May 24, 2020 Message from Dr. Blake
In the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. – Kahlil Gibran
Filmed in 1948, Johnny Belinda focuses on the life of Belinda MacDonald. Belinda’s mother died giving birth to her. Belinda can neither hear nor speak. She is now a young woman living in an impoverished, primarily fishing, village on Cape Breton Island on the east coast of Canada. The family’s poverty is symptomatic of dire economic conditions and struggles that too often attend the human journey. She wears plain work clothes, rarely goes into town, and only once has gone to church. The family survives basically by selling farm goods to the nearby town. One of the family's customers gets drunk at a dance, leaves the dance, and goes to the farm where Belinda is alone and rapes her. This results in her pregnancy. Belinda is in the loft upstairs in difficult labor. The aunt is assisting the town doctor. When she descends the stairs to the ground floor, the father asks how the daughter is doing. The aunt responds: “It’s difficult to give birth in a time of death.” Yet, we must give birth in times of death. Worldwide over 350,000 deaths due to the coronavirus have been recorded. In the United States alone the number is 100,000. According to some reports, over 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 Americans died as a result of the “Spanish” flu pandemic of 1918. My mother’s father was one of the victims; nontheless, my father was born during the same time frame, 1918. “For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”— Gibran We say spring follows winter. The butterfly takes flight from the cocoon. The phoenix rises from the ashes. And, on the other side of crucifixion is resurrection. But, does resurrection necessarily follow crucifixion? It can, if there is belief/evidence that what has died has been reborn in an alternate form that is whole and life-giving. This weekend, we recognize Memorial Day, a federal holiday for honoring and mourning the military personnel who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. I suggest the theme of absence for this special weekend. Who was or is made absent because of war? I believe it is time for us to lay down our swords and shields, our drones, stealth weapons, our nuclear arsenal and study war no more.
Instead let us study absence. What are we missing? Who are we missing? I put this idea forth as so many Americans are antsy about returning..., returning to what, to making America great again? Do we really want to return to jeopardizing the safety and lives especially of Native, Black, Brown, poor and other exploited people whose deaths number are much greater than their percentage of the population? Certainly, I miss being physically at Fellowship Church on Sundays. In absence I realize the sabbath nature of everyday living and everywhere living. In absence I honor the beauty of each day and express gratitude for breath and being breathed into and sustained by life. In absence I also see how we fill up our lives with activities, issues, things unworthy of our divine essence. In absence I see the limitation of the present and imagine a different future. In absence I find play time more real, more sustaining than the death dealing systems and institutions that constrict, manipulate, and lay waste our creative capacity and relationship with the cosmic generator of life. In absence there is a yearning. And, it becomes clearer to me what Jesus meant when he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven at all.” Children create their own worlds through their imaginations, worlds more real and defining than the one they are socialized to accept as final and ultimate. They live in and cherish the impossible, enchanting, magical, erotic world, and their eyes light up our world, restoring our souls. In absence I remember as a child experiencing in church the awe-inspiring dramatization of James Weldon Johnson’s The Creation. Only a portion of which is quoted below: The Creation And God stepped out on space, And he looked around and said: I'm lonely— I'll make me a world.... Up from the bed of the river God scooped the clay; And by the bank of the river He kneeled him down; And there the great God Almighty Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky, Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night, Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand; This great God, Like a mammy bending over her baby, Kneeled down in the dust Toiling over a lump of clay Till he shaped it in is his own image; Then into it he blew the breath of life, And man became a living soul. Amen. Amen. God birthed creation out of absence. The poet became a child. God embodied the imagination of a child. Do you not feel the childlike play? In the beginning was imagination. Biblically, when the locusts were unleashed upon Egypt, it was for the purpose of setting the enslaved, overworked, undercompensated, vulnerable frontline workers free, to give them new life from the death dealing realities of their daily existence. When I settle into absence brought on by this cosmic messenger, COVID-19, I sense what Arundhati Roy senses: Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And amid this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”
— W.E.B. DuBois