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Engulfed and In-heldBy Jenny Newman
Birthed each morning with Minnesota dew
Her waters pour in the Gulf, born anew.
From north to south, to nourish and cleanse
The muddy Mississippi carries our sins.
Her belly a tomb for young braves and slaves
While her captains and captors filled our naves.
Her currents misused for power and glory,
The bloody Mississippi tells our story.
The ‘Sip ranks fifty in most lights –
Her hospitality reserved for whites.
“All lives matter!” her leaders proclaim
While our darker siblings are reduced to game.
With Jesus holding my hand, I hear
My unfathomable calling, true and clear:
A vessel for liberative love and care,
My gospel to Mississippi you’ll bear.
Is there another as ruptured as she?
My heart folds in fear of the toxic, turbulent sea.
You of little faith, why do you doubt?
Jesus reaches in the waves and pulls me out.
I cannot do this; the task’s too great!
I will sustain you as your soul’s mate.
Keep your eyes on me, your mind on the Word
You’re anointed with the Spirit of the Lord.
Peter or Jonah, whose story foretells mine?
To walk with Jesus or be swallowed in the tides?
Walking on water or engulfed and bewailed –
The difference: God’s Spirit breathed in and in-held.
Rolling waters of justice: Un-dam/n, Renew!
True liberty and communion flow from you.
Spirit of Peace, mark and seal,
Bloody Mississippi in Jesus’ name heal!
Last week, my dear, soul-friend Lindsey invited us to wade in the waters of racial healing, to be bathed in their mercy and refreshed by their grace. I don’t know about you, but that song buoyed my spirit and compelled a deeper dive into the rolling waters of justice.
But, the truth is, I’m terrified of those waters. What I wish would feel like communal baptism, instead seems like a beckoning to rise above and walk on the toxic, turbulent waves of systemic racism.
While racism poisons the whole of our nation, Mississippi resident and author Jesmyn Ward writes that it is “built into the very bones” of our shared home state – a state that ratified the 13th Amendment banning slavery less than a decade ago. For people of color, the Hospitality State continues to prove un-hospitable. But, it is in this place – the muddy, bloody waters of Mississippi – that I will begin ordained ministry.
Like Jonah, I question the prospects of proclaiming racial justice in that place. And, like Peter, I long to walk with Jesus even on the roughest of waters. In Mississippi, there are no stronger currents than those of prejudice and Christian nationalism. It will feel like trying to drain the ocean with a colander during a deluge. Or like tearing down the most impenetrable walls with a plastic fork. It may often feel like disappointment and despair.
But no matter how it feels, this work embodies hope and manifests love. And, I do love Mississippi! Her people are soulful survivors, and she has much bounty and beauty to offer the world. Without doubt, I know that the best parts of her – her warmth, generosity, and tenacity – ground my deepest roots and will nourish any ministry I engage.
There remains much reconciling work to be done in The ‘Sip, but there is infinite potential in the rippling impacts of her healing. In deep faith, I trust that Jesus holds my hand and will help me confront all the waves of prejudice, fear, and injustice – those within my own self and those encountered in others.
In the waters of racial healing, where do your faith and fear intersect? Along with his hand and presence, what invitation does Jesus extend to you?
This fall, the Sowing Holy Questions blog will focus on issues of racial healing. Writers will reflect on what has been done, what change ought to happen, and offer visions for healing in our communities.
Jenny Newman is a senior Master of Divinity student from the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi. She relishes adventure, pursues deep listening, and – having now written precisely two poems – dabbles in poetry. With near heretical adoration of her nephews and niece, her most cherished role is that of aunt.
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