativity, inspiration, wisdom, and healing that they can share with others.

People find their way to the spiritual fire from different directions. Many of us are brought here through suffering. Often there is some kind of “hitting bottom” experience in which the way we make sense of things or generally cope with being a human being is no longer working. Most of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves awake in the middle of a dark night, feeling the truth of our smallness, impermanence, and fragility. When this happens we long to reach for something stronger, mightier, and vaster than our limited understanding or the operations of mind. When thought strategies, self-help affirmations, motivational slogans, and all the rest fail, we seek a rope to the Big Love. This rope, activated most powerfully through holy songs, comes straight from God into the heart. The rope is a song, which is also a feeling and a vibration that fills you from head to toe. As this rope gets stronger, you will find that simply singing a holy song will deliver you in that moment out of the darkness and into the vast, “endless smile” of pure, universal love.

This is the basic spiritual recipe of Sacred Ecstatics: surrender to the Divine, sing and dance the Big Love, and let its light and spiritual fire guide your daily walk. This recipe has been followed by generations of ecstatic healers, saints, mystics, and everyday people who, like you, found themselves awake in the darkness, reaching for that light which sounds like music and feels like the holiest, biggest love.

– The Keeneys

[1] The quote above was taken from a book called  God Struck Me Dead: Religious Conversion Experiences and Autobiographies of Ex-Slaves, edited by Clifton H. Johnson. It is a collection of first-person narratives collected between 1927-1929 by Fisk University graduate student A.P. Watson under the direction of Dr. Paul Radin. In most cases the names of those interviewed are not provided.

[2] From the book, Cosmic Consciousness by Richard M. Bucke, 1969.

[3] from the book, Bushman Shaman, by Bradford Keeney

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