Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mother's Day - A Long Way From Home

Every second Sunday in May, we pause to say "thanks" to mothers. And that is an honor well deserved. No single day can capture the essence of the gift that is a mother’s love. And yet, for some of us, Mother's Day is a complicated mixture of joy and happiness, but also sorrow and loss.

For those of us who have lost mothers or grandmothers much, much too soon, Mother's Day is a time of remembering, but also for mourning. The loss of a mother leaves a hole in your life that time never heals. And so this holiday reminds you that you are a "motherless child" and that you do indeed feel "a long way from home" because of that loss, even as an adult. And for those of us who are motherless daughters, the loss of that special female bond is irreplaceable. There is no greeting card to capture both this powerful sense of loss, but also the profound wellspring of memories.

And there are others who are motherless because of abandonment, forced separation, or general estrangement; people for whom a relationship with a mother is extremely complicated for a wide variety of reasons. Not every mother is a loving mother; not every mother has made good choices for her children. Not every parent and child relationship can be summed up by a Hallmark greeting card or a jewelry commercial. So how do you celebrate an occasion with cards, flowers, and candy when you are working through anger, despair, or grief?

So I want to pause for a moment, even in this weekend of celebration, to reflect on loss, because all of our lives are shaped by it. We find it difficult to talk about, even though it is a common denominator that binds us across race, creed, color, gender, class, political affiliation, and sexual orientation. I am a motherless daughter and the loss of my mother has shaped me in profound ways. Grief and loss mold us in ways seen and unseen. This loss has left a void in my life that nothing has ever filled. Because the truth is: time does not heal all wounds…time simply softens the scars.

On Mother's Day, I pray that we will celebrate all the mothers in our lives; biological and adopted mothers; grandmothers and aunties; "play" mothers and godmothers; church mothers and neighborhood mothers. Let us celebrate the biological ties of motherhood, but let us also celebrate the power of love and nurturing from all the women in our lives, even those women with whom we share no blood ties.


Celebrate all the women who were not allowed to be mothers to their children. Celebrate all the women who cannot or will not ever be mothers. Celebrate all the women who made the courageous decision to give their children to families who could care for them. Celebrate all the women who, when left and abandoned, made a way out of no way for their children. Celebrate all the complications of motherhood...even loss.

And while you celebrate, say a prayer for those who so deeply feel the pain of being a motherless child.

 © Yolanda Pierce 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Help My Unbelief: Risen!

I join with millions of Christians across the globe in a profound celebration of the Risen Christ. It is in this miracle that I find my hope, my confidence, and my very life. My whole being worships with an utter certainty in remembrance of the cross, the grave, and the empty tomb. I love the cries of “He is risen,” offered in celebratory wonder. Sometimes, even the weather cooperates and Easter Sunday seems to embody new beginnings and new possibilities; the earth itself resurrecting from her long winter slumber as we commemorate the resurrection of Jesus.

But I am struck by the question put forth to the women who returned to the tomb after the Crucifixion, in order to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. Perplexed at finding the tomb empty, the women are asked: “why do you look for the living among the dead?” They are chastised for not remembering, or believing, that Jesus himself said that he would rise again. For some of the disciples of Jesus, this promise of resurrection seemed an “idle tale,” unfathomable in its scope and meaning. If we are honest, many of us are like the women at the empty tomb, looking for the living among the dead. Too many broken promises and too many unfulfilled dreams have made us cautious that we could dare to hope for new life.

Too many politicians have stood in our pulpits promising to support our communities, only to enact unjust legislation. Too many developers have promised to enrich our neighborhoods, only to allow gentrification to take a foothold and force us out. Too many preachers have promised a return for our financial seed, only to take advantage of the poorest of the poor. Too many authorities have promised to protect our neighbors, only to reinforce racial policing strategies. Too many teachers have promised to educate our children, only to set them up for the school-to-prison pipeline. So many broken promises…how can we believe? How dare we hope amid our unbelief?

If Easter means anything, it is a moment to pause and embrace a theology of the impossible. Impossible things have been done and impossible dreams have been achieved even in the face of death. Everyday, as poet Lucille Clifton writes, something has tried to kill us and has failed. The active and passive genocide of people of African descent has continued unabated. But we are still here. The leaders of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements have been killed, assassinated, and silenced. But the dream embodied by the Black Lives Matter movement is still here. The economic and social sanctions of Jim and Jane Crow have diminished opportunities and resources. But we are still making a way out of no way. I celebrate those who are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; those who are perplexed, but not in despair; those who are persecuted, but not abandoned; those who are constantly being struck down, but are not destroyed. This is the Easter message: new life and new possibilities emerge even in the face of death.

As I close my Lenten devotional series, my prayer is for all those individual and collective hopes and dreams that have died an early death or have been killed with harsh words, lack of support, or lack of resources. Let those dreams and desires arise anew in you. Risen, indeed!

© Yolanda Pierce

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Help My Unbelief: Holy and Silent Saturday

In anticipation of a joyous Easter, churches are preparing for one of the busiest Sundays of the year. The parking lots will be filled and the pews will be overflowing. All are looking forward to the triumphant message of Easter morning: "He is risen." For Christians, those words stir something deep within our souls. “Risen, indeed” is the joyous refrain we offer to the message of the defeat of death.

It is Holy Week and each day has a precious meaning. On Maundy Thursday, we remember the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples. On Good Friday, we turn our focus to the Passion of Christ and the suffering on the Cross. And on Easter Sunday, we declare the victory of the Risen Savior. But we often forget about Holy Saturday. In truth, our Saturday before Easter is a day filled with cooking and shopping. But I would argue that Holy Saturday is perhaps the most important day of this sacred week.

Holy Saturday is the silence of a period which straddles death and life; it is the silence of work done and yet unfinished. That silent and holy Saturday is the space between mourning and rejoicing; it is a time in which death has not yet been defeated, nor can victory be proclaimed. Holy Saturday is a time of doubt and unbelief. It is a time of a descent into hell.

Many of us spend quite a bit of our time in this liminal space that Holy Saturday represents: struggling with doubt, struggling with hell on earth, and struggling with work insistent and yet unfinished. We live in the space of justice delayed and justice denied. We live in the space of dreams deferred and dreams deterred. We cannot declare defeat, nor can we declare victory. It is a time in which God feels absent or silent. It is the pinnacle of all the times we cry to God, “help my unbelief.”

Holy Saturday is the tomb of parents mourning the deaths of their murdered children, with no hope that justice will prevail. Holy Saturday is the tomb of families at the borders who must choose between uncertain life or inevitable death. Holy Saturday is the tomb of those holding a vigil at a loved one’s bed in hospice. Holy Saturday is the tomb of a mother who must choose between feeding her babies or paying the rent. Holy Saturday is tomb of barren wombs, lack of love and healthy touch, and few choices for the future. Holy Saturday is the place where hope unborn has died.

There is a ritual in some churches which commemorate Holy Saturday. It involves blowing out candles, extinguishing all the lights of the sanctuary, and then waiting in silence, but with great expectation, for the coming dawn. Sometimes there is an empty coffin present at the altar. It is a powerful worship experience to simply sit with death and all of the various representations of death: doubt, fear, loneliness, disbelief, and weariness. You know that the dawn will come, that the lights will be turned back on, and the candles re-lit. But sitting in the silence of Holy Saturday prepares your heart for a resurrection and a rebirth.

Perhaps this is all that faith is: an assurance that even when things are at their dimmest, light will surely come and illuminate the darkness. Even in the silence, a voice can speak words of comfort. Even in the presence of death, a new circle of life has already begun. And so, during Holy Saturday and throughout our lives, we wait in the silence and in the stillness to hear the voice that says to us in the midnight hour: "be still and know that I am God."

© Yolanda Pierce

Friday, March 25, 2016

Help My Unbelief: Good Friday

Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit...

This is the last of the seven phrases uttered by Jesus at Calvary. And with these final words, Jesus breathed his last breath, with a prayer on his lips until the very end.

Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit...is a prayer of intimacy. Jesus calls on the Creator as a child calls on her parents. A mother can hear her child's cry in the middle of chaos and noise. It is a piercing sound that tugs at the very fabric of her being. Jesus calls on the Father and this cry tears the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies.

Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit...is a prayer of trust. Jesus yields himself to hands that are capable, hands that will stretch forth and lift you up when you are weak. Jesus trusts that the Giver of Life will also be the Restorer of Life. In the darkest hour of his need, Jesus calls on the One who neither sleeps nor slumbers.

Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit...is a prayer of commitment. The work of the Cross is given over entirely to God. Jesus reminds the believer of the most important part of ourselves, that which can never be destroyed: the spirit. And so, in mind, body, spirit, Jesus willingly and generously surrenders all.

And while we can acknowledge that this particular Friday is “good,” in remembrance of the life of Jesus, this day also marks a horrific, unjust, and violent death of an innocent man. On this day, the cross and the lynching tree both speak. On this day, we remember those who face death “all the day long.” So before we so quickly rush to the "risen" moment that will end this Lenten season on Sunday, reflect on the lessons of this final word and remember.

Remember those who have been killed by state violence; remember those facing social death in jails and prison.

Remember those who could not get a fair trial; remember those whose innocence may never be proven.

Remember those left behind to grieve and mourn; remember those who fear that their lives do not matter.

Jesus commits his spirit into the hands of his beloved Father: I pray for those who have never experienced the intimacy of a parent's love and for those who so deeply miss that intimacy. Jesus commits his spirit into the hands of a trusting God: I pray for those who have been betrayed by hands they trusted and for those who are courageous enough to trust again. Jesus commits his whole self into the work for which he was sent: I pray for those who have committed their minds, bodies, and spirits to that which they believe and for those who are still longing for something or someone in whom they can place their hope.

© Yolanda Pierce

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Help My Unbelief: Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is a joyous occasion on the Christian liturgical calendar, marking the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. But Palm Sunday is also the beginning of an ending. It immediately precedes the most sorrowful occasion of the Christian calendar: the betrayal and death of Christ. Palm Sunday always reminds me of this contradiction: there were some who shouted "Hosanna in the Highest" on one day, who a few scant days later would also shout "Crucify Him." There were some who greeted Christ as the promised king on one day, who would later mock him and brand him a traitor a few days later. Palm Sunday is a reminder of how quickly public opinion shifts, depending on the whims of the powerful and mighty.

You hear the public shouts for "more money for mental health" when mass murderers from seemingly stable, middle and upper-middle class homes have committed unspeakable acts. But the lynch mob never fails to cry "kill him," when violence erupts among the urban poor, and among black and brown people. Criminals from inner cities are portrayed as animals and thugs, who should be locked in jail with no chance for parole, while murderers from the suburbs are worthy of diagnosis, treatment, and perhaps even rehabilitation. How quickly public opinion shifts...

When the drug crisis rages in urban communities, exacerbated by the lack of jobs and educational opportunities, newspapers detail the moral and ethical failings of the drug-addicted. The crowd exclaims that these black and brown drug addicts are “morally weak,” “out of control,” and offenders whose addictions should be treated as criminal acts. The crowd cries: “build more prisons.” But when the heroin epidemic hits white suburbs, the conversation takes a sympathetic twist for those in the “heartland.” And the crowd shouts for more access to drug rehabilitation centers; the decriminalization of drug offenses; and the treatment of addiction as a disease and not a criminal act. How quickly public opinion shifts…

When the weed dealer is on the corner in the Bronx or in Baltimore, he faces criminal charges that will most likely forever remove him from participating in the “legitimate” economy. “Send him to jail,” says the crowd.  But when the weed dealers are working in Colorado, making millions in marijuana dispensaries, they are labeled creative entrepreneurs for their profits in the drug trade. “Celebrate American ingenuity,” the crowd exclaims. How quickly public opinion shifts…

To truly understand Palm Sunday, you have to acknowledge the rest of the story that occurs later: the shifting of public opinion about the ministry of Jesus; the upcoming betrayal by a friend; a mockery of a trial; and a criminal execution by the state. To truly understand Palm Sunday is to recognize how quickly we can move from praise and affirmation to bloodthirstiness and calls for execution. And our public exclamations of praise or condemnation truly matter; they condemn some to death and offer life to others.

Are our songs of praise and adoration only for the rich and the powerful? Is our respect and admiration only for the well-connected? Are offers of rehabilitation and restoration only for the affluent and comfortable? Or are we willing to sing songs of freedom for those who have no material wealth; those who are the most vulnerable; those who lack the symbolic and tangible goods of prosperity? What do our praises of “Hosanna” mean if we fail to acknowledge the Christ who rides into town on a donkey, with only a carpet of cloaks and small branches for his “royal” procession, deliberately identifying himself with the poor and marginalized? Do we only love “Christ the King” or is there room in our theology for the love of Christ, the tried and executed criminal?

During these final Lenten days, may our cries be of affirmation for our mutual humanity, our mutual brokenness, and our mutual need for salvation. May we recognize the humanity and spark of divinity of those who often find themselves on the losing side of both history and public opinion.

© Yolanda Pierce