Youth Escaping Police Brutality in Soweto Township in the 1980's
The American people are transfixed by court cases. This highest example of a civilized people is how they solve their differences. Chaos prevails when there is no formal system of justice. Civility and peace reign when opposing parties can rationally present their side of the argument based on provable facts and let a objective judge and jury decide the outcome. The American people are unified in looking to our justice system for validation and to right wrongs. It is the one thing that seems to transcend religious beliefs, political parties and ethnicities. Television shows featuring lawyers and justice have been some of the highest rated and continuous programming of all time. It is as if the law is our unifying myth and focus of our people because the ideal in America is we are equal beings living in freedom and community.
In the United States of America, our highest ideals are based on the principles of freedom, equality and community. These principles are actually Christian ideals, as Christ came to earth to establish a culture based on the heavenly laws of freedom, equality and community.
An Excerpt from The Black Madonna: Journey of the Human Heart
The Madonna as a Cultural Force
One of the first words spoken by Mary of which we are aware in the Gospels, is during her visitation by the Archangel Gabriel. After he tells her she is about to bear the Messiah, she utters, “See, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May your word be fulfilled upon me.” Luke 1:35. Mary then goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant with a son. Elizabeth had been considered barren, and was advanced in age when she conceived. When the women met, Elizabeth exclaimed to Mary that the child in her womb leapt for joy at the meeting, and called her “Blessed are you among women, Blessed is the fruit of your body.” Mary goes on to respond in what is now called the Magnificat or Song of Mary, which is found in Luke 1:46-55
My soul grows great in praising you O Lord of Life
My spirit rejoices before you, O bringer of healing
You have turned your gaze upon me, your lowliest maid
See all future generations shall call me blessed.
His power lives in me, he has made me great, holy is his name
His goodness flows through all generations of mankind
And it reaches those who feel his greatness
His arm has done great deeds:
He has scattered those who in their proud hearts, thought themselves the greatest
He has overthrown the mighty from their thrones, he has raised up those of lowly birth.
He fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich empty away
He has turned again to his child Israel
Goodness springs new in His heart
As once He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants
He bears us through all ages of the earth
The New Testament A Rendering by Jon Madsen, Floris Books
In the film Amistad, which chronicled a dramatic period and trial in the 1840's US Slavery saga, one of the most touching scenes was when the group of slaves that was being held in a camp. Somehow they were given a Bible, and the pictures of Jesus imprisonment, torture and resurrection gave these individuals hope for their freedom. What touched me personally was the recognition that all humans are equal before the eyes of the Divine. The Magnificat speaks of this as well.
I attended a conference put on by the Sojourners Community in the early 1990's. The Republicans had taken over the house of Representatives as a sound rejection of the policies set forth by then President Bill Clinton. The Contract with America penned by Newt Gingrich and his corporate cohorts aimed at dismantling the social safety net in the US, and concerned Christians gathered in Washington DC to network and support one another as we worked within our individual communities to resist the injustices being readied against us by the GOP Congress.
After a series of thunderous and passionate speeches by numerous white preachers, we were to split into small focus groups for discussions. After the rooms were announced, a Black Preacher got up and said over the loud speaker, "For all you people that feel your interests are not being voiced or heard at this conference, we will be meeting in the Oak room on the first floor." This discussion section was not on the program, I was intrigued because I did not understand how anyone's voice was not being represented at the conference.
I went to the Oak room, and asked if I could attend simply to observe. The young Black Preacher asked me, "Well, what color are you?" I answered, "White." He responded, "OK, you can come in, because you recognize you are white, we are tired of white people saying we are all the same, cause we're not." I assured him I would stay in the back of the room, and not ask any questions, just observe. What followed was probably the most painfully informative experience I have ever witnessed. I heard agonizing stories of how excluded the African American Christians felt from the broader culture, the devastation of the Black Family, how their youth were being lost to violence, drugs and prison, how their issues were always pushed to the back of the line. I could barely keep from crying, the pain I was witnessing was so great, the weariness so deep. These people were our brothers and sisters in Christ, at a Christian conference, and yet thy still felt they were not part of it. I later went to the same Black Preacher and told him my difficulty in my efforts at inclusion of the Black Church when it came to peace and environmental issues, how we invite them all the time and they never come. How, I asked him, can we work together. He told me to keep inviting, but to understand that the African American Community is tired of being invited into organizations to be like the organization, "You invite use to be like you, we want to come and be who we are."
Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto South Africa
America is being transfixed on yet another trial where an unarmed African American Youth was killed by a white authority figure. The young man was guilty of walking in a neighborhood with a hoodie sweatshirt. As I listen to and read the comments about the trial, it is evident there are oceans of difference between communities when it comes to how this is being viewed. I cringe with shame when I read the comments of those who think this murder of an unarmed teenager is in any way self defense. I ache when I read the comments of African Americans who view the murder with centuries of slavery, lynchings and unprovoked killings by nervous white law enforcement burned into their collective memories.
Regardless of the outcome of the jury deliberations, the damage is deep. An innocent verdict or a verdict of a lesser charge will be one more reminder that the value of those with dark skin is somehow less, not worthy of protecting or punishing those who so casually take their lives with guns. Those with light skin will argue it is the law, but human law is often flawed, and rarely moral.
When the brave youth of the Soweto Townships gathered before their marches for freedom in South Africa, they would gather at Regina Mundi Church to pray before the Black Madonna. She is also called The Mother and Child of Soweto. This beautiful image reminded the freedom fighters of where they came from and that they were included in the Cosmic family of God. It is so interesting that Mandela the inspiration for the Soweto uprisings is dying now, and the trial in Florida is stirring racial passions across the world as to racial misunderstandings.
Our Lady of Soweto
The pain of those African Americans at the Sojourners Conference, the pain of African Americans as they watch and wait during the jury deliberations in Florida must be a guiding force for our culture to heal. Instead of blaming the victim or telling those who are so angry and grieved, they should not feel that way, we need to listen and strive to understand from where the different view of the situation comes.
The Black Madonna's speak to this pain, they speak to painful endurance, to the cries for justice. They show the divine manifests itself in all people, regardless of race.
In another excerpt of The Black Madonna : Journey of the Healing Heart I explore this theme:
When you explore writings, posts and scholarship on the Black Madonna, she is often claimed by non-European peoples as “their Madonna.” Many of the Black Madonna’s are obviously African in their appearance. They were probably crafted in North Africa by Coptic monks. The damage done to a large segment of the world’s people through the presentation of the Divine as white and male can not be underestimated. To have these images as representatives of the Divine is significant in the work that must be done to heal the horrific scars of racism.
The late middle ages and dawn of the age of Consciousness soul were times of the rise of materialism and mercantilism, of the commodification of all aspects of life itself. Slavery became the ugly scar perpetrated upon the African continent by Europeans. I feel racism is the human practice of materialism on humanity, by attributing worth on the basis of something as arbitrary as the color of skin. Could these dark images of the Divine, these images of the Human Soul and it’s capacity and task, be a unifying symbol as to the divine origins of all of humanity? Could these somber and scarred images be a beacon of hope and inclusiveness for those so abused and despised because of the color of their skin? Could also the Black Madonnas be a counter balance to the racist zeal that would strangle three continents in it’s ugly practice? Is the Black Madonna an invitation to recognize the Beloved Community of which we all belong? When you watch how people of color embrace the Black Madonna, it truly pierces the heart, how they have felt left out of life, the pain of otherness, and yet here at the foot of these images, they have a similarity in appearance of the Divine, they are welcomed and loved, they belong, they look like the Mother of God. The Black Madonnas have suffered, endured great harm, and yet they persist. They are a model for all the down trodden, the lonely and abandoned, they offer hope of survival and healing to those who mourn from the pain of racism, and they also offer healing image of the Divine to the racist, that God can be seen in those who look different.
The Black Madonna through her scared, burnt suffering appearance speaks uniquely to the ideals of the Magnificat. That the Lord with reign justice, make the lowliest whole, and shatter all illusions of earthly power. No wonder the peoples of the Earth who are victims of injustice and racism cleave to the Black Madonna, claim her as their own. To them, it is the proof of Christian equality, that we are all equal in the eyes of the Divine. That the immense suffering that comes from racism and injustice is not ignored by the heavens, that it is companioned by the Divine, and will be overcome.
Divinity through the Christ is not a distant goal; it is immediate, accessible to us if only we reach out through relationship. The transformation of matter, so magnificently modeled through the Christ event, came about through suffering. While we suffer, the Spiritual world understands, and we know, through Christ’s and Mary’s experience that Resurrection awaits. The scarred, worn, but enduring Black Madonna is a symbol of the difficult human journey, but how this journey is not taken alone, offered to all regardless of outward appearance, and that we are witnessed and cared for each step of the way.
We are all one in Christ, we may look different on the outside, but Christ came for all, his salvific love and sacrifice transformed all of creation. A large portion of our community is grieving and angry, we need to ask why, and lovingly respond with more questions as to how to heal this gaping, hemorrhaging wound that prevents our nation from being the beacon of freedom, equality and community that is her spiritual purpose.
It is my prayer that we can acknowledge the pain so many of the world's people bear from their exclusion based on externals. In stead of relying on courts for justice, let us make our own Freedom, Equality and Community with acts of loving kindness and inclusion to all peoples.
Let us all start within our own hearts, to be inspired by The Black Madonna to include all of our Brethren as recipients of our individual acts of kindness. Let us all seek to hear, know and witness another's pain from racism, for that first step will lead to a wholeness and peace for our culture that will transcend our legal system and our courts. When we have a moral culture based on freedom, equality and love, we will have no need for human laws.