The Pass Hall

 There’s something about wanting something your whole life, “seeing” it though it has not yet appeared, that is life-giving and that seems to open the door to receive and retrieve the vision.

 All my life I wanted to be a dancer; we couldn’t afford it, but I read everything I could about dancing and dancers, and as a teen, when I was able to pay for dance lessons myself, I became what I had seen. I did very well, even going so far as to be able to study on scholarship at the Dance Theater of Harlem.

 Then, as a pastor, I always wanted our choir to do all kinds of music – so as to invite children from the neighborhood could see and hear all that was available for them to wish for. We did Gospel music very well, but I wanted to expose the children in our community to more. I was able to get members of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra to play for us for one of our concerts and I for the first and only time in my life had a complete orchestral score from which to direct. I had “seen” that, from the time when I was little. We sang music from the most classical to the most soul-stirring Gospel, and the children were there, sitting in the front. Our choir was invited to be the featured choir for “The Lion King” promo and was also invited to sing in concert with country singer Lyle Lovett. We laughed. Country music? And yet, it was what I had “seen” and what I had seen came to fruition.

 So I was weeping when Sheryl Lee Ralph received an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in “Abbott Elementary.” She had “seen” where she wanted to be and her vision guided her and landed her in a role that earned her a cherished award. I listened yesterday to actress Jenifer Lewis, who grew up in abject poverty, talk about how she had “seen” herself being famous, in spite of not only living in poverty but struggling with bipolar disease. She never stopped “seeing” what she wanted to be, and it came to be. And I recall Viola Davis who, likewise began to see herself doing great things with her life despite being desperately poor – after, she says, she “wrote a love letter” to herself.

 All of that made me think of my mother, who, for as long as I could remember, wanted a house with a “pass hall.” The house we grew up in was a bungalow; you walked from the front porch right into the living room, and my mother hated it. It seemed that there wasn’t a week that went by without her saying she wanted a house with a pass hall.

 And then, after all those years of saying her vision out loud, it happened. Our family was able to move to a home that had a pass hall. We would walk into that house and on the left side was the living room; on the right was a study that became my dad’s office. The pass hall took us past the stairs and into the kitchen, where we walked through and turned left to get into the dining room. I remember the walk-through, but what I remember more is the tears that I saw in my mother’s eyes as she walked into that pass hall. It had happened. The vision had come to be.

 She died a year later, but she died having seen her vision come to pass, and what this remembrance says, or is a reminder of, is that having a vision, being able to “see” what you want and what God has for you, is a driver of hope and faith. Surely our ancestors saw themselves out of slavery, into schools on the highest levels, doing what the system they would never do. Surely the vision stayed with them, in spite of the way they were treated and in spite of the roadblocks to freedom, justice, and dignity that were put in their way.

 When you’re able to “see” what your spirit is feeding you, you have a power within that the world cannot touch; it did not give the vision and therefore, it cannot take it away. It just grows inside of your spirit, like a fetus, continuing until there is nothing left for it to do than to be born.

 If we, even in this most difficult time, keep the vision of justice and freedom and dignity for all, in spite of those whose only desire is to preserve the system as it has always been, we will see victories, our “pass halls,” so to speak. We are not powerless as long as we have the capacity to see what the world cannot see and what the world thinks is crazy for us to think about. Our lives and our hopes and what God has in store for us do not die until we do. Our task is to live on purpose and not give in to despair and hopelessness and know, not just believe, but know that the vision is truly “for an appointed time.” We are strengthened by knowing that the vision, that which we “see,” is on its way.

The Power of Solitary Brooding

I was struck this week in reading how Howard Thurman talked about solitary brooding, and I realized I was there, brooding deeply. I find that because so much is going on, so many things that “were” seem to be on the verge of disappearing, that I brood more than I once did. 

When one broods, it can be a sign of being depressed, or it can mean that one is giving a situation deep thought, musing over something or some things that demand a deeper delve in order to understand. My brooding falls into the latter category. I am not depressed. Rather, I am trying to make sense out of what is going on and what it will mean for those who are already oppressed. I am engaged in what Howard Thurman called “solitary brooding,” and it feels like the absolutely right place to be right now.

            In my musings, I had a thought: that if the government continues its shift toward fascism, it won’t be so different a life for Black people. Black people brown and poor people, have always lived under absolute rule where the rulers have been more concerned about keeping themselves in power than in empowering “the least of these.” Black people in this country have learned to navigate the waters of fascism. “Making a way out of no way” has been about sidestepping the intentional barriers to life and dignity that this government has always put before us.

            Black people have learned to brood, and yet to survive. Oppressed people in general have learned that skill, but Black people, who have always been under the thumb of white supremacy have learned it in a unique way. Those who are supporting the move away from “democracy” have deluded themselves into believing that the people in power care about them and will go to extraordinary lengths to protect them, but they will not, and just as so many people whined about being told to wear face masks during the pandemic so as to protect others from getting sick, they will whine as they come to understand that their privilege will be sharply curtailed and controlled. They have not stopped to brood, or to think, about what is ahead of them. They are unable to see themselves being oppressed by power, and yet, it is before them.

            Thurman said “The test of life is often found in the amount of pain we can absorb without spoiling our joy.” Clearly, Black people in this country have passed that test over and over, in spite of the pain that has come just from being Black. In this country, we have often retreated to deep spiritual places, alone, so that we can brood and hear the voice of God. In our brooding, we allow ourselves to identify and then empty out the malignant despair that seeks to take us to depths from which we will not be able to emerge. We instinctively know that we cannot remain “there.” And so we listen to that voice, encouraging us in spite of us having to continually duck from the toxic darts of white supremacy. We inhale the Holy Spirit and exhale joy. In spite of all that this society deprives us of, it cannot take our joy. We celebrate life and make life happen in spite of the efforts of the society to make us stop believing that there is such a thing as victories against our foes. It is in our celebration that we regain our strength and resolve to go forth and that decision in turn feeds our capacity to celebrate. We live out the truth of the beatitude as recorded in the book of Luke: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” 

            It is in our brooding that we make room for the Holy Spirit to wash our muddied spirits and moisturize our dried out souls. In our brooding, we share the space with ancestors who lived before us and left us spiritual drops of hope and joy, gifts from God that they knew they would have to pass on to us. We must take the time to brood, to think about where we are and to remember that the God of our ancestors has never abandoned us. We must remind ourselves of that truth.

            Those who have never had to do that type of brooding are not able to understand why and how an aggrieved people can still laugh and shout and sing. When their privilege gets threatened, they are more apt to panic than to be still…and brood, and their inability to do that feeds their despair.

            We do not know what is before us, but we have a feeling that difficult days lie ahead. Would that we would continue to engage in solitary brooding so that we can connect with the Holy Spirit and be strengthened for the journey, whatever direction that journey may take us.

            Amen and amen.