A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
If you follow me on facebook, you may be tiring of the single note I have sung over the past few months—especially since the failure of the Grand Jury to indict Darren Wilson in the Ferguson, Mo. killing of Mike Brown. Except that have not actually sung much of anything myself. Rather I have shared a great deal of the reality, reflection and opinion of others in regards to what I believe is a watershed moment in the history of our country and in the matter of justice for all. Shortly after the Ferguson grand just decision, I read an author who encouraged us to stop talking (in fact, I believe the term used was ‘shut-up’) and just take some time to sit shiva. And so I have.
I am also aware that so much (maybe even all) of what we privileged folk have to add to the conversation is influenced by the lenses through which we see and therefore is not of much value in this most imperative conversation in this most poignant time. And so I am trying to privilege the voices and ideas of those whose lives are at stake. I am trying to really see the damning, debilitating, disgusting inequality that is the minute-to-minute reality of those who must negotiate our systemic (albeit less obvious than it used to be) racism, classism and the cultural conditions that continue to privilege white, educated and economically secure over black, brown, other people of color, less educated and poor.
I have had little to say these last few weeks and I have been sitting shiva. And then there was the Staten Island grand jury decision in the homicide of Eric Garner…and I heard a voice in my heart that said—I can’t breathe. When I stopped to be present to my heart I couldn’t breathe and when you can’t breath you can’t talk. And then there was John Crawford… and Tamir Rice… and Rumain Brisbon (you probably have not even heard his name yet)… and probably by the time your read this there will be another…it just keeps coming. I have had little to say and have been sitting shiva.
Mind you in private places I have wept and railed and sobbed and shaken my fist and fallen to my knees and cried out, and wept some more—with that deep, horrified kind of grief that comes from a place of fear and the sense that nothing you say or do will make a difference. But with you, I have said nothing. I have shut-up and sought to listen and learn. I have read (almost obsessively, morning, noon and night) the experience and stories of those for whom this horror is their life—not a news cycle but their every day, life long, centuries old experience.
In part I have taken this tack because I really want to be an agent of change in this regard and learn how to helop, and I don’t want to say the wrong thing, and I have my own personal “s**t” with this as the mama of two brown boys. But mostly, I shut up and sat shiva because that is all that I had—silence—no pastoral words of hope, no theological wisdom, no ideas about how to change things, no confidence in our ability to change things…just mourning (with an occasional spike of anger), waiting for the silence to shine a light on a way, waiting for the movement of the Holy Spirit to point out the direction.
And today—by the grace of God, my tongue was loosed. First, by the powerful witness of (mostly young) people who all over the country are marching, and ‘dying-in’ and calling for change in a way that is interrupting the status quo and not going unnoticed. And, by the strong voice of men and women of faith—colleagues, strangers, experts and novices who are shouting, pleading and teaching through written word, preaching, protest and prayer—calling for change. Finally, my tongue was loosed by the beautiful, calming presence of the Rev. Maren Tirabassi whose poetry and story on Friday night opened a space for us to pray, for even if you know not what to say, you can pray.
As Anne Lamott would say, “Help. Thanks. Wow.” Beloved, I believe there is a real movement afoot and that gives me hope. The kind of Advent hope that is inevitable when the Light of the World breaks in to make a way where there is no way. I believe that part of our job will be to shut up, listen, learn and insure that the movement is not silenced by the next news cycle. May it be so.
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade (firstname.lastname@example.org)