I have not been myself the second half of last week. I have had to force myself to engage in projects and activities I normally love and jump right into. There has been a heaviness that has been about me everywhere I walked. It felt like every smile, conversation was forced and just drained the life right out of me. I felt like Eeyore (of Winnie the Pooh fame) everywhere I went there was this cloud that hung over me.
Sitting at home in my study this morning I was delaying going to church because I was not sure I wanted to go through a morning of smiles and pleasantness. I was not sure I had it in me. As I got all the last minute things ready I was taking a mental inventory, asking why I was feeling this way. The feelings were not all new…I often feel the same heaviness as we walk through Holy Week. Remembering the suffering and death of Christ evokes this spirit of loss and sadness that I have learned to embrace rather than push aside. Walking with, and through, the heaviness has led to times of great celebration and joy…so the feelings were not new…but why now? I felt a wave of understanding (almost relief) wash over me when I realized how I had allowed the evil that took place in Charleston, SC to cloud and impact my week. As the hate, pain and shame of one person’s life was unleashed upon a group of people gathered for bible study and prayer we saw evil personified. If we were to use the analogy of a boxing match evil landed an upper cut to the jaw of love and grace with love and grace heading straight to the mat, dazed and confused. I have allowed, given permission for that evil to color my world this week. Abba Father forgive me.
Sitting here in my study before worship this morning I am reminded of how the men and women of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church have showed us what it means to live with love and grace even in the midst of hate, pain and loss. I thought through even the earliest words you heard spoken by the survivors of the shooting, family members and members of the congregation. While the police and authorities were talking about justice and making sure someone was going to be held accountable for what happened…the words from within the congregation were words of love, grace and forgiveness. Their lives will forever be changed by what happened. Families have been forever torn apart. Worship and church fellowship will never quite be the same, they will find it hard to welcome a first time visitor without suspicion ever again…and yet those strong words of forgiveness and grace. Abba Father grant them strength and healing as they continue the journey forward.
I was reminded of the court hearing where family members were given the opportunity to speak regarding their loss. They could speak directly to the one who had betrayed their hospitality by unleashing such violence upon their loved ones. They had an opportunity to stand up and tell him what they felt and “give him a piece of their mind.” As the judge called the names of those whose lives were taken a family spokesperson stood and began to speak. There were words of anger, pain, hurt, loss, and grief. Some questioned why. A question many of us have wrestled with over the past few days. Then there, amidst all the things you expected to hear came the glimmer of grace and love. It began slowly…built stronger until it was the main theme of what was being spoken to the boy/man standing motionless, head bowed, his image upon the screen in the courtroom.
“I forgive you, my family forgives you,” said Anthony Thompson, whose relative Myra Thompson was killed. “We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. … Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”
“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof — everyone’s plea for your soul is proof they lived in love and their legacies will live in love, so hate won’t win,” she said. “And I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.”
“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts … and I’ll never be the same,” Sanders told Roof. “Tywanza was my hero,” Sanders added, but then even she showed some kindness to the man accused of killing her son: “As we said in Bible Study, we enjoyed you but may God have mercy on you.”
“For me, I’m a work in progress and I acknowledge that I’m very angry,” said Bethane Middleton-Brown, who appeared in court on behalf of her sister, the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor. “We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul. And I also thank God I won’t be around when your judgment day comes with him.”
Love, Grace and Forgiveness were up off the mat, they had found their legs and were fighting back against the evil and darkness that confronted them. Fighting back as only they can, boldly declaring, “hate will not win.”
I find it amazing how it so easy for the circumstances of life to dictate how we feel. Our joy depends on how good things seem to be going (read, is everything working out the way I want it to). Our sense of peace is intact as long as there is no conflict or turmoil within our lives. We feel good about life just as long as darkness is at bay, or at least not being unleashed upon my little piece of the world. When our plans start to stutter or fail, as turmoil and anxiety begin to rise, if evil rears its ugly head…our confidence and joy are often quick to fly away. Abba Father, Grant me a growing and ever deepening confidence and strength in you so that I may have a sense of peace and joy no matter what life may send my way.
I went to church this morning. It was a great time of fellowship and worship. We sang a song which spoke deeply to me. The first verse goes like this.
You are my strength when I am weak
You are the treasure that I seek
You are my all in all
Seeking you as a precious jewel
Lord to give up I’d be a fool
You are my all in all
Abba Father, May I learn more and more to live out of the truth found within this simple chorus. May I rely upon your strength, may I seek you first and foremost. Abba Father, help me never to give up…even when it appears darkness and evil have surrounded and covered me.