Imitate What They Contain and Attain What They Promise #BlackLivesMatter

A few weeks ago, I was inspired to take up the practice of praying the Rosary. Part of me still cringes at the thought of it and feels a bit dirty, especially during the Salve regina and while reflecting on the last two glorious mysteries. But I can tell that it’s bearing fruit, so I’ll keep at it. “Wisdom is justified by all her children.” I used to have some rather common Protestant misconceptions about the practice. I thought that it was a rather legalistic way of ingratiating oneself to Jesus through his mother. To be fair, I have heard it said by some that Mary is somehow closer to us and more compassionate toward us than Jesus because she was just fully human, not also fully divine. That makes it sound like Marian devotion is necessary to supply some defect in the Incarnation, a heretical belief in all three branches of Christianity.

But the Rosary is actually a meditation on events in the four Gospels (and two others I don’t really believe in, but am rolling with for the time being). They are called mysteries, which I think is very apt. There is more to them than can be said discursively. They have to be meditated upon. One way to do this is lectio divina; the Rosary is another. It is like having a conversation with Mary about these 20 events. When I first started doing it, I was usually thinking about the doctrinal import of the mysteries and had some pretty important insights. Then I found myself focusing more on imagining them, often through the perspective on a particular character (a couple times, I’ve tried to meditation on the Lord’s Baptism from the perspective of the water). For the last week or so, I have found that I am mostly imagining the events taking place in Ferguson, MO, especially the sorrowful mysteries (agony in the garden, flogging at the pillar, crown of thorns, carrying the cross, crucifixion), but also the glorious ones (resurrection, ascension, coming of the Holy Spirit, and the two I’m a bit less sure about: the dormition/assumption of Mary and her coronation as queen of the universe).

Whole new aspects of the story emerge. When I pray the sorrowful mysteries, I see a story of oppression, state terror, and collaboration. When I pray the luminous mysteries, I see that they take place in a context of poverty. Likewise the joyful mysteries. But most significantly, when I pray the glorious mysteries, I see that the oppressed people among whom Jesus lived, died, and rose are not powerless.

I’ve seen this quote by Winona LaDuke a few places around the internet: “One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless.” About all I know of LaDuke is that she was Ralph Nader’s running mate, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the quote. But I think she’s getting at what I have been realizing through my meditations on the mysteries.

The black and brown communities of the United States are trying to tell us something. We have ignored their suffering at the hands of individual and systemic racism for too long. I have heard (and believed) that since the Civil Rights Acts undid segregation and guaranteed legal equality and we all know or at least say that black people and white people are equal, racism is a problem of the past. But our black and brown brothers and sisters have been telling us that this is a lie, and the evidence has been as plain as day for all who bothered to see it and not take refuge in their own rationalizations. Nothing new happened in the last few weeks. The sham of a justice system and brutality of law enforcement against people of color is not news. And people of color screaming this at white America is not (or should not be) news. All that’s changed is that for whatever reason, we’re not going back to business as usual this time. Communities of color have something to tell us, and God has something to tell us.

The wounds of Jesus made visible the reality of systematic violence and oppression that we might otherwise be able to ignore. No more than in the last hours of his life, he was oppressed. But he was not powerless. What kind of power did he have? I’m beginning to learn, but I can’t explain it. You’ll have to hear it from him. Try the Rosary if you want.

The death-dealing oppression of systemic racism is finally becoming visible to those who wish not to see it (even to me, the chief of sinners). That, it seems to me, is half of what our brothers and sisters are telling us. The other half is that they’re not powerless. Wherein lies their power? You’ll have to listen to them to find out. Listen up! #BlackLivesMatter.

“O GOD, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

[PS. I should hasten to make explicit that this is written from my white, male, straight, cis-gendered perspective. I have tried not to presume to speak for people of color or otherwise exercise white privilege. If I have fallen short of that goal, I welcome correction.]

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On Being Made Blind

My last post on NALT almost had more page views than the entire blog up to that point. I don’t know where everyone came from, but thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. That post was also probably the only time I will ever post something that timely. The thing that caught my attention today, for example, is already five days old.

This morning, an article from the New York Times opinion blog slipped over from my reading into my prayer in a way that I thought was worth sharing. The article is George Yancy’s Walking While Black in the ‘White Gaze’. It’s a bit long, but merits your attention. I don’t think it says anything particularly original, but it is a very good primer on the omnipresent violence of racism and its effects on persons of color. He explains how the mere fact of a black body is seen by white people as threatening and offensive. This “white gaze” inflicts violence on black people by even when it does not lead to physical violence:

Black bodies in America continue to be reduced to their surfaces and to stereotypes that are constricting and false, that often force those black bodies to move through social spaces in ways that put white people at ease. We fear that our black bodies incite an accusation. We move in ways that help us to survive the procrustean gazes of white people. We dread that those who see us might feel the irrational fear to stand their ground rather than “finding common ground,” a reference that was made by Bernice King as she spoke about the legacy of her father at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The white gaze is a vision that determines what it is seeing before the object is even fully in sight. The awful story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is only a particularly egregious and fatal example. Trayvon never had any chance to be anything to Zimmerman other than a threat and a criminal. As soon as he saw black, Zimmerman’s brain made Trayvon into a criminal. The white gaze kills.

It goes without saying that the white gaze is a false vision. It is a distortion of vision that is the baggage of history with which we white people are born (everyone is born with the baggage of history. Read Romans 5). So as I was praying this morning, this piece came into my mind, and I felt myself led to reflect on John 9:39: “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.'” I remember that this verse puzzled me in my youth, and was something I continued to struggle with as an adult. Like the Pharisee who responds to Jesus a few verses later, I wonder why anyone who can see perfectly well would want to be blind.

But what if my vision is false? It is a distortion. It kills others by constraining what they can be, and it thus it kills me and constrains what I can be. If that is the case, then what Jesus says about blinding those who see is not a threat, but a promise of deliverance.

I believe that God’s promises are there for us to claim them. And so I claim this one. Lord Jesus, blind my false vision. Deliver us all from racism, both victims and perpetrators. In your name, I ask for your true vision. I ask this for myself, for my whole country, and for the whole world.