"Perhaps ... I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am a lesbian, because I am myself —a Black woman warrior poet doing my work—come to ask you, are you doing yours?” Audre Lorde
Six months ago, I sat in a sun-washed living room in Charlottesville, Virginia, on a Skype call with a counsellor in Berkeley, California and began the healing work of reconciling myself to myself, to my own story, to my ancestors and family. Throughout the course of our ninety minute session, a woman 3,000 miles away guided me through the process of calling the presence of my ancestors into the room— people who left Japan as victims of human trafficking, who left Ireland because of famine, who died in chemical spills in the pineapple fields in Hawaii, who thought my multi-racial existence was an offense against God. She invited me to speak with them, to listen to them speak to each other, to feel their love and pride and gentleness towards my life begin to hum within me. Years ago, I would have dismissed this type of work as woo-woo hippie dreaming. But I had reached the end of the rational rope— there was a dissonance growing within my adult identity that could not be spanned by cerebral connections, there was pain that could not be healed by critical race theory alone. Where do we turn when the world of the rational brain is not enough? When we can no longer learn or argue our way out of pain? When we can’t think our way out of trauma we carry in our bones?
I think this is what Audre Lorde meant when she penned those famous words— do your own work— and it’s what I want to dedicate my life to. I want to be learning how to do my own work— to knead through and walk through my own healing— while accompanying others on their journeys as well. There are macro systems of racism and institutional white supremacy that are turning the cogs of this world and, of course, I think we need to put our bodies and lives on the line to halt that war machine. And yet, we must be equally attentive to the analogous inner personal journey. How can I transform myself as I am transforming systems around me?
In the last year, I have begun to be mentored by folks who are connecting present day brokenness to past histories of trauma. How did my ancestor’s deep, traumatic experiences get transmitted to their children, to my parents, and to me? The scars of famine, assault, and war penetrate the flesh, marking our bones, souls, and behaviors with coping mechanisms like alcoholism, violence, anxiety, and fear. White supremacy works to tear us apart, to parcel us into groups that we must protect. It works to isolate us from our own stories. In this way, it is white people who suffer the most from the dis-ease of white supremacy— like whiteness is a quality that exists apart from a culture or homeland. Whiteness, this bleak void that carries no human lives.
Let me invite you back into your own story.
It, like mine, is a story of resilience. We’re here, after all. The human spirit has a remarkable ability to endure. And, like me, perhaps there are gaps in your story. As part of my own racial reconciliation with myself, however, I’m beginning to try to fill in the gaps. I am learning to tell the stories that used to lie silent in my own family— stories that lay dormant because of shame and trauma— and also learn about the stories that my family silenced. As white settlers in Virginia, somewhere along the line my family participated in the genocide and theft of native land. In a slightly more racially complicated way, my family also moved onto Native Hawaiian land as immigrants from Korea and Japan. In learning the stories of the acquisition of land and power in these places, I hope to begin to use stories to call in healing. Audre Lourde also said, “Your silence will not protect you.”
My mentors are teaching me that racial justice is spiritual formation. It is working out our collective salvation with fear and trembling— fear at what we might discover, trembling at God’s mighty love that calls us back into our own goodness. This formation works at many levels: in our own collective and individual consciousnesses, in our own bodies, in telling stories anew. We must do the work of unlearning and re-learning narratives that have historically been obscured or silenced. What is the legacy of slavery at your church? What is your family’s relationship to the native people of your land? We must also reckon with the way our individual histories have marked our very bodies on a molecular level. My grandfather dropped bombs out of an airplane in World War II. I doubt very seriously that my present-day anxiety stems from my life experiences alone. And, finally, we must weave this learning into a new story, offering these re-membered narratives to our communities to hold and proclaim for the sake of freedom.
The most powerful tool in our collective kit, though, is the audacity to believe in a Creator who calls the Heavenly Hosts into our midst, who desires our healing and fullness, who is folding death and life and family into each other’s midsts like the pull of the tides. Throughout his ministry, Christ called on the tradition of his ancestors— “It is written, it is written”— to ground himself in the story that he was inheriting, a story of trauma and resilience. When we sing the Sanctus— Holy, Holy Holy, God— we gather our voices and souls with our ancestors who always dwell amongst us. As Christians, I think we have forgotten the words to this ancient song. Now is the time to conspire together— that is, to breathe together— filling our lungs to prepare for the work of singing anew.
Below are several short voice recordings from Episcopal young adults speaking about the Beloved Community. Take a moment to engage in sacred listening by playing these recordings and then meditate on your reactions and your dreams for the Beloved Community.
Ryan Kenji Kuramitsu, Diocese Of Chicago. Click here to listen to his recording.
Kelly Phelan, Diocese of West Missouri. Click here to listen to her recording.
Christopher Decatur, Diocese of Ohio. Click here to listen to his recording.
This is the fourth installment of the EPPN's Lenten Series "Engaging the Beloved Community." You may find the previous reflections here. If you would like to have each week's reflection sent to your inbox, go here.