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‘I Go, To Prepare a Place for You’By Awa Jangha
“My VP looks like me!” This chant of celebration and inspiration is one that I wholeheartedly embody. It fills me with joy to recall that historic moment when Kamala Harris became Madame Vice President, setting a precedent of terminology and representation. Equal jubilation and pride were felt when the first national youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, blessed us with her poise & prose. The importance of that moment (and the living moments thereafter where little girls and boys can see someone they identify with open new doors) allows us all to feel one step closer to dreaming bigger and attaining higher heights of achievement in our lifetimes- that is powerful! This change is a stirring of the waters, a shift in the atmosphere of possibility and hope, and in the words of John Lewis, “good trouble;” a troubling of the waters for change.
In the Water
In her October 2020 Sowing Holy Questions blog, In the Water, Lindsey Ardrey, wrote about the spiritual, ‘Wade in the Water,’ and offered an invitation to listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock’s rendition of the song. Lindsey’s phenomenal writing highlighted her personal connection to the somatic experience of feeling “what racial healing means” through the lyrics and harmonies of the song. She spoke of an ancestral legacy of wading through waters that get stirred and troubled in the process of creating change. Notably, Black women of times past and present have been amid the waters of change which inherently have ‘trouble’ in the experience- good trouble that is.
Good trouble stirs the water by fostering awareness, acknowledgement, and the dismantling of oppression, inequity, and racism, all while encouraging the collective creation of a new shared reality that can ultimately lead us ‘beside still waters.’ Well then, what are the waters of our current time? The waters in need of stirring change include the present-day inequality across systems of health care, employment, education, and implementation of the law. Additionally, we face the waters of deep division amongst the nation regarding what is trusted as truth, who should be in power, and how to express disagreement or discontent. Experiences outside of our control are also stirring the waters as we have witnessed and experienced the impact of the pandemic and its myriad of consequences: financial, physical, emotional, spiritual, and social. We not only face waters that impact us collectively, but also waters that exist personally. Our personal waters speak to the challenges, traumas, and hardships we face intrapersonally as well as interpersonally in our close relationships.
We are living through the process of change and our country has been faced with the questions: What will we do as a collective in the acknowledgement that our past actions and way of being are not enough in this present moment? How will we respond to this opportunity to be partners in change? I hope we become the ancestors that future generations can herald as the ones who made positive changes for them… who joined in stirring the waters, creating ‘good trouble’ that called for innovative, courageous, and compassionate solutions towards that change.
This brings me back to the pride and joy of having a VP who looks like me. Through the witnessing of her representation we see what is possible (in all the intersections of her identity: Black and Asian American, female, HBCU educated, to name a few). The immense positivity that comes from this visibility and representation is indicative of change, of hope, and of dreaming bigger for everyone (but especially younger generations). Personally, I get to see someone who looks like me make history. Now, of course, she does not look exactly like me (there are differences in skin tone, hair texture, facial features, etc.), but that is part of the beauty of representation: It is less about physical characteristics and more about society as a collective endorsing and working towards the opening of doors for marginalized people. It is about making intentional change and being a part of that change process (not leaving it up to others but being an active participant). It also calls us all to consider the following questions: How can I embody this powerful example and offer the same representation to others? What can I do in my purpose, ministry, or vocation that can give visibility to persons who would identify with me? What can I do that can inspire others to hope for more and to be active parts of the stirring of the waters towards change?
I Go, to Prepare a Place for You
These questions help us circle back to Lindsey’s creative invitation where she used song as an entry point. Inspired by her, I would like to invite you to engage in song as a closing point of reflection. Take a moment and listen to this song. It is the 2020 Oscar nominated song, Stand Up, by Cynthia Erivo from the movie, Harriet (about the life of Harriet Tubman). As you listen, consider the lyrics, the harmonies, and what comes up for you in your body.
I would like to share what comes up for me. Engaging in this somatic listening, the concepts of movement forward and moving together for the advancement of all are brought to mind. Movement through water makes ripples. Movement stirs and disturbs the water’s smooth surface. Consider the amount of stirring that can occur when not just one person moves in the water, but a collective engages in this movement. I say to myself, Oh, what a mighty troubling of the waters that would be! Movement forward, as the song alludes, to cross the river to freedom. Not just freedom for one, but freedom for all. Martin Luther King Jr. has said, “no one is free until we are all free”’ in the mid-1900s and Emma Lazarus has said “until we are all free, we are none of us free” (in the late 1800s). Separated by a century they expressed a similar sentiment that movement towards freedom is achieved when it is available for everyone.
I feel this in my body when listening to the very last lyric of this song that states, “I go, to prepare a place for you.” This statement is indicative of our ancestors who waded through the waters of change before us, who offered us hope and inspiration by their example, and who bravely became our representation of what is possible. These were also the words of Jesus to his disciples in John 14:2. Christians can recognize that Jesus certainly was the epitome of how representation matters and of how to stir the waters to create change. We see the evidence of this throughout the centuries via the hope, inspiration, and life changing experiences that has manifested from the example Jesus set for us. We too can be an example for others. Change requires action and standing up or taking a stand. This song encourages us not to go on this journey alone, but instead declares that we take our people with us towards a brand-new home- a home where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control (the fruits of the spirit) abide and prevail. Let us take up the mantle to prepare a better place through the stirring of the waters of change and let us do this work together.
This spring, 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.
Dr. Awa Jangha earned a PhD from Loyola University Maryland in Pastoral Counseling (a Counselor Education and Supervision Program). Her research focuses on experiences of power in the pastoral counseling identity development of African-American female pastoral counselors in training and utilizes art as the means of exploration. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and a Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC). Her training in pastoral counseling reflects her passion for spiritual integration in counseling and in counselor education. As a member of both the Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC) and the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), she infuses creativity into her teaching of spiritually integrated practices within the classes she has taught (such as Clinical Practicum, Professional Orientation and Counselor Identity, Addictions Counseling, Assessment and Testing).
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