Bewildered we are, and passion-tost, mad with the madness of a mobbed and mocked and murdered people; straining at the armposts of Thy Throne, we raise our shackled hands and charge Thee, God, by the bones of our stolen fathers, by the tears of our dead mothers, by the very blood of Thy crucified Christ: What meaneth this? Tell us the Plan; give us the Sign! But whisper—speak—call, great God, for Thy silence is white terror to our hearts! The way, O God, show us the way and point us the path.
Keep not thou silence, O God! But whisper—speak—call, great God, for Thy silence is white terror to our hearts! The way, O God, show us the way and point us the path.
Excerpt from A Litany of Atlanta, penned after the Atlanta Riot, the “Day of Death, 1906”
It’s like clockwork. I know not to call my mother Wednesday nights between 7–9pm. I know where she'll be. She will not be available. She’ll be praying with her church family at New Mt. Annie Baptist Church in Bakewell, Tennessee. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I've never really known her to miss a day, even when she doesn't really feel like going. It’s who she is, it’s what she does. Church is the place that she goes midweek to renew her strength and stir up the spiritual energy that carries her to the next Sunday morning service.
I remember sometimes having to go with her. Watching her and my aunties, cousins, and grandparents gather and seek a Word from the Lord. They would sing a string of sacred hymns and spirituals passed down from generation to generation, “spiritual steel forged by centuries of oppression" crafted for the purpose of galvanizing and refreshing weary and war torn souls. Sometimes…most of the time, they would shout rapturous praise to the God of Grace for bringing them through another week. They would search sacred texts for insight and inspiration. It was a time where they would look back and wonder how they got over. They would polish their armor and prepare for another day on the battlefield and they would laugh and let their joy openly flow…unedited, unmasked, genuine and fearless.
I have, and continue to learn so much from them. My love and respect for that little church in the “Holler” knows no bounds. It was my university, my conservatory, my seminary and always remains a touchstone for me when I need to refocus my purpose. I can imagine that many of my Black brothers and sisters feel the same way.
So when I saw the coverage coming out of Charleston, South Carolina, I didn't struggle to figure out why this young man committed such a heinous crime in our Most Sacred Space. He's a terrorist. And if he is “mentally unstable” it is because he’s been fed the same delusion based mythology that empowered his forefathers to rape, kill, enslave and leave us as “strange fruit” hanging from trees.
So no, absolutely not! I will not waste my time, share my grief or part out my intellectual energy trying to understand a phenomenon so familiar to me and countless other people of color. That could have very well been my mother, my sister, my family. Therefore, all of my spiritual and intellectual resources, my weeping and my anguish is reserved in this moment for people like them who have cried out to the God of Justice for relief many many times, week after week, century after century on their knees at the Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.