By Rev. David Robertson
Gracious God…we know that your heart echoes with the sorrow of our pain, and so, we bring to you all that is in our hearts today…
These are opening words from a prayer of thanksgiving and concern that I often use during a funeral service. These words come to mind as I sit with the recent and current events unfolding since the murder of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis/St. Paul on May 25, 2020.
There is so much sorrow and pain in this death. It echoes in God’s heart and it renders the human heart broken. Actually, words fail me. As the one writing, I feel woefully inadequate. And so, I lament. I grieve. I mourn. I rock back and forth as I create room in my life for the tragedy and injustice of this death to be felt. Yes… felt. Simply… felt. I need my tears, and frankly so does our whole continent.
We should all be deeply grieved by George Floyd’s death—a needless, racially charged brutal death. It should leave all of us breathless, gasping, short of air as we listen to the news describing how one very powerfully situated human being chokes the life out of another. It defies my imagination and gives witness to the machinations of unfettered hatred, racism and unchecked power based on privilege and entitlement. It is real. It is evil. It can be subtle and slithery. It can be brazen and public. Despite how this human tragedy knocks the breath out of us, we also need to find our breath again, so we can speak—so we can condemn.
I have witnessed a white male police officer unnecessarily lecture a female of colour. I have a young male friend of colour who was unnecessarily carded, by yet another white officer. I say unnecessarily because, in both instances, each citizen was doing their absolute best given the disadvantages and the vulnerabilities they were experiencing at the time along with their additional challenges of language, culture and being young. Further, I have witnessed my own partner be the subject of vitriol by a white male when he verbally attacked her during Sunday morning worship. And recently a dear family of colour was so grateful because we were having a nice conversation. “No one really talks to us,” said the dad. All four events happened in my hometown—in Alberta, in Canada, lest we think it doesn’t happen “here.”
God’s heart echoes with the sorrow of our pain… and so, we bring all that is our hearts today… the alarm, rage and violence that we see on our screens as a whole nation struggles to get a grip with itself and sort out the differences between liberty, freedom, and rights as distinct from privilege, entitlement, and power. We grieve those insidious actions taken when entitlement has been masked as a right and further cloaked by power and privilege. We grieve the ensuing losses of human life and the incessant violence visited upon the vulnerable.
As I approach my next decade of living and complete this one, I am even more cognizant of how I have more or less bumped along in my own little life of cultured awareness with its incumbent politeness. As one having received significant privilege given my own gender and colour, it has never been more apparent how I have taken for granted my place in the world and been blinded to systemic economic and social powers that discriminate and abuse. It is even more real to me now, more than ever. And so, we bring all that is in our hearts today…
In my heart, I offer to God my intention to love, to see and to be present to everyone I meet. In my heart, I offer to God my prayers for light to shine where humans are de-humanized because of their race, culture, gender or economics. Why do I pray so? Because it is what my faith tradition teaches me. But not just my faith tradition. Compassion and justice rest in every faith tradition where the most sacred of all is the regard for life itself. In this love, I can find my breath again. In this love I can live again. In this love I can speak from wisdom and let it be known that the asphyxiation and death of Mr. Floyd under the knee of a white police officer is the flash of a wider social pathology that is also in desperate need of a vaccine in order to prevent further deaths caused by racially and hate-motivated violence. I know that God’s heart echoes the sorrows of such pain.
I admit at this point that I have been remiss by omitting the very first words of the opening prayer. The prayer actually starts this way: Gracious God, we know that your eyes dance with the delight of our joys; that your heart echoes with the sorrow of our pain, and so we bring to you all that is in our hearts today…
I thought it too hard to start with dancing, delight and joy… But I want to conclude this way. Joy surpasses suffering. Joy is light to the shadows of pain, even in the face of human tragedy and baseless political leadership. We will have to search intently for the deep joy that guides us humans through the mounting losses of these times. But I know Joy is there. Death does not have the final word. The spirit of Mr. Floyd lives. And if there were to be any echoes in the heart of God, I suspect they are echoes of heavenly hope and divine delight because maybe this time, a whole country and a continent will choose life, foster hope, and finally… and finally, re-capture a common love for all human beings while at the same time, condemning hate and discrimination enflamed by those who live both consciously and unconsciously as ones numbed and dehumanized themselves by privilege and entitlement.
Rev. David Robertson
copyright June 2020
High River United Church