Sunday, July 12, 2015


On June 17th, 2015, a young white man was welcomed into a Bible study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. A short time later, nine people were dead, victims of hate. The shooter, 21~year~old Dylann Roof, reportedly said afterward that he almost didn't go through with the murders because the people he killed had been so nice.

How do we remain open~hearted in the face of atrocities such as this? By listening to those who have experienced them for centuries.

Mother Emmanuel, as the church is affectionately called, was formed in 1818 when over 4,000 free blacks and slaves, weary of discriminatory practices at the city's three Methodist churches, broke away to form their own congregation. As ordinances banned all~black religious gatherings, 140 members were soon arrested and 8 church leaders were subjected to more brutal punishment.

Over the next few years, raids on the church and violence toward the congregation were commonplace. In 1822, 6 members were executed after a secret trial found them guilty of planning a slave revolt, and the church was burned to the ground. Over the next 43 years, congregants continued to meet, often in secret, particularly when all black churches were formally banned in 1834.

Things began to change following the Civil War. In 1872, Emmanuel's first post~war pastor, Richard H. Cain, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout the next century, the church continued to press for human rights, hosting such speakers as Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we know, though, terror, violence and other forms of intimidation continued, giving the people of Mother Emmanuel the right to tutor us now in the proper response to hatred. Hopelessness, cynicism and retaliation are not options they endorse. Rather, in their astonishing willingness to forgive Roof and welcome unknown whites into Sunday service only a few days after the shootings, their example urges us to open to grace and let it move through us as love.

President Obama, another recipient of hate, spoke of the amazing power of grace in his eulogy for the now~deceased Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emmanuel AME. He reminded us that though we have not “earned...this grace, with our rancor and complacency and short~sightedness and fear of each other...we got it all the same.”

Yes, we do. Grace is not earned, and neither is the light of the sun, the bounty of the Earth, or the air that fills our lungs. But these gifts flow to us anyway. And what shall we do with them? We can choose to feed hate and the fear that gives rise to it. Or we can, again and again, add our small thimble~full to a love that endures and is able to forgive in the face of unimaginable pain.

Emmanuel translates as “God is with us.” May know that this is so, as we open our hearts to fully receive the grace offered. And may we offer our small light to that larger flame, again and again, this day and always. Amen.

Namaste! (in this context translating as “My small light greets your own!")

Leia Marie

If you haven't heard President Obama's eulogy, I'd say it's well worth the time. Click here!


Marilyn said...

I appreciate your essay, as I've been thinking so much about the tragedy you write about...and the grace and dignity of the parishioners in response. Just tonight I was listening to an NPR/"On Being" podcast with John A. Powell on the subject of race. I recommend it! Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts. I am inspired.

Leia Marie said...

Thanks, Marilyn…for reading and writing, as well as for the recommendation. On Being is wonderful every time I've heard it, though I haven't caught this program yet. If other readers haven't yet discovered this gem of a broadcast, here's the url~~ (I can't do a hyperlink in this comment section, so you'll have to copy and paste it in).

Rocky said...

HI Leia Marie. As usual, thank you for sharing! Sounds like Dylann found a welcoming and affirming community a little bit too late to change his mind on what he felt he had to do. It is interesting that he was on psychotropic medications, as was the Aurora theater killer and the Columbine killers. I see nothing wrong with psychotropics, per se; I use St. John's Wort to boost the happy chemicals in my brain and melatonin, valerian root and 5-HTP to help me sleep. However, once a young person is given psychotropics, it would be great if they could have some gentle, non-judgmental, affirming spiritual guidance. Also, it seems that most of these killers were very involved in the 'world', i.e. they spent an inordinate amount of time with video games, the internet and with television. Instead of being so involved in the 'world', we need to guide them to get involved with the 'earth'. Let them get their hands dirty working the soil and growing a garden. Or give them a month working with animals on a farm. Some might respond to a camping trip and nature walks. I wish our psych hospitals would steer these young souls away from the world and focus on introducing them to the earth. A society can be judged by how they treat their young, infirm and old people; our society has a long way to go.

Leia Marie said...

Oooh, Rocky, there's so much in your comment that my reply might be a long one! Here goes…Yes, while I don't believe there are limits to Love, it does seem that, for it to be received in a human heart, the recipient must be willing. Dylann by his own admission was not only unwilling, but actively resisting. Such is the way of free will. And yet--and Obama's eulogy spells this out--Love has had its way with us in the larger playing out of this event. Still, let prayers and Love flow to those in only the early stages of grief.

And I'm glad you specified that you are not opposed to psychotropics. I have worked with countless good and very spiritually aware, and even gifted, folks over the years who've made a choice after much soul~searching and trying everything under the sun (sometimes literally, in that nature immersion you speak of) to go on, return to, or stay on psych meds, despite quite strong judgements by their groovy, alternative spirituality peers. Some have done so with secrecy and shame, and our work is to place and keep their feet on their unique path, and letting others do the same. All human paths include deep challenges, and each of us must determine how to address our own. In my practice, I support whatever choice folks make, and if I see some negative effects I share those. Of course, the vast majority of people on psych meds remain on them because they are effective, God-sends for sure.

All that said, oh how lovely it would be to have Earth~centered practices be part of any and all healing, be it for depression or cancer. We are of the Earth (as well as the Cosmos!) and returning to a felt connection to Her seems an essential FIRST step, with other elements added as they are called for. Wouldn't that be lovely!

Thanks, as always, Rocky, for taking the time to read, as well as to give such a thoughtful answer. We've missed you!

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Leia Marie