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

Sojourners for Justice | March 3, 2024 Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton



 

God Is

God is the water in which I swim

she is the air which I breathe,

she is the life around me.

She is all and none of this.

But, close to me, she is.

I have sung and I have danced

whenever I felt her touch.

I have jumped and played,

but when I felt that she had gone,

I sobbed like a grieving child.

I remember the forest – the heights and depths,

the light and the dark,

the desolation and the consolation.

And all the time God was there –

the darkness was only dark to me.

She did not hide from me.

I was blind to her weaving a delicate and

beautiful plan of salvation

within my very darkness.

The wonder of ourselves!

The wonder of myself!

Yes – I feel the fragility,

of myself.

I am the new creation, created, creator.

I am the Spring waiting to burst,

while my God gently,

gently calls me forth –

to the wonder of Herself!

I am.

God is.

 

The opening quote is from poet Edwina Gateley. She wrote this description of God during a retreat at a hermitage, but it reflects her experience in life that led her from Uganda to seminary to city streets. Hers was a journey to this point…of discovery of God…of reimagining and re-envisioning God. She wrote that more and more she began to see God as a woman…a mothering spirit with a deep well of compassion. There are times when I want to skip over this vision…to rush on to the view of God as the all-pervading spirit…the view that perhaps there is no God at all, but spirit, neither male nor female…gender non-binary. And I think this is where I land in my spiritual beliefs, but I also know that it is imperative that we linger with this image…that we perhaps take a sojourn today in the realm of the feminine spirit and the many examples of this spirit in history. The word sojourn comes possibly from the Hebrew gēr, which suggests that someone is living (either temporarily or permanently) in a community where they are dependent on the “good-will” of that community for their continued existence. Another possible meaning of the term is stranger or foreigner. Many of us may indeed be strangers to this feminine spirit, even today…we continue to look away from those who are indeed dependent on the good-will of the community. But there is an element of trust implied by this term…trust in the all-pervading presence of the universe…that mothering spirit that Gateley spoke of that calls us to the wonder of Herself.

 

To that end, I want to start with a part of my own journey…my sojourn. I have stated that I came of age during the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s…the time of the first Earth Day and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. This is one of the threads of meaning that have fed my sense of justice in the human and more-than-human world. Another thread was the so-called Women’s Movement. I first experienced this call to women’s rights amid a profoundly patriarchal world in the 1970s with the book, Our Bodies, Ourselves. This was a profoundly candid book in its time, outlining and honoring the female body and soul. The opening chapter, Our Changing Sense of Self, outlines the shift these women were marking…were celebrating. It states, in part:

 

When we started talking to each other we came to realize

how deeply ingrained was our sense of being less valuable than men.

The profound experience of talking to each other was the impetus for this movement.

 

These two visions…that of the environmental movement and the women’s movement can be seen in Gateley’s vision of God. She is the water, the air, the life…yet none of these. She is the one who encourages me to sing and dance…to jump and play…to create. She even outlines the human experience of being ignorant of her plan…the delicate and beautiful plan found in nature and in our own bodies…able to heal the devastation we have wrought. She is the one calling us to the wonder of the divine presence…that all-pervading presence that birthed us and continues to nurture us. God is.

 

This is, I think, true. There is a delicate and beautiful plan embedded in creation that has the power to love and to heal. Yet, as I pointed out in my previous message regarding the environmental movement, there is something profound that is missing. A song written the year I was born, 1958 by Doris Akers and Mahalia Jackson, Lord Don’t Move the Mountain illustrates this synergy between an environmental, spiritual reality known especially to women…especially Black women.




 

Lord don’t move the mountain but give me the strength to climb seems to be a profound recognition that God will not move the mountain…the mountain is a part of the natural world that we must learn to traverse. This is the profound message that seems to have been missing from the Women’s Movement…the acknowledgement of the struggle…by White women, to be sure, but even more significantly by Black women and other women of color. It is the acknowledgement that there are mountains to climb, but that we are able…able to overcome…able to get over. And as we are getting over, we need to bring all of humanity with us…they are indeed connected to us as we get over that mountain.

 

This truth was not acknowledged in the fledgling suffrage movement that culminated in the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention. There were no persons of color present, besides Frederick Douglass. No Black women were invited, despite the profound work of Harriet Tubman…despite the dedication and audacious presence of Sojourner Truth and so many others, working often behind the scenes, without the backing of the men…without the time and privilege to attend such a convention. Interestingly, Frederick Douglass pointed out this difference in his description of his journey contrasted with the journey of Harriet Tubman. In a letter to Tubman in 1868 he wrote:

 

Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. ... The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism.

 

For Douglass to admit this reality was important, yet he was unable to side with Sojourner Truth who believed that the right for Black men to vote needed to happen at the same time as the right for women, all women to vote. Sojourner Truth, as some of you know, stands out to me as one of my ancestors…one who inspires my own life. She was able to challenge Douglass on this point and indeed to challenge patriarchy in general…both through her life and through her bold and direct speech. At the 1851 Ohio Women’s Convention she said (according to secretary Marius Robinson):

 

How came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him

and woman who bore him. Man, where is your part?

But the women are coming up blessed by God

and few of the men are coming up with them.

But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him,

woman is coming on him, and he is surely between a hawk an’ a buzzard.

 

Let us remember that Sojourner Truth was born in 1797. She was able to articulate a feminist…or indeed womanist theology. As a sojourner, Truth was able to stand outside her own (often non-existent) community and depend on the good-will of others, but especially of God…the all-pervading spirit…the one upon whom we depend for our ability to get over that mountain and to continue our sojourn for justice and of truth.


May we welcome the sojourner…the stranger into our loving embrace as a Beloved Community and may we welcome that stranger within that longs to be free.



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