This post was originally written about our ability as a society to disregard women’s truths. Disregard the damage done, the pain inflicted, the crimes committed. There is a horrific ease with which we are able to forget their stories and relieve perpetrators of their responsibility. As we have all been watching the news out of Minneapolis this week, and the countless similar stories we’ve heard of over the years, the sentiments are remarkably similar in cases of systemic racism. I just can’t help noticing that we would rather let others suffer than do the hard work of redefining our culture to allow for the safety of all; the support of all; the righting of wrongs. We are not gracious, we are selfish and we are cruel. When certain people say we have hurt them, we simply do not listen. There are consequences of this inaction – real lives have been destroyed and lost. We have made this mess. We need to clean it up.
We seem to be living in a time without graciousness. A time where the intensely felt pain of some is used against them as weapons for others’ agendas. It is disheartening. And, although my intention with this project was to look for the positive, it is sometimes very difficult to avoid the negativity that we are swimming in. There is a great deal in the news this week about courageous women. Women who have bravely put themselves in the position of publicly telling very personal stories. Stories that are humiliating and deeply traumatic. Stories that involve challenging pillars of our society – those with power. Stories that, ultimately, can save lives and bring about change. It is with a heavy heart that I read and hear responses to this bravery. What is behind our inability to offer a collective graciousness to these countless souls who have been battered and compromised? To these countless souls who have carried the weight of our society’s great shame and are emerging as a strength we should be celebrating?
This idea of offering graciousness to those among us that we have seriously neglected and discarded has been on my mind as I have watched and listened this past week. The graciousness of being kind, delicate and generous of spirit. The graciousness of avoiding hurtful words and thoughtless deeds. So, in a kind of childish attempt to find a hymn to understand these thoughts, I flipped open my hymnbook and found these words. First flip. Divine intervention? Luck? I don’t know, but this text speaks to what we could be, if we chose to look beyond protecting what is, and moved towards protecting those that are damaged by what is; towards changing our culture for the better even when there is something to lose for those that currently hold the power.
Gracious Spirit, dwell with me:
I myself would gracious be,
and, with words that help and heal,
would Thy life in mine reveal,
and, with actions, bold and meek
for Christ my Saviour speak.
Truthful Spirit, dwell with me:
I myself would truthful be;
and, with wisdom kind and clear,
let Thy life in mine appear;
and, with actions lovingly,
speak of Christ’s sincerity.
Silent Spirit, dwell with me,
I myself would silent be;
quiet as the growing blade,
which through earth its way has made,
silently like morning light,
putting mists and chills to flight.
Mighty Spirit, dwell with me:
I myself would mighty be,
mighty so as to prevail
where unaided I must fail,
ever by a mighty hope,
pressing on and bearing up.
Holy Spirit, dwell with me:
I myself would holy be,
break from sin and choose the good,
cherish what my Saviour would,
and whatever I can be
give Him who gave me Thee.
There is nothing in these words about protecting those with power. Nothing about saving reputations or assuming that a victim is a liar with ulterior motives. These are words about truth and action. They are heart wrenchingly commanding. Listen. To be gracious is to: be filled with words that help and heal; to take up actions that are both bold and meek; to express wisdom that is both kind and clear; to be truthful; to be silent as we observe growth of that which was previously buried in the dark, emerging into the sunlight; to bear up with hope and might; and to choose what is good. Our task is one of powerful kindness. Active kindness. We do not need to rescue or protect how things have always been. We need to listen to those who say they are in pain and be gracious. We need to hold them, care for them – and do what is required to protect them from ever experiencing this pain again. We need to believe what is true and stop thinking it can’t possibly be that bad. It surely is that bad and we are culpable for this fact.
The word gracious comes from the Latin word for good will. Are we as a society offering good will to those who bravely tell us we’ve hurt them? No. We are avidly protecting our cultural norms. This is a kind of avarice. And it is a deadly sin. We must do better.