A Prayer for White People (including myself)

For those afraid to begin for fear of being wrong and being corrected. “White feelings should never be held in higher regard than black lives.” (Rachel Cargle)

May we get over ourselves. May we see the value of being uncomfortable, the importance of trying and getting it wrong until we get it closer to right.

For those whose ignorance is debilitating humanity’s resolution. “it is hardly possible for anyone who thinks of himself as white to know what a black person is talking about at all.” (James Baldwin)

May we read, watch, listen, heed, and do our own work both individually and collectively.

For those who fear moving away from the comfort and safety of “being good.”

May we remember, there is always a place for “creative trouble” (Bayard Rustin), “Good trouble, necessary trouble” (John Lewis)

May we pivot into discomfort, lest we perpetuate the status quo.

May we recall that “There is no place in this war of liberation for nice white people who want to avoid taking sides and remain friends with both the racists and the Negro.” (James H. Cone)

For those so focused on their self-worth’s connectivity to black worth that we fail to do the work from the right intentions.

May we remember, “Anti-racism work is not self-improvement work for white people. It doesn’t end when white people feel better about what they’ve done. It ends when Black people are staying alive and they have their liberation.” (Rachel Cargle)

For those flailing so much that they’ve chosen to do nothing, without realizing the privilege of choice. “When liberal whites fail to understand how they can and/or do embody white supremacist values and beliefs… they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they wish to see eradicated.” (bell hooks)

May we stop flailing in the sea of to-dos and begin to be moved to change and step into risk––one task at a time.

For those who cannot see the work of justice in a riot.

May we see the truth of the fire and see both within and beyond it.

For those who cannot understand the rage.

May we awaken to the necessity of uprooting systems of oppression embedded in American society and our very lives.

May we recognize these systems and be against them, clearly and boldly.

May we know that disruption of a system which holds on to the status quo is necessary for these are the systems which refuse to “relinquish [their] oppressive ways without confrontation. This is the methodology of the oppressed as they are fighting for liberation.” (Pamela R. Lightsey).

May we remember that “to practice love is to disrupt the status quo which is masquerading as peace.” (Austin Channing Brown)

May we see and understand that “Oppressive systems must be exposed and deconstructed or dismantled (even in sacred texts), not simply recycled or cosmetically adjusted to palliate and opiate the oppressed and their allies.” (Mitzi J Smith)

May we see the distress, agony, and trauma of these systems which is perpetuated in our own white bodies, ways of being, and participation (see Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands).

For those claiming only silence or spending time in prayer is necessary for such a time as this.

May we heed the balance demanded of a truly contemplative life.

May we remember “All contemplation should be followed by action.” And that the wholeness of contemplation “MUST consist of both inward solitude and reflection, and an outward response to the situations in which we find ourselves present and awake.” (Therese Taylor-Stinson)

May we remember that the “altar of justice” clearly shows historically and biblically that “resistance was [and is] an action” of our faith. (Dean Leah Gunning Francis)

For those who think we can “set the timetable for another man’s freedom” (MLK, Jr.) No, just no.

“How much time do you want for your progress?” (James Baldwin)

May we heed the “fierce urgency of now” (MLK, Jr.) and recognize God in our fellow humans who are literally struggling to breathe in this. very. moment.

For those who still can’t get behind the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.”

May we remember “we don’t live in a world where all lives matter.” (Alicia Garza) Thus, we must elevate the lives deemed unworthy by a society we (as white people) perpetuate (whether unknowingly or not).

May we remember that “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.” (Toni Morrison)

May we wake up to see this truth in our everyday lives: our schools, our places of work, our streets, our parks, and our homes.

For those at home, unable to leave for health reasons of their own, another’s health, or unable to be on the streets for other reasons.

May we remember that there are countless  ways to show up.

May we recall that “Revolution is not a one-time event” (Audre Lorde) nor a one-place event. But may we also remember that for a revolution to take hold, it must seep into all avenues of our lives.

May we remember where we spend our money matters, our voice or writing matters, our work with our white friends, white children, and white family members matters.

May we learn to see by paying attention.

May we learn to understand by listening.

May we learn to change by doing our own work.

May we be true to both ourselves and our unique expressions while also being true to our human family.

May we participate in the revolution, a revolution that doesn’t need us but will define us.

Closing: “Spirit gets what Spirit wants, so we might as well listen.” (Lerita Coleman-Brown)

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

(Fannie Lou Hammer)

(Icon: Ferguson Mother of God: Our Lady against all Gun Violence, 2015 by Mark Dukes).

 

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Zoom Diaries: A Week’s Lesson in Finding Voice

Last week, I had the opportunity to be with a group of friends from all over the country. With each of us in a different state, we gathered at 9 in the morning until about 5 each night to discuss what it means to find our call, know our voice, and live into the creativity we were made for.

The key themes I took away can be narrowed into four main points: 1. Own your creativity, 2. The who is always more important than the what (people over things), 3. Language is limiting and can only be used as a tool, and 4. True belonging only exists where radical difference is embraced.

Own Your Creativity:

Times of chaos require the creative one in each of us—that unique creativity which only you or I can bring to a particular situation at a particular moment, when we choose to be true to ourselves. The beauty of our creativity being necessary in difficult times is that our uniqueness feeds one another—they inspire and change each other for something more beautiful, something more truthful, something more loving, something more whole.

There is a prophetic power to creativity which helps us see beyond panic. Today, our class had the opportunity to hear from artist and activist Genesis Be. And while we were discussing this prophetic power, she reminded us: “If we seek to be prophetic, it inherently diminishes the purity of our work…” In other words, if I enter into something so focused on outcome that I lose sight of the goodness and rightness of the work or invitation into the moment itself, then I am missing not only the purity of my creativity but also the truth of my own being.

I was immediately reminded of Thomas Merton’s words in Message to Poets: “A hope that rests on calculation has lost its innocence.” How do I maintain a sense of clarity within my creativity in a world filled with alerts, unsolicited feedback, and notifications? How do I surrender to the truthfulness of my own being and what I do (and sometimes don’t) have to offer?

Well. Don’t worry. Genesis Be had an answer for that, too, when she said that this reminder was a staple to her work:

“…Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.”
―Lao-Tzu

We are creative beings. Each one of us. Nun and Pop Art Artist, Sister Corita Kent once wrote that creativity belongs to “the artist in each of us,” she went on, “To create means to relate. The root meaning of the word art is ‘to fit together’ and we all do this every day. Not all of us are painters but we are all artists. Each time we fit things together we are creating ––whether it is to make a loaf of bread, a child, a day.”

A part of creativity is simply being true to who and how we are. Ensuring that we are remembering the fact that being is more important than doing.

Language Has Limits:

Language is limiting. Anything in or of language is a social construct. Yet day after day we use words as meaning-makers, as markers, as navigational tools on this journey we find ourselves on. Today in class, theologian Barry Taylor told us, “we constantly try to arrest the transients of life,” we spend our time making meaning of that which we cannot contain. We’re so fearful of the moment slipping between our fingers that we try to dominate and control it with what we think will keep it still: words. But time still takes it from us. The hour still passes. The sun still sets. Our only certitude lives in utter finitude.

To truly be a person of becoming
To really be a person evolving
Is to be constantly grieving

Perhaps, as Barry suggested, we need to develop a new way to think about possible worlds we can inhabit: a post-alphabet way of speaking, a way that continually moves us: from doing to being, from thinking to existing, from destructing to creating. These new ways, or possible worlds only begin to get created when we take risks with our words (which often leads to poetry and prophesy), deep-dives into our imagination (which expands our creativity), and lean into accepting the transience of life.

The who is always more important than the What (people over things):

“A key question that emerges for me is who (as opposed to what) is left out of the conversations about liberation in our various contexts?” ––Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes

Today in class, the topic of intersectionality emerged. Intersectionality is the ways in which categories like race, class, gender, dis/ability, and sexuality merge, crossover, and coexist. We discussed what it means when someone is unwilling or unready to speak to an intersection and how that impacts the whole.

And I wonder, when I breathe truth and love into one of these aspects of life while dismissing another, am I really living into vision of unity I long for? If I belong to you and you to me, are not all your issues my own, are not all intersections of interest to me precisely because they are our common humanity?

What does it look like to live into loving, embracing, and being inclusive of the fullness of personhood which surrounds us?

Many of us (including myself) fail to speak up and out because lack clarity; most of us (including myself) fail to speak up and out because we lack understanding. But if my love for a human becomes less important than how I look or how something goes, I am missing the mark. And what if that voice of love is precisely what is vitally necessary to save a life, maybe even possibly, my own?

“There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.”

––Mary Oliver, Moments

 

True Belonging coexists with Radical Difference: 

How do we live into our belonging while honoring radical difference? Revering radical difference demands that we deem our own difference as distinctive, important, a part of the whole of humanity and its possible unity. I must belong to myself and be at home within me so that I might be able to see, respect, and honor others. Belonging while honoring radical difference requires radical self-belonging. It requires security, clarity, and self-respect. Because that which most often has me pushing away radical difference is my own insecurity. There is a movement I must complete within myself before I can begin to complete it with my fellow human:

Being to Belonging.
Becoming to Beholding.

May we all feel fully free to move outside of ourselves, and yet choose the stillness of the work within (Shelley Rasmussen Pagitt).

I belong.
You belong.
We belong to each other.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
––Audre Lorde, (Our Dead Behind Us: Poems)

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Killing White Lies: Abraham Lincoln

I grew up nearby a street named Lincoln Way. This transcontinental highway runs all the way from Lincoln Park in California to Times Square in New York. And, it ran through the town I grew up in, giving me a kind of landmark for directions, much like I was taught to treat the street’s namesake when it came to history.  I grew up being told to admire Abraham Lincoln––the 16th president of the United States, a man of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), one who fought for the Union and to end slavery… or did he? 

While it’s not surprising, our history books lied to us and Lincoln got it wrong.

Recently, I’ve been reading a number of books by theologian James H. Cone including Black Theology & Black Power, The Cross and The Lynching Tree, and God of the Oppressed. Struck by his words and my growing understanding of truth as clearly laid out before me, I couldn’t help but fumble around when I read about this “great” president. I’ve come to realize that when we see the history we’ve been told is a lie, it’s not only our responsibility to listen, learn it, and apologize; It’s our responsibility to not look away. This writing is my apology. This writing is my refusal to look away.

“There is no place in this war of liberation,” Cone writes in 1969, “for nice white people who want to avoid taking sides and remain friends with both the racists and the Negro.”

While reading Black Theology & Black Power, I came across Cone’s notes on Abraham Lincoln and the frequent lies told about him as a man who longed for the freedom of slaves. Cone writes, “Whatever may have been the motives of Abraham Lincoln and other white Americans for launching the war, it certainly was not on behalf of black people. Lincoln was clear on this:

“My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Cone goes on, “If that quotation still leaves his motives unclear, here is another one which should remove all doubts regarding his thoughts about black people:

“I will say then that I am not, nor have I ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races––that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and interior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” (Abraham Lincoln)

With a whitewashed history, what does the future hold? Years from now, will the 45th president be portrayed with the light of racism and white supremacy under which he stands? Or will we––yes, we––continue to add layers and layers to the facts and perpetuate a world of hatred and injustice, a world comfortable enough for the nice white person who wants (and thinks under these severe circumstances that there is) progress without any conflict or discomfort?

“A man is free when he accepts the responsibility for his own acts and knows that they involve not merely himself but all men.” ––James H. Cone

If the truth no longer propels us to care, what will? If we can look upon the suffering of our fellow human and remain neutral because we are comfortable, we have lost our humanity. There is no time for neutrality when humans are suffering. Or as Cone says, “There is no time for talk when men are suffering.”

Cone’s words in Black Theology & Black Power were written 50 years ago this year. His preface contains his own newfound truths including a recognition and apology for the sexism within the book (both in his gendered language and leaving out the leadership notes and significance of black women) as well as a new clarity that “we need to develop a struggle for freedom that moves beyond race to include all oppressed peoples of the world,” in accordance with some of the lessons he heeded from Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Some may say, “The history books didn’t lie, they only didn’t share the whole truth.” Some may say, “Often times our imperfections are used for ultimate good and slaves were freed, weren’t they?” I, for one, refuse to bow my body or tip my cap to a man whose blatant racism was left out of history so that he might be elevated as some kind of white savior. Lincoln did not free slaves, he did not believe in the equality of our black brothers and sisters. To “free” a human from the labor and life of a slave in language yet to continue to treat them as less-than in any way is to keep slavery alive.

I am not a history expert. I claim no in-depth knowledge about slavery or presidential history. That being said, I do know my history books got it wrong. I do know there is a sitting president who is an undisguised racist and I do not want my nephews reading anything less than the truth in their history books. I do know that I am sorry for my ignorance. I do know we have a long, long, long way to go and we must bind ourselves together so that we can all stand on equal ground or we will continue to fall deeper alone.

And, some may say “How can the Republican party go from the 16th president of the United States to the blatant racism of the 45th president of the United States?” Relearning history makes it not only obvious but abundantly clear. Patterns are being repeated. History covers up racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia––by rewriting history through erasure, by perpetuating lies and therefore perpetuating hatred.

Next time I visit my hometown, I will remember the truth about the namesake of the street which runs through my town. The inevitable thought will make me consider just how many daily reminders we have of unabashed racism. The result will be a reminder to be louder against hatred, bolder against falsities, and clearer about the truth. Because I want my fellow human’s value in this world to be clear, known, and not just a pretty phrase. Because we can’t keep lying about our history. Because I want my nephews reading truth. Because I’m done being another nice neutral white face in the crowd.

“The liberal, then, is one who sees ‘both sides’ of the issue and shies away from ‘extremism’ in any form. He wants to change the heart of the racist without ceasing to be his friend; he wants progress without conflict. Therefore, when he sees blacks engaging in civil disobedience and demanding ‘Freedom Now,’ he is disturbed. Black people know who the enemy is, and they are forcing the liberal to take sides. But the liberal wants to be a friend, that is, enjoy all the rights and privileges pertaining to whiteness and also work for the ‘Negro.’ He wants change without risk, victory without blood.” ––James H. Cone

References:
Text from: Black Theology and Black Power by James H. Cone, 1969.
Cone’s references for Lincoln quotes:
First quote by Lincoln: “Reply to Horace Greeley,” 1862, in The American Tradition in Literature, Vol. 1; revised, S. Bradley, R.C. Beatty, and E.H. Long, eds. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1962), p. 1567.
Second quote by Lincoln: Quoted in Charles Silberman, Crisis in Black and White (New York: Random House, 1964), pp. 92-93.
(***Image from Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving” 1978.)

 

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The Encountering Silence Podcast is Here!

Many of you know I’ve begun recording a podcast with my dear friends, fellow writers and thinkers, Carl McColman and Kevin M. Johnson. They’ve focused on silence and contemplative studies for years via writing, speaking, and personal practice.

We’re finally on iTunes sharing our podcast with the world. It’s titled Encountering Silence because of the way silence is a threshold into the unknown. More than that, we’ve found that as soon as we begin to name our “experiences” within silence, we fail to behold the vastness it contains. By diving into this boundless topic, we take turns talking about topics like childhood silence, toxic silence, silence and social justice, silence and sexuality, silence and political action, communal silence, silence as it relates to the divine, and many other topics of interest as they relate to silence.

We currently have four episodes released which can all be found on iTunes Podcasts, Android, GooglePlay, Stitcher, or wherever you catch your podcasts. We hope you’ll take the time to find us, subscribe, listen, and review!

In the coming months we’ll be adding some interviews to the mix with a variety of authors, professors, intellectuals, and a number of others… Stay tuned!

Finally, to make all of this possible, our team contributes about 10+ hours a week to recording, preparing, developing, editing, and creating content. We’d love to give more time to this project as we want to help people appreciate the beauty and meaning of silence — and why silence helps us to lead healthier and happier lives. We’ve created a Patreon page where y’all can join our team and help us create more content. With your monthly pledge, you become a patron of our podcast. In other words, you become part of the team.

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Responding to Charlottesville – Clarity from Chaos

Day after day we see hatred rise up in the world and our anxious flailing towards ‘what to do’ increases. We become debilitated by both the anger/fear and the possibilities before us. We become blinded to the good we can jump in on. We fail to see the love we can be a part of.

Yes, we must remember to breathe. We must remember to go into ourselves and see what we are to speak love and truth into. We must remember that often where we are to give action is usually a place of palpable discomfort.

And, more than anything, more than ever, we must recall that these are the moments that not only define who we are and what we stand for but are also the moments that reveal that precise truth and love to our children, our friends, our lovers, our families, and even those we disagree with. The children in our lives are watching us and taking cues… are we showing them something worth following? Are we breathing love into their lives? Are we demonstrating the truth of equality for their hearts? Are we standing up for our friends and pointing to love and truth in moments where hatred is so loud? Day after day after day?

Our routes forward are different means of expressing this love and truth, mine is no less or more important than yours. But a common thread is hosted in all those ways; a common thread that is woven into all of our hearts to want what is right, what is equal, what is good, what is loving, what is kind, what is truth, what is just.

I am entirely against white supremacy and the hatred it stands for.

Can we really, for a moment, imagine what it is like to be one our black friends today? Can we really, for a heartbeat, imagine what it is like to be one of our Muslim coworkers today? Can we really, for a breath, consider what it is like to be one of our immigrant neighbors today? We must walk with one another, feel one another’s pain (as best we can) and carry each other’s hearts with tenderness.

Which way is truly forward if we do not first examine the things within ourselves that even subconsciously permit a perpetuation of hatred? How can we really begin if we are not tending also to our own wars within? Whether these are acts of violence against our environment, hatred towards ourselves, or even our fears towards the government or systems of injustice… do they not also point to a tolerance of violence and hatred in some capacity? We must shed ourselves of these things. We must step out of comfort for the sake of all of our lives.

To imply your voice does not matter or makes no difference, is to suggest that there is not a way forward. People hear you: at your job, in your home, with your friends, with your children, your nephews and nieces, amongst your family. People read your words. Your voice and your words MATTER. Your action and presence MATTER. Because it is by unification of bodies and voices of love that we can begin to step forward. And it is in this unification that we hold one another’s trembling hands to do better, to do right, to give ourselves to love and truth. To show real love, we must first be love. To offer hope, we must first risk frustration and fear.

So, what will be our stance in these days? What will be our way forward in love and truth? How will we show the children in our lives what is right?

We say and we’re told that love wins, but we must remember that love winning requires our voices, our actions, our lives…

………………………………………………………………………………………..

An excerpt from Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”
“I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you… What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am black, because I am myself, a black woman warrior poet doing my work, come to ask you, are you doing yours?…And, of course, I am afraid– you can hear it in my voice– because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside of you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth.”…On the cause of silence, each one of us draws her own fear– fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we also cannot truly live. Within this country where racial difference creates a constant, if unspoken, distortion of vision, black women have on one hand always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism. Even within the women’s movement, we have had to fight and still do, for that very visibility which also renders us most vulnerable, our blackness. For to survive in the mouth of this dragon we call america, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson– that we were never meant to survive. Not as human beings. And neither were most of you here today, black or not. And that visibility which makes you most vulnerable is also our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind us into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in out corners mute forever while our sisters and ourselves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned, we can sit in our safe corners as mute as bottles, and still we will be no less afraid.”

………………………………………………………………………………………..

“I am therefore not completely human until I have found myself in my African and Asian and Indonesian brother because he has the part of humanity which I lack.” Thomas Merton

 

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Creating From The Wound

I live in Los Angeles, the epicenter of self-defining artists. And, like most people in this city, I consider myself an artist. However, unlike most people living in Los Angeles — I believe we’re all artists in some form or another. I’m in constant awe of the way people create, perform, produce, and refine their skills. I see this in the visual arts, parenting, writing, cooking, teaching, care-taking, and most avenues of life.

In LA, I’m constantly bombarded with things that take me away from my ability to create — the time in traffic, the busyness of a day’s work, the notifications on my phone, the amount of people. Because of this, I try to hike a couple times a week. Hiking seems to be an activity where I process through things in my life — often to the point of talking aloud as strangers walk by me curious about my babbling. More often than not, it’s reworking a conversation and my place in it, sometimes it’s prayer, and other times it’s just a subconscious dialogue I’d yet to consider. This personal jukebox seems to flow most easily in a natural setting; the safety of nature guides me into letting it all out. This sense of safety is not only ingrained in our genetics but is also evident in our psychological interaction with uniting our bodies with the earth.

“We’ve learned over hundreds of thousands of years, that when the birds are singing, we’re safe. It’s only if they suddenly stop that you get a really bad feeling.” Julian Treasure of The Sound Agency via In Pursuit of Silence

While hiking the other day, I unknowingly lifted my right hand to the left side of my face, holding it ever so tenderly, like a lost lover would. I stopped, closed my eyes, and began to weep. After a few seconds of embracing this deep grief, I finally gathered myself enough to keep walking, continuing to cup my own face as if I wasn’t alone, as if I was someone’s beloved, as if she was with me. And, as these moments turn out, I was indeed alone, on a trail, walking by strangers as I held my own face. And just how many times have I found myself grazing my own hand, twisting my own rings, comforting myself? More often than I’d like to admit, but less often than I’d like to feel. 

This alienated agony we all face reminds me of the bottomlessness of my need to belong. A human need that we all know so well. That the depth of my longing is quite simply a part of my being, a part of how I was created, a part of my insatiable thirst for finally feeling home.

“…The normal way never leads home.” John O’Donohue

I’ve often considered one of the few certainties of our lives (as if there were any actual certainties in life) to be found in our relationships. Because, let’s face it, this woundedness demands a sense of tangible security. A security that no human ought to be made responsible to carry for us — both because it is beyond human possibility, and as we well know — the pain never dissipates. The cracks never fill. Belonging feels momentary. Home is never really found. It is eased, comforted, soothed — but it is the precisely the agony of these stirrings that call us to our work. And that is the artist’s response. That is the response of the creative that leans into her image as being made in the image of her creator. That is the moment where we become the artist and create our work. The work so deeply intertwined with eternity — the work that meets the infiniteness of our fellow humans because it comes from the infinite broken-heartedness of our own being.

“We all have wounds. We all are in so much pain. It’s precisely this feeling of loneliness that lurks behind all our successes, that feeling of uselessness that hides under all the praise, that feeling of meaninglessness even when people say we are fantastic—1that is what makes us sometimes grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give.” — Henri Nouwen

Our hearts are bottomless pits that no human can fill. But, that is a gift. A gift that must be poured out in the creative work. A gift that requires constant courage and vulnerability of the self. The artist points to eternity because she creates from an eternal emptiness, woundedness, and ache.

These are the things that keep the artist alive. Tenderness. Intimacy. Love. Connection. Community. There are certainly times a friend’s touch can reignite us. There are moments a companion’s gaze can reinvigorate us. And there are seconds our own hand on our face might remind us that we do indeed belong, if only to ourselves. These are the moments that must be recalled time and time again so that we might stay afloat and keep creating.

“Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” — Audre Lorde

“…But I believe that loneliness is something essential to human nature; it can only be covered over, it can never actually go away. Loneliness is a part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart.” — Jean Vanier

This piece was originally posted on the Sick Pilgrim Blog.

 

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I Wasn’t Ready To Write This

Love alone could waken love.” Pearl S. Buck

There are moments in life that I won’t be ready for. That doesn’t mean they won’t happen. That doesn’t mean I should sit back and do nothing. I wasn’t ready to write this.

This isn’t another article about names in politics; this is an article about you and me.

The hatred and violence in the world today (as if this were a new thing) is beyond my ability to fathom. It bears the infinite weight of endless agony prompted by fear, self-hatred, other-hatred, disoriented religions, and a reckless abandonment of anything associated with love.

Where are we and what are we doing here?

It is important to note that situations and experiences cannot be compared, for none of them are the same. Each of us relates differently to each of the things happening in the world precisely because we bring our own lenses and our own experiences to them. My lens is one of ignorance, privilege, whiteness, and a very clear sense of my lack of experience with discrimination and/or being in unjust situations.

However, that doesn’t make any one of us exempt from the human race. And if I see a brother or sister in the human race hurting or in danger, how is it not my responsibility to speak up, stand up, and do my part to help love grow where it has died? How is it not my responsibility to stand with, near, or in front of those hurting to remind them the importance of their very lives? Every ounce of love-oriented humanness lost, especially unlike me, diminishes all of our lives and all of our abilities to live out who we are.

I am therefore not completely human until I have found myself in my African and Asian and Indonesian brother because he has the part of humanity which I lack.” Thomas Merton 

Names should be spoken. The names of victims, the names of movements, the names of those who need us to keep their balance, and whose eyes we need to keep ours. These truths and beyond deserve to be spoken:

Black lives matter. No one should wake up in fear just because of the color of their skin.

The LGBTQIAA community deserves the right to live their lives openly and without fear.

Muslims deserve to practice openly and peacefully without judgments or assumptions.

And, certainty, this list goes on and on.

If one cannot get a grip on saying any of those sentences because they feel all lives matter or because they disagree with Islam or being gay, then they’re missing the point. We say these things precisely because all lives matter; we say these things because we are less whole when our fellow human is in danger physically, emotionally, or otherwise. And, it is time to listen and time to stand with these lives that are in danger.

Listen. Speak. Stand.

I have never felt so strongly in my life that our silence in such situations only arms us with the precise violence that created these problems in the first place. Some of us fear our own stance — that we might lose friends or go into a rabbit hole of discussions with the “other side”.

Do I want to live a life of love? Then, there’s only one “side” and only one clear evident stance to take. To stand in love with my fellow human beings.

How many times have I hindered my love and compassion because I was worried what others might think? Towards lovers, friends, family, or someone different from me? Countless times. Even now, as my black friends are hurting beyond words, my police officer friends put on their uniform trembling, my Muslim friends attempt to discontinue lies being told about them time and time again, and so on.

Do we enjoy being able to walk down the street without fear of being shot? So do our neighbors. Do we like being able to openly love whom we love? So do our neighbors. Do we appreciate being able to openly express our religious beliefs without fear of discrimination, hatred, or violence? So do our neighbors. Do we like being able to do our job peacefully? So do our neighbors.

Neighbors. Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together. We must listen, weep, speak up, and stand up for more than just our own wounds. We must recognize that we share the same wounds – whether I had a part in creating yours or I simply see it; I have a shared responsibility as a fellow human to work towards healing.

Some days I back off of saying something thinking it will pass. Some days I’m so worried about looking good or hoping others will just feel better.

But our silences do not look good and they make no one feel better. Our silences in matters of hate, violence, bullying, and negativity only give power to the oppressor and make the oppressed feel more and more alone.

The world is a scary place. And, we need each other. We need examples of people being who they are in love. We need people to stand up next to their alienated friends and co-workers as they expose parts of themselves that may be difficult. We need to wander into life hand-in-hand with those different from ourselves. We need more compassion and understanding. We need to look at one another in the eye as the neighbors that we already are. We need hope. And hope is not vain optimism. Hope is a weary voice that keeps speaking truth. Hope is our continual emergence in standing with love, in love.

Hope will not be silent…” Harvey Milk

There are moments in life that you won’t be ready for. That doesn’t mean they won’t happen. I wasn’t ready to write this.

I may be wrong, but maybe Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t “ready” to spend his life on the civil rights movement, but he knew something needed to change. Maybe Gandhi wasn’t “ready” for a hunger strike, but he knew that was his part to promote love. Perhaps, Harriet Tubman wasn’t “ready” to help slaves into freedom, but who else was going to do it? And possibly Susan B. Anthony wasn’t “ready” to be the face of the women’s suffrage movement, but she simply stood up for what was right.

I know I can listen, speak, stand, and will continue to. I know I can weep, and will continue to. Whether alone, in the company of loved ones or strangers; our sadness, outrage, and most importantly our aligned stance disarms us into a unified voice that cannot be denied.

Love evokes hope; hope evokes love. And both tell me to stand. They tell me to stand and be myself and recognize those doing the same or needing someone to rise up next to. They tell me to stand near them, to stand with them, but even if alone — to stand.

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?” Audre Lorde