Citizen: An American Lyric

citizenThe image of a sweatshirt hoodie on its cover should provide a significant clue as to the stark portrait painted in Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, but the book’s pages and words are so smooth that you might be lulled into an imagination that the reading will be easy, gentle.

It is not.

Citizen is unequivocally beautiful but not gentle, like the most exquisite love song capturing the precise, bleeding pain of a broken heart. With literary deft and through vignettes of time & space, Claudia Rankine tells the truth of daily Black citizenship in the United States.

“All our fevered history won’t instill insight,
won’t turn a body conscious,
won’t make that look
in the eyes say yes…”
(pg 142, Citizen)

The microaggressions, the daily violences, the very construct of spaces that declare your life to be less than life, and the interior dialogues of one person navigating such experiences: these are the lyrics of Citizen. The book should be required reading for whites who struggle to understand (or think they already know) the racialized landscape of the U.S. and the dynamics of so-called white privilege. Required reading to listen to the pain — just listen, without the rush to white tears or white heroism or white defensiveness — to a story of citizenship that was not meant to be citizenship.

“The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong so much
to you — ”
(pg 146, Citizen)

Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press 2014) is a necessary and poignant collection of essays, and was named Best Book of the Year by NPR, the New Yorker, the Boston Globe, and many others.

Sunday Prayer

Almighty God be gracious to us,
bless us in your mercy,
and shine your face upon us.

O God our God, Wellspring of Life: to you is due all praise and thanksgiving. Yours is the peace that passes understanding. Yours is the mystery that invites faith. Yours is the love that endures beyond our patience. With heaven and earth, with angels and all creation, we worship you.

Be gracious to us,
bless us in your mercy,
and shine your face upon us.

Jesus Christ, our Healing and our Comfort: come and help us, we pray. We are hurting, we are lonely, we are at a loss for clarity — and it seems like a long time that we have been waiting to be made well. Be with us. Stay with us. We are eager for your words of hope, your presence of love, your consolation of joy.

Be gracious to us,
bless us in your mercy,
and shine your face upon us, we pray.

Sweet Wisdom, Spirit of Vision and Truth: prepare our hearts and hands for the work of love. Shed light on our journeys that we might follow you more closely. Tune our songs to your glory, make our lives for your testimony, and compel our communities to reveal your good news in grace and mutuality.

Almighty God be gracious to us,
bless us in your mercy,
and shine your face upon us.

Amen.

cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

Retreat

credo5If I gaze all day
at the sun’s light upon
the budding rhododendron,
know that it means I love you.

If my eyes glisten
to see the breaking morning
or share the breaking bread,
know that it means I love you.

If I pause
for a whistling lesson
from the towhee and the sparrow,
know that it means I love you.

If I laugh to listen
to the gurgle of a spring
overflowing in its joy,
know that it means I love you.

If I fling my arms wide
as though to embrace the lake
and the jagged mountains,
know that it means I love you,
O God my Delight and my Creator.

credo3

King Cat

Every writer starts somewhere: The itch begins with a book that makes our spirits soar, or a teacher who affirms our creativity, or a spirit within us that insists on crafting stories. I have my own list of writing influences, but my first taste of publishing itself came at the encouragement of my 6th grade English teacher, who submitted a piece of my creative writing to a young writers’ publishing contest.

Contests and publishing moving at the pace they do, it wasn’t until 8th grade that the winning pieces were published in a book: Creatures Unlimited (The Flying Pencil Press 1989, edited by Charlotte Towner Graeber), a collection of more than 50 poems, stories & artwork by young people ages 8-14. The experience was fabulous and surreal — my introduction to the possibility that words can circulate far beyond oneself. (Also, I was interviewed for local TV; my glasses frames…oh the 80s!)

Bearing in mind that I wrote this piece at age 11, here is my first published writing: “King Cat.”

drawing by Mike Sheppard, also published in "Creatures Unlimited"

drawing by Mike Sheppard, also published in “Creatures Unlimited”

As I peered out of my window, I saw a cat stalking the corn field as if he were a king proudly walking throughout his own country.

The cat’s face had ears pricked straight into a point. Its eyes were green with a black slit in the middle of each eye. His nose was pink, and his mouth was curved into a sly smile, as if he knew something that I didn’t.

This cat’s body was sleek, and a small arch in its back gave it a graceful appearance. From a small bulge in its stomach, I guessed that he had found a fat mouse for dinner.

The cat’s tail was standing almost straight up with a small curve on the tip. Its body was snow white, and although it limped a little, the cat was beautiful.

As I continued watching, the cat, after a quick pause, walked out of the field and into the woods.

Although he was out of sight, I imagined King Humfred the Cat (that’s what I named him) walking into his home territory — a proud, victorious king. His people would welcome him home, and great knights from afar would come and ask how he had conquered the fiercest enemy in the land. Fair maidens would arrive in great caravans.

Late into the night, the king would hold a feast for the people of his kingdom — knights from afar and the fair maidens.

I woke up. My mother was calling me for supper.

“Coming,” I called back. As I turned to leave, a thought crossed my mind. “My monarch…?” I turned back to the window. There he was, King Humfred the Cat, standing again in the field. To this day, I still swear that he winked at me that night.

Passing Away

Who will mourn death
when it dies?

Who will cry out against
the drying of tears?

Who will offer their shoulder
when pain passes away?

You have promised it, O God, and it is certainly so that all things are being made new. But in our gleeful grabbing at the latest & greatest, in our rush to be done with anything displeasing, we have turned willfully away from the grief and the growing pains and the death that accompany new life. We have brushed aside tears and mocked the weary. “Life and faith are ours!” we crow (and alas to those who haven’t the privilege of joy for surely it is their own fault).

Do not let me hold you back from all that is new, Risen Christ. Pay no mind if I ask a friend to sit with me through an unspoken heartache — then again, if there is room enough in your resurrection for slow-healing wounds, you are welcome to sit with us too while we watch the slow sunset and take the time to learn of new constellations that rise with the moon. I am not so courageous in change, but if you stay with me, I could try.

The bed remains unmade in case death comes quickly or if life dawns without remembering to include us, and we wait beside it while others chase the promised by and by. When at last they run out of breath and their vision blurs in the dazzle of newness, the bed will be ready and we will be there to keep prayerful watch alongside the Spirit who, it turns out, is more like a hospice nurse than a plastic surgeon in Her understanding that death comes to us all.

Do not be afraid to mourn.

Let tears fall as they will.

Feel the fullness of your pain.

Pass away in the love of Christ and wake in the delight of God.

on Revelation 21:4