Sometimes, poets rule the day … and hope and history rhyme …
Yesterday, to me, feels like one of those days.
The minute she took her place at the podium, her bronze countenance shining like the sun, she had me captivated and holding my breath (as perhaps, she did, for you too …).
The coat she wore was bright yellow and chosen especially for the occasion. Word has it that she had refused the gift of a different coat, offered by another powerful woman, who gifted her instead with the ring adorning one of her fingers. The ring bears an image that invokes the voice of yet a third mighty woman, who for all-time sings …
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
Sometimes, poets rule the day.
This particular young poet, word has it, struggled with words as a child. R’s were especially difficult to pronounce, like the sounds in “rrrrrrolling thunderrrrr” and “Lorrrrrrrd have merrrrrrcy”. But the prison which held her tongue could not hold her spirit, which found its freedom by putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard. Her gift was honed and encouraged by a local non-profit whose mission is to assist teenage girls in discovering the power of their voice through creative writing. And so her gift, words and spirit grew, attracting attention and accolades from all around, including that of our First Lady, who believed they were meant for a nation yearning, too … and still … to be truly free.
To prepare, she researched, read and re-read the words of powerful men from our nation’s still-unfolding story, whose names are emblazoned in our collective heart and memory.
But her words – prophetic words — of truth, comfort, grief and hope, pointing our way forward as we pick ourselves up yet again, ever again: these words were and are fully hers, inspired by the same Creator whose breath lives in you and me, calling us to build the Beloved Community, God’s Dream for Us, here and now, step by step, up that hill we climb, together.
I invite you to hear her words – Amanda Gorman’s words – once again.
Pray them, with me. Dance them, with me. Wrestle them, with me. Dream them, with me.
And let our voices together sing thanks for All That Has Been, All That Is, and All That Is Yet To Be.
The Hill We Climb
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Amanda Gorman, 2021 Inaugural Poet
Love is not easy. In fact, it is the “most difficult of all of our tasks,” writes Ranier Maria Rilke to a young poet, “the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” How do I love my political opponent, you ask, or the sibling who regularly tells me my beliefs are mistaken, the leader who betrays me, or the perpetrator of violence? Maybe you can’t at first, and your honest appraisal is the beginning of the way through?
Love can feel great, but intention matters more than emotion. It’s the practice of seeking the good of the other, intending her well-being, dying to the temptation of winning power over, and rising to the eternal truth of building power with. It is believing in your own worth and humanity and granting that value to any so-called enemy. Love looks less to change the other person’s mind and more to find unexpected common ground. Love honors truth-telling, but uses compassion to get there. Love invites, includes, respects, shares.
Love is the defining value of the way of Jesus, and in that it calls people of faith to two types of action. One kind is within our small circle of influence—courageous, consistent engagement with family members, friends, colleagues, or neighbors. The second call is on a larger scale—employing love with others as an organizing principle and methodology to transform systems for the better. Both practices foster well being: the hard slog of confession, accountability, and reconciliation is what heals us.
Moreover, love can teach us how to have difficult conversations across palpable divides, which seem increasingly common these days. Maybe you’d like some training to help you navigate the relationships you find yourself in or hope for? Reach out to me if you are interested.
Last evening I was struck to see what I wrote to you on October 1:
When a leader is wounded at his center, the system suffers, and that is our reality as Americans at this moment. Whatever one’s political party, our President is not well. Deflection, distraction, self-centeredness, and bullying are not the signs of health, and accommodating such destructiveness in one who wields such power imperils the whole. I pray for President Trump every day.
Republicans and Democrats at their best stand for humane values grounded in good will, good governance, elected representation, responsible stewardship of resources, and securing the well-being of our most vulnerable neighbors. Solving our problems through honest debate and respecting each other’s right to informed and differing opinions invites growth and brings out the best in us. Interrogating our history with open eyes, open minds, and open hearts enables us to recapture our soaring aspirations, even as we confront the fact that we have never yet achieved our Constitution’s goals for all of our citizens.
I believe if we will continually confess the sins which have thrown obstacle after obstacle in the way of so much human thriving, especially for people of color, with God’s grace, we can finally build a more perfect union.
But we won’t get there if we don’t ask ourselves what ails our principal leader, confront every measure of collaboration or colluding committed for selfish ends, condemn any act of or invitation to violence, seek his healing, and our own.
Three and a half months later, I still seek the healing of our President, by holding him in the Divine Light and expressing my concern to our representatives in Washington. But more than that is called for in this moment.
When a person crosses a line of discipline or honor, the most loving response is to hold him accountable for his actions; the healing of the individual and of the whole require it. The faith and future of our children and grandchildren depend on it. Words matter. How we speak and what we say to others is our responsibility, especially for a leader, and most especially for the President of the United States.
Years of bending the truth has warped the foundation of our institutions, and his followers’ anger over that time was less addressed than stoked, as kindling for his self-serving fire. On January 6, President Trump incited the storming of the Capitol Building and the horrible violence of that day. Further, the President could have intervened to stop the violence, and he did not. His words and actions are contemptible, and with humility we must confront him with them; evil triumphs when good people remain silent. An impeachment is a logical response to his putting personal pique ahead of good of the nation. Unity between parties and people can only grow from the solid ground of mutual accountability and respect.
Love is not easy. Love is the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. But only the hard work of love can save us, as individuals and a nation.
Yesterday on January 6th my daughter, Crystal, reminded me of one of her birth stories that I had told her throughout the years. Trigger warning: too much information? (TMI)
I had to be induced twice before she was born. The first time it was because I was already 2 weeks overdue. I was miserable naturally and cried when Dr. Linda sent me home after a full day of an oxytocin drip. Later that night, I went into semi-active labor and for the next 48 hours simply walked the floors of our home. I could not eat or sleep; needless to say, I became physically exhausted. The doctor said let’s try again; it was Wednesday night. She gave me a Seconal to sleep which was good, because the new IV started promptly at 8a on Thursday morning. By noon, I began to demand that Charles take me home. I consciously remember saying to him, “I wanna go; take me home…NOW!”
I was scared, had never done this before and just wanted OUT of the whole thing. He tried to be understanding—I gave him you-know-what. Poor guy. Crystal was born at 4 that evening.
People of God, we may want out of the whole thing the way I did many moons ago, but we must birth a new way of being at this time in our collective life. Due to this fact, we are now undergoing birth pangs. That is what we witnessed yesterday on the steps of the nation’s capitol. It may feel like freefall or like the sky is falling. While some ask how did we come to the fiasco of yesterday afternoon at the nation’s capitol, others ask, why such limited numbers of law enforcement were present for so many people when Black Lives Matter protestors were met with law enforcement in full riot regalia earlier this year.
It is a humiliation and a reckoning with the truth of who we are as a people. We are just like any other people, fallen and in need of Grace. Without vital connection to the Light of God (which some call enlightenment), we are no worse nor better than any other people or nation. We have been spiritually unhealthy as a nation for quite a long time now, even in the Church, so what we witnessed was to be expected. We experienced physically what already existed energetically. Matter follows energy (or spirit).
Birthing is a hard thing. Do you recall my sermon about the revelation that we are ALL Mary the mother of God? Well, that revelation remains true for each one of us. Some of us say “yes” like Mary did, some say “maybe”, and some say “no!” That is just the way human beings operate and have operated since time immemorial. And even though La Virgen said “yes,” she still had a messy, complicated birthing alone followed by a harried departure to Egypt to protect the new baby. Life is difficult. Period.
These times make it even more important that we learn how to get connected and stay connected to the Divine Source (GOD). What I am saying to you is that you should not be surprised by all that we are undergoing. It may have caught many by surprise, but it has not caught the Divine Source of Life off-guard. Remember WHO you are and keep the main thing, the Main Thing.
What is the Main Thing you might ask? Well only this. That GOD was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and through him has given US the spirit of reconciliation. People are not separate from GOD or each other no matter what they or we may “think.” Because of this truth we are responsible for being like Christ in the world in every aspect of our lives. It is not about our success or failure in this endeavor; it IS about our intentionality to BE Christ to each other and wherever we meet another human being (especially) in our families. If we are children of God, then we ought to look like our Parent…should we not?
Because birthing is a difficult messy business, those of us who know better must do better in terms of getting connected and staying connected to our Source—GOD who resides within us at the soul-level. There are spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, meditation, mindfulness, and others that can help us to get in touch with our souls…where God’s image resides. In this place is where peace and love and joy abound. When you live out of this place, you will find yourself acting from love, with love, for love’s sake. You will be changed. You, then, will change the world around you. We are all connected; we are all One.
This Lent, there will be plenty of opportunity to test and try out for yourself spiritual ways of getting in touch with God that have been used successfully through the centuries. Consider learning a new way. Remember, if we do what we have always done, we will get what we already have. It is time for God’s people to make the main thing, the Main Thing. It is time for something new.