‘What will happen to us if that comet falls out of the sky?’
Providentially, my Lenten journey in preparation for Easter coincided with my participation in Sacred Ground, an 11-part film and dialogue series based on race and grounded in faith.
It was created by the Episcopal Church and offered to the Sisters of Providence, our Providence Associates and other friends to help all of us become part of the Beloved Community, to help people, especially White people, confront America’s history of race and racism.
During these weeks, approximately 30 participants have watched films and read articles that have revealed in powerfully graphic detail the ways those in power in society and government, in the church and in the pews have oppressed Indigenous, Black, Latino, and Asian/Pacific American peoples.
More than once, the phrases “I had no idea,” and “Lord have mercy,” have risen up within my mind and heart. More than once, I have asked these questions of my little break-out group, “How could we do these things to one another? Why do we continue to do these things to one another?”
As I moved into Holy Week this year, I pondered Jesus’ own question, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” How could these people have survived such treatment? How could Jesus have survived such treatment? Where is God in all of this?
‘Jesus and the Disinherited’
Enter Howard Thurman.
Thurman’s book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” was a companion to the films and articles of the Sacred Ground program. More than once, Thurman, a writer, preacher and teacher, asks the question: “Is there any help to be found for the disinherited in the religion of Jesus?”
It seems to me that Easter answers that question. God does not abandon Jesus, and Jesus promises that God will not abandon us. Jesus, on the journey to the cross, never abandons the basic tenet of his faith: We are all children of God. The God who provides for the lilies of the field will provide for us. This is the God we call Providence. This is the God who brings new life from a cross.
Thurman shares how this was made manifest in his own life. His grandmother, once a slave herself, would often repeat the words offered by her slave minister. During the secret meetings, this minister held with other slaves in order to buoy up their strength, he would proclaim: “You – you are not niggers. You – are not slaves. You are God’s children.”
Thurman tells a poignant story about the night his mother took him out in the yard to experience Halley’s Comet flaming across the sky. Howard asked her, “What will happen to us if that comet falls out of the sky?”
Did Jesus’ followers utter a similar question? “What will happen to us now that they have crucified our Lord?”
After a bit of silence, Thurman’s mother said, “Nothing will happen to us, Howard; God will take care of us.”
Making a Beloved Community
In retrospect, Thurman called his mother, “simplehearted.” And yet he says, “I have learned that life is hard, as hard as crucible steel; but as the years have unfolded, the majestic power of my mother’s glowing words has come back again and again, beating out its rhythmic change in my own spirit. Here are the faith and the awareness that overcome fear and transform it into the power to strive, to achieve, and not to yield.”
This is the power that Jesus wielded, the power that we, too, are given as an inheritance this Easter day. We can make of our lives a beloved community. A community where we will truly embrace the meaning of the words, “we are all children of God.” A community that knows that God is counting on us to be the way God takes care of all the beloved of God.
Let the majestic power of Christ’s resurrection beat out its rhythmic change in our own spirits. Let us live with the faith and awareness that all of life is beloved of God.
Note: Thanks to Providence Associate Bill Hughes of St. Stephen Episcopal Church who helped us access the Sacred Ground Program. It was developed by Katrina Browne. Bill has been assisted by Sister Barbara Battista, SP, and Providence Associate Chuck Fisher. Special thanks to Providence Associates Debbie Dillow and Jennifer Drake, who have assisted with the technology for our bi-weekly Zoom meetings.