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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Help My Unbelief: Dry Places


“Simply put,” the doctor said, “Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water.” Those are the final words of a newspaper account detailing the death of Ms. Joyce Curnell. She spent the last 27 hours of her life in a cell, having been taken directly from her hospital bed to a jail as a result of a bench warrant. While confined for 27 hours, she was so sick that she could not make it to a bathroom. Experiencing severe dehydration because of her preexisting gastroenteritis, Ms. Curnell dies of thirst – she dies because of the lack of water – in the richest nation in the world. I read this story and could only plead: God, please help my unbelief when the forces of evil in this world so often prevail over the forces of righteousness.

I thirst...

"Seven Last Words," in the African American religious context, is a collective experience. Seven preachers are each assigned a brief interval in which to engage the final expressions of Jesus on the Cross. Perhaps there is no word that so concisely summarizes the psychological, spiritual, and material costs of living under the yoke of racial oppression than this fifth word, “I thirst.”

I thirst...

Yes, thirst is a biological need, insistent in its demand. While the body can exist for many days without food, death by dehydration is possible in a very short period of time. We must drink to replenish the physical body. And while there are many beverages we can consume, it is only life-giving water which so deeply satisfies our true thirst. To thirst is also a spiritual condition; it is a longing for and a yearning after. Jesus is our Living Water, and like a deer that pants for water, our souls long for God.

I thirst…

And yet, we are thirsty for a world in which our simple demands for dignity aren’t met with threats of death. We are thirsty for a world in which the statement “stop shooting us” is not a radical declaration. We are thirsty for a world in which our mothers and daughters aren’t subject to systematic sexual abuse at the hands of those paid to protect them. We are thirsty for a world in which a sleeping couple in their own vehicle aren’t seen as threats who need to be “deescalated” and eliminated. We are thirsty for clean water to drink and in which to bathe; water that doesn’t poison us while our elected officials ignore our suffering. And we are thirsty for a world in which people of color, who are disproportionately experiencing the effects of California’s worse drought in more than four hundred years, aren’t the continuing victims of racist environmental policies.

I thirst…

There are so many dry places, so many metaphorical deserts, for those of us with black and brown flesh. We are thirsty for places to be affirmed, where we can be loved in the fullness of our bodies and souls. We are thirsty for places of sanctuary and refuge, where we can be unapologetically black and delight in the God who made us so. We are thirsty for places of joy and understanding, where the harshness of racism doesn’t diminish our shine. We are thirsty for places where black lives matter simply because black lives are God’s sacred creation.

“Simply put,” the doctor said, “Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water.” My Lenten prayer is that we do not continue to die in these death-dealing, life-stealing, spirit-crushing dry places. If Lent means anything, it is the promise of life, more abundant life, in the face of state-sanctioned violence and death.

© Yolanda Pierce


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