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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Pride Sunday | June 26, 2022 by Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton

The higher you build your barriers, the taller I become, The further you take my rights away, the faster I will run, You can deny me, you can decide to turn your face away, Something inside so strong, I know that I can make it, though you're doing me wrong, so wrong You thought that my pride was gone, oh no, Something inside so strong, oh oh oh…

The opening music was written in 1984 as a reaction to a television documentary on Apartheid South Africa. The British songwriter, Labi Siffre said that the song was also influenced by his experience as a homosexual child, adolescent and adult. A self-described atheist, Siffre nevertheless is describing “something inside…so strong” that Thurman described when he talked about the “Inward Sea”…the place where we find the strength to carry on when we are seemingly at the end of our endurance. He wrote:

There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea there is an island and on that island there is an altar and standing guard before that altar is the ”angel with the flaming sword.” Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority.

Nothing passes ”the angel with the flaming sword” to be placed upon your altar unless it be a part of ”the fluid area of your consent.”

This is your crucial link with the Eternal.

Thurman’s vision of the “angel with the flaming sword” is powerful…this is the vision of our inner authority…our human dignity in the face of so much that is working to undermine it, especially when we are seemingly “different” than those in the mainstream…finding the courage to access our authentic selves, despite being marginalized…or worse by a society based on fear.

I have been struggling with this fear myself recently. I am changing jobs and have had to help myself and my clients achieve some sort of closure as we go our separate ways. At the same time, my mother is struggling with the process of death, at the same time as so many of my clients and family members are doing the same. Most of our fear is, I think, based on this fact…that we are not here forever, as we may have fooled ourselves into thinking. We are human and as such we will die. In a session yesterday with a client who is experiencing serious health issues at the same time as she is caring for her mother and husband who are dying, I was asked, “How do we help them come to terms with this fact…how do we live each day?” Of course, I knew I did not have the answer, but something told me to look at the poster on the wall next to me. It is a quote by Gandhi: “Live as if you will die tomorrow, learn as if you will live forever.” It was a powerful moment of recognition for my client, her family member and for me as well. It is, of course, also the message of our opening song. Later in the day, as I was preparing to write this message, I was plagued by this song:

Beams of heaven as I go, through this wilderness below, guide my feet in peaceful ways, turn my midnights into days. When in the darkness I would grope, Faith always sees a star of hope, and soon from all life’s grief and danger, I shall be free some day.

I do not know how long ’twill be, nor what the future holds for me, but this I know: if Jesus leads me, I shall get home someday.

I often go to this song when I am seemingly at the “end of my rope”…when my inner resources seem to be dwindling…when I need a reminder that my feet are being guided…that I am being companioned by a power that created and sustains the universe…the power of the oceans and the forests…the plants and the creatures. I go to this song because it reminds of that Inward Sea…the “altar of the soul” through which all of our decisions, thoughts and feelings must pass. It is the place where we decide on what we stand for and what we will work towards…on how we will spend what precious time we have. This interview with Maya Angelou, who certainly used her time wisely, highlights the importance of recognizing our responsibility to life.

Angelou says that her whole life changed when she decided to accept the fact that she was going to die. This is, of course, something that people often do when they are threatened…when they are forced to live through terrorizing times, such as the times that Angelou recounted. She described it so well in her poem about the Caged Bird:

Caged Bird (1983)

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current ends and dips his wing in the orange sun rays and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage can seldom see through his bars of rage his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The bird sings of “things unknown but longed for still”. I am often reminded of this reality lately with the state of our country and the world. Our current reality reminds me that at times we are all “caged”…where our wings are clipped and our feet are tied. It is in these moments that, if we are able to, in the words of Howard Thurman, “center down”…if we are able to connect with our inward sea…with our “crucial link to the Eternal”, then we can access the freedom of the free bird Angelou speaks of…daring to claim the sky and get to the work of justice and of peace. This is a tall order…we have difficulty seeing through the bars of rage. But we have support…the support of the all-pervading presence, the support of our ancestors and the support of our fellow freedom fighters…people who believe as Martin Luther King believed, that A [person] dies when he/she refuses to stand up for …justice and truth.

May we embrace our strength inside that enables us to stand up for justice and truth in these weary days. May we accept our own truth and commence with the unfinished business of freedom.

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