Sunday, July 8, 2018

"I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray"

Every day during this season of doubt and drought and deserted dreams, it becomes harder and harder to know where the light is, and where the road is to lead us up, at least, if not out of the valley of trauma and sorrow.

“Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.” (Luke 4:  1-2)

But we are trapped in the desert of delusion and addiction to power; and denial and utter non-feeling cruelty. Oh, let the children come to me, He said.

No.  This is not, nor has it ever been “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”  We who know this, we who bear the stripes of the crucified, abused and abandoned, are called now, to do exactly what Jesus did.  Say, “no”, to the satanic seductive chants; say, “no”, to our doubts as to whether we are sufficient for the evil of this day. Say, “no”, to the devouring of the children. As surely as in the days of Elijah, the children are being thrown into the gaping jaws of Baal. And we stand, horrified. And we stand....and stand....and stand.

Way down yonder, by myself. And I couldn’t hear nobody pray.

Oh we, some of us, are gathering in vigil. We are singing, marching and organizing. And we are, some of us (more than is tallied, if the deepest, darkest, most shadowy whispers can be admitted), afraid that nothing we do will be enough. Over and over during the season of Independence Day, 2018, we have had the grand debate, “This is not America. We are a nation of laws, of due process. We do not abuse children and destroy the bonds of families. This is not America.”

And the Native people look on --
And the eyes of those descended from the torn-away Africans, look on --
cold and unblinking.

This is the America that some of us have endured for more than 450 years – since the Spanish landed and discovered a land already populated, already civilized, already free. This is the America that was forged in war, tempered and seasoned with the blood of the helpless, broken and traumatized – and then ratified in a document that never meant, “We the people,” for all who were thereby defined as less than fully human.

When He had resisted the temptation to use his power without regard of the consequences, He returned to his place among the people.  He walked into the assembly, changed and noticeably so. The people in the worship space asked him to speak a word of comfort.  His, “yes,” became their, “no.”

     He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
     He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
     “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
     because he has anointed me
     to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty
     to captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
     and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
     Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
     and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
     He said to them,
    “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

And when they had truly heard him, they were enraged; and they drove him out of the synagogue, and sought to stone him. To death.

“Recovery of sight to the blind’?  That is the stumbling block, it seems. Do we know that far too often it is we ourselves who “have eyes but do not see; ears, but do not hear”? That this prophetic utterance is aimed at all of us who are convinced that we really do belong to an exceptional nation, that we are a people set apart, chosen and blessed.  What is it we do not see.

Seeing is not the problem. Facing up to the cause of the paralysis of will is the problem. And none is immune.  From my first experience of traumatic stress – being left alone in a hospital ward, about to undergo an operation, aware only that my parents walked out of the room, closed the door and left me – to the most recent example of being devalued, marginalized and ignored by those who have benefited from my decades of service, I know the hesitation that comes from a sense of nearly overwhelming powerlessness. Will I make a difference? Can I be heard above the whirlwind? Does anyone care? Everyone is susceptible to this virus of discrimination and the myriad amoral displays of non-concern.

When the cloud envelops us, we should viscerally understand the temptation of Christ in the desert and see that it is the same as His agony in the garden.  And the old folks sang us that story, too:

Why, indeed, are we here?  Is it comprehensible that the pain our souls feel is so deep that we wish we had never been born?

But, yet, we live.

At a vigil of concern for the children who have been deliberately and cruelly traumatized by those who worship themselves as greater than any God who has ever been revealed, I called the participants to shake the blindness from their minds and admit that if we are conscious, we are able. If we are able, we are obligated. And if we are obligated, then we are blessed.  Out of one of the greatest collective sins in human history – the transatlantic slave trade --  came the groaning and moaning that transformed itself into song. The song transformed the singers and the listeners into people whose birthmark is “resistance” and who learned to fly from the gates of Hell, by the power of their determination to be free; and if not, them, their children.

There is nothing left, but to walk out of the tombs in which we find ourselves, bringing the children with us.  Nothing was ever so dark, so corrupted by greed and lust, that somebody, somewhere could not shout down the very walls of Jericho.  We need to find that power. The children have no one else.

They do not belong in anybody’s jail. Neither do we. Neither did any of those women and men who learned to fly from the fire. Maybe our voice will be the one sign to someone captured in darkness that nothing is ever final, and they are not alone.