I wrote this right after I learned of the murders at Mother Emanuel AME on June 17th, 2015. If you have not read Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s piece about the making of an American terrorist centered on this act, which I believe was a kind of beginning of unearthing something that continues to unfold, you should read it.
More than any other thing on earth or beyond, faith and hope have been my anchors in a shifting universe of heartbreak and sorrow. I believed this to be a cliché, to be too easy an answer for a long time. It was a comfort I rejected for so long that I believed my version of the truth — that I could be a quirky black woman outside of her context and continue to do just fine. That my survival was not dependent on faith or hope. I could talk to Jesus just fine out in the world, running through God’s beautiful creation, independent and alone.
But there is strength in numbers. There is recognition in community. Mirrors. Wellsprings of compassion, of truth-telling, of witnessing. The enduring strength of the black community relies on these truths. It always has, it always will.
I found in my church community the truth of this. But it was an awkward fit at first. I never seemed to wear the right clothes. I had forgotten the right words to the Apostle’s Creed. I did not know the old Gospel hymns.
But when I read about Emanuel AME this morning and prayed for that church, for that community, and for those of us who keep witnessing this terrorism and death and continue to carry this grief and loss from headline and breaking news alert, city to city, day to day, the song was written on my heart already:
Jesus is a Rock in a weary land/ A shelter in a time of storm.
The church is supposed to be our safe space, the only place where we can relax, lay down our burdens, put aside our masks, and be fed by the hope and fuel that will sustain us from week to week, day to day. Church for me is a reminder that God has not forgotten us, that there is strength in numbers, that we are covered by a cloak of divinity and anointing much greater than we can ever imagine.
It is as hard for me to reconcile the truth of this as it is to be a sinner who feels moment by moment unworthy of God’s grace. Because there are so many reminders of black bodies under siege, that true justice only comes from God.
There is the reminder that terrorism is classified as separate and unequal, perpetuated by the notion that black lives are unimportant and that black American citizenry is a paradox.
There is a reminder that it is simpler to pretend that shooting down black citizens anywhere, at any time, for any reason, is more of an isolated “hate crime” (in quotes, because somehow naming it before it is officially designated by the proper authorities is treacherous territory) than it is to contextualize the reality of right-wing terrorism as one of the many legacies of white supremacist tyranny in the black community that has ranged from lynching to bombing black churches, killing black women, little girls and men.
On days like today, my faith is shaken. My heart is heavy. I’ve been told this is the most important time to lean on God, to find shelter in a weary land. I’m praying for Charleston, for the families of the victims, for the man who was filled with such hatred that he would claim them as they sought peace. And I’m praying for us, that we might find an answer to whether there are any shelters in a time of storm left for us.