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

Taking the Chariot Home | January 9, 2022 by Dr. Kathryn Benton

I began with the song, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot…a song that I grew up with…a song that spoke to me in elementary school and speaks to me, albeit in a different way, even today. I thought of this song after a difficult week of sitting with people who had lost sight of this chariot…this sense of hope…of rescue…this idea that there is a way out…a way to go home. And of course, when I meet with someone in this situation…someone who says, “I want to go home”, it is my responsibility to determine (to the best of my ability) what they may mean by “home”. Are they suicidal? Or are they just longing for a connection with a compassionate force, be it human or divine, be it a sense of connection to family or community? I was able to sit with each person (or speak on the phone) long enough to provide some sense of connection. For some people, I was able to connect with their family members in order to strengthen and expand family ties. For others, I was only able to listen…to reflect…to empathize…to relate to what they were saying. There were some deep conversations in which I was intimately involved. These conversations and moments of connection highlight my own journey. I have had to spend some time in contemplation of my own issues related to “home”. I have had to visit that altar of the soul that is calling to me. I have had to go past the angel with the flaming sword and rest for a moment in the quietness of the moment.

For many, this is a very difficult task. They are plagued with sadness and disconnection…with isolation and histories of traumatic circumstances, both personally and, of course, ancestrally. Still, often there is actually nothing that I need to do. Usually, they come to their solution themselves and often this “solution” has to do with connection with a sense of the divine…with God…the calling out of a prayer. This is a universal experience, whether the person is actually religious or not, they sense the companionship of the all-pervading presence…when one is down…’almost to the ground’, there is someone to listen.

Of course, this spiritual has been deeply comforting for individuals and groups in the history of the United States. It has also highlighted the struggle for freedom…the struggle to connect with each other in order to find common ground and that sense of Beloved Community that seems to be hidden in our everyday life. The experience of being touched and comforted by God…the experience of knowing that one is not alone in their distress can help us to realize our common struggle.

Italian priest Arturo Paoli said:

…the only sign of being “touched by God” is to be able to see yourself as “universal brother [or sister]”…And this means to be in communion with people and all beings…Sinking roots into this wholesomeness demand the courage to accept the world as being in a process of constant creation in which things go on being liberated from human aggressiveness…Contemplation matures in communion with Brother Fire, with Sister Water, with Brother Wolf and discovers a loving and joyful brotherhood [sisterhood]…

This ‘loving and joyful brother/sisterhood’ is what we feel in those moments when we take the time to connect. We know that we are not alone…we become aware of the Beloved Community that, at least symbolically, surrounds us…holds us…supports our struggle.

This struggle is not just a personal struggle…it is not just the specific issues brought up in a therapy session with your counselor. There is much more to it than that. There is also much more to the compassion that I feel when faced with these stories…these journeys. As long as it stays personalized, it is not able to access the power of the whole…the cosmological significance of the journey. Malidoma Somé speaks to the cosmological aspect to the journey…this longing for home…

Malidoma Somé – Cosmology is Human Legacy - Home

Somé is saying that each of us has a longing to return to the origin…to the states of ‘lost harmony’ and that a person’s purpose involves this commitment to search for and find this ‘lost harmony’…a state of wholeness within a fragmented world.

Is this the journey on the chariot I was reminded of by my clients’ insistence on going home…returning to their own origins? I think a part of each of our personal journey is the cosmic…the universal. Until we make it universal…shared…then it really has no significance. Until we are able to broaden our scope in order to search for this home…to “make sure that we don’t sit back and pretend to enjoy comfort while we know that home has not been reached yet”. Imagine that…sitting back and pretending to enjoy comfort. Our own comfort is clearly not enough for us. We are called through our encounters with each other and through our connection with the all-pervading presence of the Holy to reach home…what many have called “the Promised Land”.

Although this is an ideal, something that we may not reach, it is important we have this dream!

Next week, we will celebrate/honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., someone who knew about this dream…the vital and profound importance of having a dream in order to get on the chariot…that bus…that train to the Promised Land. He knew that we would get there…his eyes saw the glory…the hope of the disinherited…the disconnected. He saw the need to communicate directly and without fear what needs to be communicated. Last week Dr. Dorsey Blake asked us to revisit King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail. What struck me in this letter was King’s thoroughness…his ability to communicate with people who, for the most part, had not taken the time to understand him or his point of view, or indeed the dynamics of their own society. His communication was direct, yet respectful. I’m not sure I would have been able to muster that much respect for people who were clearly sitting back and pretending to enjoy their comfort. They had to have known what King was telling them…they just didn’t want to admit their inaction…their inability to address the spiritual needs of people.

May we honor King’s legacy of direct action…his legacy of courage and strength…of integrity wisdom. May we gather together, virtually today, but face to face at some time in the future…holding hands…connecting hearts, voices and minds…’holding the energy that kept the village and earth together’ throughout history…the same energy that helps us to hold on in moments of distress…of struggle.

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