Friday, July 30, 2010

God's Gonna Trouble the Water

"Wade in the water.
Wade in the water, children.
Wade in the water.
God's gonna trouble the water."
-- African American spiritual

How do I describe being transformed? For that's what happened to me in NOLA. It began with the astounding Mass I told you about, where I felt like color had been given back to me. That week I found myself doing what had sadly become unthinkable. I danced. Lord, how I missed moving like that, the pleasure of bodily worship, without second guessing my body. And lovies, I was by no means cured of my fibromyalgia. Rather, I began to love this body, and allow it to experience joy unspeakable and full of glory on the good days. No, I was not cured. Before I left that magical city, I hobbled on a can again, but in so many ways I was healed. Thanks be to God.

I met my mothers in New Orleans, strong, able women who would no more allow themselves to be abused the way I have than they would be abusers of themselves, like I have been, as well. They are women of dignity, who do not walk with rounded shoulders and heads hung low. They are proud, yet godly. Life loving broads, in the best sense of the world, women of remarkable presence, who will soundly rebuke you for any hint of foolishness, and sooth those places in which you need the oil of sweet mercy in turn. I wanted to be like them, hardy and hard working, beautiful and serene, and in their own words, truly black, and authentically Catholic.

How do I relay to you what it was like to feel freedom; freedom from the shackles I bound myself with, and was bound with by others. It reminds me of a line in Ntozake Shange's poem, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Not Enuf." She wrote, "I found God in myself, and I loved her fiercely." It is the same thing St. Teresa taught me about the Interior Castle, only so much more personal. 

I met my sons there, and fell in love with one young priest-to-be in particular. He is soooo devout, and awkward, a baby bird who fell from the nest before his time, and still needs mama bird love, and a healthy dose of self-esteem. I recognized the ragamuffin in him. I stayed close to him, and his brokeness still haunts me. Oh lovies, how we need to encourage those among us whose wounds are so visible. And we need to encourage those whose wounds are hidden, too. Love goes a long way, and it heals, even if it doesn't cure.

The life I dreamed of was there in NOLA, and I lived it. I went to morning praise five days a week. This student led liturgy was real world prayer, and you had to be creative about it. When it was my turn to do a reflection, I became the woman who anointed Jesus' head, and washed his feet with my tears. I was so nervous, but when I said those last words, "He will remember me always." A thunderous applause and standing ovation met me. I felt like my contribution mattered. And oddly, I hadn't realized that I'd lost so much of a sense of doing meaningful work in ministry. It was marvelous.

I also went to daily Mass, and it nourished me. A kind, Nigerian theologian gave me a whole new perspective on what the Eucharist is about. You'll hear more of that later. I'm still processing it, and lovies, I still go to daily Mass. It had become habit in those weeks--a habit I craved, and I've stayed with me, and it still nourishes me, though I missed that soulful music and fiery preaching. Thank God for St. Peter Claver on Sunday for a hearty dose of all that!

I wore a few African clothes while there and now, every day I try to wear a little something African. It keeps me connected not just to culture in a very simple, positive way, but it also keeps me rooted in the experiences I had at Xavier. Wearing African clothes was common there. It was like I'd been plunged into a new world where black really was beautiful, and not the awful images that the media is saturated with.

Why all this black stuff? Because while I was away, a woman asked why I went to a historically black university. It was as if she had no idea that the year I was born, 1964, blacks did not have the right to vote. We were barred from many centers of higher learning. We could not sit in the front of the bus. It wasn't that long ago, and yet she took offense that I attended a school that begun in response to white's slamming the doors of education shut. All this black stuff is because black children are losing their sense of dignity, our girls reduced to booty shaking ornaments, and young men freely calling them names that when I was a child would have been fighting words. All this black stuff because my Godfather told me three years ago that if we don't preserve the stories the old folks told us, the freedom stories, they would disappear in a single generation. Can you imagine a Jew without the Exodus story? It's the story that anchors their faith, the one that informs them that they are God's chosen people. So close to the experience of chattel slavery and Jim Crow, I need to be a keeper of the freedom stories of my people. They are our sacred canon, our Exodus tales, and evidence that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Everyone needs to know this truth: we are all icons of God, every human being, red and yellow, black and white. But a lot has to be countered if black folks are going to remember this. And if I can't be all of who I am, truly black, authentically Catholic, because Evangelicals won't buy my books, or white people won't buy my books because black women grace the covers, I'm not free, and if I'm not free, freedom is fragile for us all. There's so much more to say, because slavery is going on all around us, and we can't turn a blind eye to it but I can't possibly say it all here and now. We'll just ease into this. But we'll get back to it. We must, because how can I be any servant of justice, and ignore the social justice issues that continue to plague our country, which involve people that look like me? Oh, if you only knew the affronts that assail me as a black woman on a regular basis. Justice for all, lovies, or justice for all is at risk.

Of course this restoration of all I am has changed everything. I've encountered resistance I was warned about, but it surprised me just the same. It's like a co-dependent thing. You change, and dynamics around you change. You go up, and somebody else may go down in response. And right now, I'm a little heartbroken. Thank God the freedom songs are holding me up. They were made for times of trouble, and assure you, "Trouble don't last always."

I was telling a new friend tonight that I've been singing, especially the spirituals. I'm trying to learn more of these amazing songs. The whole of a remarkable theology is in those songs. Wade in the water, children is yet another reminder of the Exodus narrative. It says, in your suffering, chosen one, you may find yourself deep in the water of your deliverance. The sound of galloping horses is behind you. The sand of land made dry by the mighty hand of God swirls about your back and stings your backside. You hear the water rushing to a close behind you. And before you? Parting waves, and watery steps of faith in which you will yourself to, as you slog through it, keep believing in the impossible. "God's gonna trouble the waters." So much is in those five words, and my waters are truly troubled lovies, but it's all God's doing. I just have to trust him, and keep walking through to the other side of it.

"Jordan's water is chilly and cold.
God's gonna trouble the water.
It chills the body, but not the soul.
God's gonna trouble the water.

Wade in the water.
Wade in the water, children.
Wade in the water.
God's gonna trouble the water."
with love,
Image found at:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Here's the link, but I've copied the article below.
Oh, and I promise to blog about NOLA this week! Till then...

Answering St. Teresa's Call

In the midst of illness, Claudia Mair Burney discovered the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, and it was a wakeup call for her soul. Burney, a Christy Award finalist and mother of seven, had been laid low by fibromyalgia and seasonal affective disorder.
"I like to say that St. John of the Cross taught me how to lay my head on the breast of God in my affliction," Burney said. "But it is Teresa who flings open the curtains and says get up out of bed, there is work to be done."
Heeding that call, Burney wrote God Alone Is Enough: A Spirited Journey with Teresa of Avila (Paraclete Press, July), part spiritual biography (Teresa's), spiritual memoir (Burney's), and contemplative prayer how-to.
The book marks Burney's first foray into nonfiction after a string of Christian novels, and it is a title that seeks to make the saints more accessible to non-Catholics—one of Paraclete’s emphases. Burney, whose own spiritual journey has taken her from charismatic evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy and, finally, to Catholicism, says Teresa has a great deal to say to Protestants.
"She says, I am just like you, and I have had times in which it did not seem my prayers got past the ceiling. She says, let's break prayer down into its simplest components and do whatever works for you. That is very liberating to everybody."
It has certainly liberated Burney, who said weaving her own story into the work changed the direction of her writing. "I always wanted to write about my very honest, messy spiritual journey and fortunately for me St. Teresa had a very honest, messy spiritual journey, and we could merge our lives together in this book," Burney said.
Reaction from fans—especially readers of her popular blog,—has been positive, she says.
"Over and over they were saying, it has revolutionized my prayer life, or it is challenging me," said Burney. "So I think Teresa's gift to us is to make God a little more approachable and to make prayer, especially contemplative prayer, attainable."