Have you ever noticed That there are some people Who seem to hold a brightness In their spirit? Their eyes are more alive. The day lifts a bit When they come into it. They bring a quiet joy. There is a confidence within them, But it is not focused on themselves. They seem to be held by an assurance That the world is deeply right. What if, perhaps, they caught the holy virus? And what if it is spread by smiles? Even the tiny upturn of a lip, The twinkle in an eye, can bring exposure. And what if I, too, could be a carrier, A vector of life? Ah! That would make me smile! (And did I just see the twinkle in your eye?)
Romans 7: 4-6; Genesis 3: 7&21; Romans 8: 38-39
Don’t you know, my beloved,
That you can no longer live under that law?
The way the world used to work,
Works no longer – even for you.
You have begun to see the cracks in that system.
And what you fear has begun to happen.
It cannot hold together for much longer.
The privilege that protected you –
That put you first in line,
Or led those in authority
To look the other way
When you stole what was not yours –
That privilege hangs in tatters round your frame.
And you are naked beneath it.
You cannot re-arrange it enough
To cover your shame.
Nor should you.
Give it up.
Give it to me.
Now that you realize that you are naked,
You can also see that the fig leaves
Are not working.
They will never work.
Hide from me no longer.
The ‘fall’ you fear is not a fall from me,
But from the false version of yourself
That dared to claim completeness
Apart from me,
Apart from everyone, from everything, else.
It is that very delusion of separateness,
That keeps you lonely.
That idea that you must somehow be enough
By yourself, in yourself,
That idea is what keeps you keeps you stuck
In the empty, hollow place within your soul.
You are not alone.
And there is nothing you can do to change that.
It is not your fig leaves that will keep you safe.
See, I have clothed you in my love.
It fits you like your very skin.
And nothing can separate you from that love –
Not the hate another spews at you,
Nor the despising you paint upon yourself,
Not your worry, nor your abject fear,
Not a pandemic, nor economic crash,
Neither angels nor demons,
Neither the present nor the future,
Not any power … high or low,
Nor anything else in all creation,
Can separate you from the love of God.
Nothing can separate you.
You are no longer separate.
That delusion has been shattered.
And, in its place, the very vision
Of the beloved community.
You, me, and all.
All wrapped in the love of God.
May it be so.
It is so.
How long, oh Lord?
How long will it take
For us to show your mercy,
For us to live into your grace?
Like a Mother,
Bending over her young child,
You wait for our first stumbling steps
You wait for us to wake
With the compassion
You have placed within our hearts.
You wait with eager longing.
It seems you cannot compel our hearts
Without negating who we are.
We must learn to hear your call
And move ourselves toward you.
And yet, our eyes are turned away
From your dear face.
We let ourselves be filled with fear
And the anger that it breeds.
Our leaders curse and blame and fume.
We follow their example,
Letting their anger spark our own.
We yield to fear over faith.
Its hard to take that step
When we listen to the torrent of words
That flow from angry mouths
Feeding that anger and fear.
But deep within my heart,
When I am still, when I am quiet,
I think I hear you whisper,
‘One step, my child, one step.’
‘You learn to walk
By looking at my face
Not at your feet,
Nor at your fear.’
‘You learn by reaching for my hands.
You learn to walk by falling.
And by getting up.
And taking one more step.’
Help me to learn to walk toward justice.
[I need to acknowledge that my white privilege stains my words and shields me from much of the risk of striving for justice. Yet the guilt and shame and fear that are my first reactions to the dawning realization of my complicity are not the motivations that will best help to change my heart or my actions. Such emotions keep the focus on me. Instead, I need to keep my eyes and my heart focused on Christ, who shows himself in the oppressed and marginalized people around me.]
It is a wiry monster,
This system of oppression,
Who keeps his knee upon the neck
Of those deemed less than me.
The monster dons the authority
Of state-endorsed might
Choosing to enforce white-rightness
At the cost of life, of liberty,
Of full community.
It presumes my innocence
At the very moment it presumes
That a jogger in the wrong place
With the wrong color skin
Is somehow a thief of what is mine.
It presumes white property
Is worth more
Than black or brown lives,
Even when that property
Was gained through advantage.
Even as those same lives are put at risk
To deliver whatever I want to my doorstep
Or clean the hospital rooms
Or provide the doctor’s care.
It presumes that violence is justified
Whenever resistance is expressed,
Seeing resistance to authority as an affront
Even when it is the authority, itself,
That is the monster’s tool.
It presumes, because I am white,
I will not stop to see these truths.
Indeed, my hasty assertions of innocence
Make it hard for me to wake
To my very real complicity with the monster.
It whispers conflicting messages in my heart,
Trying to confuse and silence me.
It tells me of my ‘right’ to privilege
Even as it claims I have no ‘right’
to speak out against oppression
Because I am white and I couldn’t really know.
The monster claims that the words of resistance
From a white mouth
Must somehow be wrong, and so I must sit still.
And it is true, I do not know
The full expression of life – and death – beneath that knee.
But the truth of this monster’s presence
Can no longer be denied.
And I must acknowledge my complicity,
Even though my words are not free from the monster’s stain.
My silence would be worse.
It is not about finding the right words,
Or somehow erasing the stain upon my soul
Through (even if sincere) confession.
It is about finally seeing the truth,
Recognizing the monster’s web around me,
Acknowledging its tentacles around my heart.
It is about the unbelievably slow process
That will finally break the monster’s grip.
Somehow we must begin to see that our society
Is built upon the twin pillars of privilege and oppression.
It is not the ‘great’ society we’ve touted,
But the very failure of our hopes and dreams.
The presumption of superiority
Is proof enough of the lie.
And so I repent my complicity
And I praise the stalwart faith and hope
Of those who fight for a different way,
And have fought for centuries
In the face of this evil.
I pledge my feeble voice
To the deep melody of grace and strength
Sung by the black and brown elders of the struggle,
Raised by the brave, young protesters,
Following their lead toward true community,
Where, at last, they, too can breathe.
Oh, God, forgive me.
Oh, God, empower them.
Oh, God, our God,
I keep thinking that I’m stuck
With a do-it-yourself kit for salvation.
It’s not turning out so well.
As much as I’d like to fix myself,
I just don’t seem to have the right tools
Or even (deep sigh) initiative.
(I’ve lost the excuse that I don’t have the time.)
So, I sit here, with pieces-parts
Scattered across the table.
They fit together awkwardly.
There seem to be pieces missing,
And pieces that don’t fit.
And pieces that I’d like to hide.
I beat my head with my fist.
(Gently, of course.)
That’s when I hear your chuckle.
You sit down beside me and survey the scene.
You sort through the pieces
And carefully polish a small glass bead between your fingers.
“This one is for Tasha,” you say quietly,
And place it in your pocket.
I’m taken aback.
I want to grab it back from you.
“How dare you take this part of what is mine?”
You give me a look that takes my breath, as well.
I am appalled by those words
As they tumble from my mouth.
I want to stuff them back inside,
But that’s been the problem all along –
Those things I hold inside so deep
That I can deny they are a part of me.
So I revert to whining.
“I am already incomplete …
How can I possibly afford to lose more?”
My self-pity tumbles out,
And sits writhing on the table.
She scuttles to the far edge
Scooping scattered pieces into a pile.
She hovers protectively over them,
Shifting from foot to foot.
You shake your head and pick up another piece.
“This one is for Jorge. See how it bears his name?
And this one is for Raymond.
And, ah, Rachel needs this bit, just here.”
I sit with my mouth open and my hands trembling.
Self-pity reflects the horror in my heart,
Tearing at her hair and fretting to herself.
Will you take it all?
Will I be left with nothing?
My fear, which has been hiding under the table,
Clambers out into the light.
She is followed by the large and lumpy shape
Of my disdain, who turns her eyes toward me
And shakes her head with deep revulsion.
This project has fallen into disarray
And taken me with it.
But you sit beside me, unperturbed.
My cadre of false friends do not distract you.
You clear a small area on the table
And give me an encouraging smile.
From another pocket, you take a small stone.
It is an opal, small and deeply luminescent.
“Brenda sent this to you, knowing how you’d love it,”
You say, as you place it before me.
It wakes the tiny Hope within me.
She comes forward to hold the stone quietly to her heart,
Whispering her thanks, admiring its soft colors.
Then she wanders to the pile guarded by Self-pity
And finds a small seedling, ready for planting.
“Brenda would know just where this one would grow,”
She says and brings it to you.
“Do you think you could get it to her?”
You nod and Hope is joined by Delight.
These are the better angels of my nature.
In their hands, and yours, my project is transformed.
I thought it was a do-it-yourself kit.
All these pieces scattered across my table
Are but signs of your abundance,
An invitation to do-it-together.
You did, of course.
And, when I make room,
I do, too.
When I remember
To give you the first fruits of my morning,
When I turn my mind, my heart,
First to your call,
Silencing the pull of other voices,
That is when my heart finds home.
Why, then, do I neglect this turning?
Who needs to know?
These questions just delay the turning.
It’s not about fixing me.
It’s about finding you.
So … I tilt my head,
I tilt my heart,
And there you are.
I hear what I cannot quite hear.
I know what I cannot really know.
I find, despite my fears,
That I do believe in you.
I believe just enough to cuddle my soul
Within your whisper.
I believe just enough to breathe with you.
In and out,
We exchange the thread of life.
In and out,
You cleanse my heart of dread,
And seed my hope.
And so these three arrive with my turning
Faith, hope, and love.
Your love, of course, is what evokes my own.
And mine must follow, once I turn and see.
Good morning, Holy One.
How long have I looked into this pool,
Watching that image for change
Hoping it would grow a bit brighter,
A bit more worthy?
How long has my hand been stayed
Just above the water
Wanting, desperately, to fix the faults
Within the image floating there?
Isn’t it time to let the ugly be
To look away from the wrongs that seem so glaring
To live, rather than to be frozen with regret
To move away from the pool into the day?
I’ll never fix that face
Nor find perfection there.
I’ll never even modify the expression on that face
By looking in the water.
The trap is not the beauty or the lack thereof
But the fixation on the image
And the fantasy that perfection
Is the necessary first step toward acceptance.
But … what is that?
A movement other than my own within the pool
A hand upon my shoulder
A face besides my own looks up at me.
The look within those eyes
As they gaze on my reflection
Seem filled with tears of love.
They drop into the pool and blur the vision there.
The spell is broken.
Narcissus turns and is wrapped in an embrace so full
That all preoccupation is lost in deepest consolation.
Wisdom is anchored in love.
You cannot really see anything
Until you risk loving it,
Until you can see its inner self –
And God, herself, deeper still.
For deep within all,
Is the ALL that called it into being;
And calls it still, to bring it to its essence,
Just as I am called and refined
In and through deep love.
Wisdom is seeing with God’s eyes.
So, it looks like I am going to have to come up with
some new excuses for procrastination.
My ‘to do’ list has been altered by the need to stay home.
And now, I am beginning to see,
That the list is not all that has been altered.
The ‘needs’ behind the list have changed, as well.
Some have changed by circumstance,
And some by a dawning realization
That they were really not so urgent to begin with.
So, rather than berate myself,
I am taking a deep breath
And making a different list.
I ask myself,
What stories do I want to be able to tell,
When this is all over?
The new list starts there.
And maybe its a ‘to be’ list
Rather than a ‘to do’ list:
To be the grace I hope to see in the world.
To hold to hope so others can hold on, as well.
To offer kindness, even from a distance.
To let myself be held in the arms of God
Even when other embraces are the virtual kind.
Even in this moment, we look for evidence of love.
That is the story we must tell,
That is the story we must echo with our actions, this day.
That is the story I hold to be most deeply true.