Prayer Song in a Time of Peril

I

The days before the final verdict on the articles of impeachment of Donald J. Trump for Obstruction of Congress and Abuse of Power, a collective memory stirred in me. I had been dreaming about and trying to imagine the middle passage. African children women, children and men stacked and shackled. The dead thrown overboard. Those who were forced to throw the dead overboard threw themselves as well. Unrelenting labor, torture, dismemberment, rape, and delivering children destined for the auction block. I imagined the cost to resist–rebel. The costs of living without respite or hope. The cost to living with hope for the freedoms of generations coming while constant fear and endless loss. 

Beginning with the FBI investigations into undue influences in our 2016 presidential election up to the impeachment hearings of the sitting president, I watched. I listened. I talked. I read. I slept with the actions of the leader of our nation–his administration–his spokespeople– his words–his actions. I was–I am furious-angry-rageful–not merely frustrated. I was-I am sad–prostrate with grief. I was–I am terrified–not paranoid–not overreacting–not histrionic–not biased–not hysterical. 

I have been experiencing rational terror informed by our current political realities in which the posture–quality–quantity and substance of our debates–policies–laws–norms–morality have been bent toward white supremacist territorial-social-political-religious-economic agendas for increased power and rule over women, children, black and brown people, immigrants, LGBTQ people, our land–our natural resources–our environment–all of our sacredness. I have been experiencing rational terror because of the hyper-escalation toward absolute presidential powers to influence and rule. I am witnessing the erasure of the checks and balances provided for in our constitution–by a free press–an independent judiciary–equal branches of government to adequately and effectively be truth to power–check that power–veto the power–impeach that power–inform the citizenry of the immediate and present dangers to our democracy and republic–end a decent into tyranny. My chest–head–arms–back ached. I wondered if I was experiencing heart attack symptoms. 

Early on the morning of February 5, 2020, the day of the president’s senate trial verdict for abuse of power and obstruction of congress, I heard my mother’s voice singing within me. In this memory, my mother and a church choir were singing the invitational. The invitational is the time in a protestant church service when anyone who wants to join the church is gently encouraged and warmly welcomed to come forward. I hummed along. I finally sang the song out loud–from memory–by heart.

The first songs I learned were hymns and Negro spirituals, the blues, the rowdy lewd kind, as well as the jazzy dancing kind, and the jazz ballads. Yet, when there is deep danger, sadness, anger, even joy, it is the church music that sounds in my mind, my sleeping and waking dreaming. 

From the ages of four to eleven years old, my church experience was one of safety, safe caring adults and lifelong friends. It was my first spiritual, educational, social, and political home. It taught me about reliance on my community, lifting each other up, and looking after the sick and the elderly. My church taught me black history, literature, music, and providing safety in community. My church was politically active in the civil rights movements. 

What I treasured most was the feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of black bodies, voices and harmonies. It was a feeling of complete wholeness and safety in the segregated south. I felt linked to each and every person, to every black person, to every stolen generation before me. I felt safe. I felt protected. 

The deep irony of the hymns singing within me is that my church betrayed and abandoned me. I left my church and organized religion after I was sexually and emotionally abused, and exploited by a very powerful Methodist minister starting when I was eleven years old. For many years, I blamed myself for his abuse and my church’s failure to protect me or stop him. I blamed myself when my relationship with God was shattered. As I recovered, I re–established a sustaining spiritual practice and decided to stop participating in organized religion. When the songs came, I often kept the tunes and changes the words or layered additional words and stanzas to make the tune and the hymn accessible to me. 

I used the words my mother was singing to me to look up the name of the hymn and its author. I looked in the usual places online to find who wrote the music and lyrics to the song playing in my memory to no avail. Even though I could not find the hymn, I traced the memory and traced the provenance to an agreement to survive–more-to live and thrive through love and action. 

I asked myself to imagine the effect of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 and the yeas it took for all slaves to learned they were free. Jubilee. Freedom. Searching for loved ones. Mass migration. Building homes, churches, schools, businesses and towns. Voting, serving as mayors, governors, and legislators. 

I imagined the three days before the presidential inauguration in 1877. The democrats declared Rutherford B. Hayes, a republican, the winner of the 1876 presidential election in exchange for the removal of all federal troops from the south. This ended the Reconstruction Era and all its protections for former slaves’ equal rights as full citizens. It reignited a reign of domestic terror against former slaves and people of African descent. Kidnap, false imprisonment, rape, and murder. Homes, businesses, and towns looted and burned. Slavery again all but in name. 

After the Compromise of 1877, it would be seventy–seven years before Brown Versus Board of Education, eighty-eight years before the Voting Rights Act was passed, and ninety-one years before The Fair Housing Act was passed.  

My being began to write a poem between the lines of the words of the invitational hymn alternating lines of song and poem. The intertwining of hymn and poem reminded me that our current times are not the only times of peril we have survived. I felt admonished to refuse to give up on hope and joy. Refuse to give in to hate. Dispel disinformation, confusion and inaction. Mobilize my angers and my fears toward right individual and collective action. Remember, we are not alone. Those who have gone before us remain with us. We can lean and depend on them. They are our guides.  We are each other’s guides.

II

Call and Response

Give me this day

As the sand cranes in the delta lift up in first flight 

The pardon of my sins

In refusing to treasure my whole self in the whole selves of others

Or carelessness or 

Willful ignorance or

In anger

Or love

Cleanse thou my heart

My mind

My body

My intentions

My actions

Make me pure within

Knowing perfection is not required 

Nor is it a staple of nature

I know no fear 

That is not fuel for 

Preserving and saving my own life

The lives of others

Our planet 

When thou art by my side

God Goddess Adi Buddha Yeshua 

Yahweh Allah Baha Parmatman

Shakti-Jehovah Yeshiva Yemoja Oya

Oshun-Ayida Weddo-Quan Yin

Stay ever close beside me

Into the sun’s last wink into night  

Be my guide

The guide within me

The image of you.

© Andrea R. Canaan

Rio Vista, California 

2.5.2020

In love and appreciation for my mother, Dora Ester Ransom Bridges.

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