"I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Son, let this woman be a bride to you in the restoration of my people. Let her be a mother for these people, regenerating souls through the salvation of spirit and water.'" (Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Black Lives are Sacred Day 7: BLM Stations of the Cross

Monday's post on Confessing Racism included a mention of my brilliant penance assigned in that day's Reconciliation to be embraced today: to make the Stations of the Cross offering them for the social justice concerns closest to my heart, especially Black Lives Matter. It's especially meaningful since I have recently embraced the practice of wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on Fridays and may end up being added to that weekly practice. Speaking of which, I tried unsuccessfully to find the webpage where I learned of the challenge and instead saw this heartbreaking account of two black girls being forbidden to wear their t-shirts --at a school where other students have worn Confederate flags--lest they "disrupt the educational process."

I did a web search to see if anyone had created a version of the Via Crucis focusing on the suffering of Christ today in his precious Black Body pouring out so much sacred yet desecrated Black Blood. And I found this 2016 Lenten offering from a UCC parish in Massachusetts: "The Passion of Jesus Christ and Current Events of American Racism."

A powerful, related piece from 2015 mentions Stations at a site of historic racist violence as just one of ten suggestions for White churches to engage with racism during Lent and Holy Week.

8. On Palm Sunday, read – or better yet – listen to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s less famous speeches and writings. Skip “I Have Dream” and hear instead “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” and the radical King explain why America is going to hell. Here echoes of the radical Jesus who overturned tables in the Temple.

9. Take a Holy Week pilgrimage of repentance to a plantation, to a slave-trading site, or to the site of injustice or violence against Black people. Create a Stations of the Cross liturgy for the site and pray it individually and silently while there.

10. On Good Friday, search for the names of lynching victims from your county. Read their stories. Find as much information about them as possible. Share their stories so they are not forgotten. During the liturgy, hear and see their stories as the altar is stripped, as Jesus breathes his last. Understand the crucifixion of Jesus continues today.

Tragically the search also turned up a blog piece I won't link to viciously attacking a variety of Black people who prayerfully carried out the Way of the Cross on Good Friday with the names of victims of police brutality, often experiencing cruel harassment when they posted the pictures on Twitter under #ReclaimHolyWeek. As I pray for justice and safety for Black citizens and my own conversion from the often covert ways I accept and participate in white supremacy I will also pray for these and other White siblings still trapped in more overt hate, fear, and ignorance. And I would be most grateful if White readers--and any Black ones who might feel moved to do so--would join me.

Edited to add:

Because I was in a hurry to pre-post before retreat, and saw that there were fourteen stations, it wasn't till I prayed through the set linked above Friday evening that I noticed that they were not completely aligned to the traditional Catholic stations which don't begin till Jesus is condemned by Pilate and include several legendary/elaborated ones like Veronica and the three falls. Turns out the Protestant pastor who created them for his church backed up to include a fuller account of the passion with direct scripture passages. He also did not include the traditional opening lines--said with a genuflection where physically possible: "V. We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. R. Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world." So I added that in as I made my way through the long and isolated path of the outdoor woodland Way of the Cross beginning with profound wonder in a glorious sunset, becoming increasingly uneasy at every leaf and animal rustle as the light faded, and ending in terror combined with shame and self-doubt in the full darkness which finally made me race walk past the last few stations and finish the prayers and readings, still shaken, when I reached the lighted area.

The experience also confirmed the feedback I need to send the author, as he invites on the site, about the serious problems in addressing gender and other intersectional issues. He claims that young black men as the main targets of police brutality and does not address misogynoir and the unique and in many ways worse vulnerability of black women and girls to deadly physical and especially sexual violence. And in his ninth station, "Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem," he vaguely defines intersectionality as adding other factors with the generic example of "a person" suffering racial injustice but enjoying gender privilege--rather than admitting it is black men who are in this situation which is why a black woman created the concept (along with addressing white female privilege) to acknowledge the fact that being female, queer, and/or disabled drastically deepen racist injustice for women of color as well as seriously impacting white women in a misogynist rape culture.

Most upsetting of all, the station includes one of his few female images: the woman in Ferguson who famously slapped and shouted at her son when she saw him throw bricks at police during a protest--and refers to "gender" and "age" dynamics being visible, strongly implying that female on male violence (toward a male engaging in violence liable to get him shot by police) is the deadly norm rather than the opposite. It is male violence against women, especially in families and romantic partnerships, that is horrifically tolerated and encouraged in this country and the world while our self defense is drastically punished. And as mothers we give birth to, and bear the overwhelming burden of nurturing, small helpless creatures at our mercy. And they grow each day into adults--even teens, like the boy in the picture, and sometimes tweens--ever more able to do us grave physical and emotional harm via physical strength and unjust privilege alike. I was covered with bruises by the time my sweet looking blond eleven year old was hospitalized because even then I, unlike his father, was not able to physically restrain him without harming him--and that terror grew week by week and year by year as he cannily continued his vicious verbal abuse and aggression combined with physically threatening attacks on property.

The physical discipline I had to use in self-defense twice when he was five--and defense of the vulnerable he would meet, as I now pray daily that he will not rape a woman--was profoundly traumatic for me, though not at all for him, because I did it right. I remember the relief of watching his increasing bafflement as the evaluating medical personnel carefully did the necessary "probe for abuse without planting the idea"--and his spontaneous outburst when he finally realized that these aliens were from some alternate universe where parents apparently sometimes harmed children. "They hurt me? Of course not! I hurt them!"

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes heart-shatteringly of the terror driving both mothers and fathers to belt children in a desperate attempt, like the woman shamed in the station, to prevent their children from being beaten and slaughtered by police or vigilantes. That too is in an entirely different universe from the endemic experience of many men attacking, abusing, and slaughtering us unpunished by society and unchallenged by the churches and all men enjoying the vast oppressive power that comes from that situation. So the discomfort and frustration I felt when first reading that station transformed to visceral trauma entwined with sacred rage, in turn entwined with despair at the way that privileged men, progressive and not, trivialize and dismiss our witness to the way all female bodies and spirits experience the danger and reality of the Passion daily in a way that they never will and can't imagine.

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