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  • Ellen Hoitsma

Lenten Reflection: Monday in the First Week of Lent

“Whom exactly does the culture of niceness serve? I suppose it serves the people for whom life is going well, the people in power. But where does this leave less empowered individuals and populations with legitimate complaints?”--Debby Irving, Waking Up White, p. 170.

From the evening I began to prepare for our first session, delving into the Sacred Ground readings and films shook my spirit. Examining our nation’s less-than-perfect history within a circle of our small and faithful Tuesday night discussion group, led by Mabeth Hudson, was an essential element of this challenging work. And it helped to be in communion with several other teachers of young children, Good Shepherd friends who are also immersed in COVID’s challenging hybrid learning environments.

Somehow, I thought I was prepared. I expected to be shaken by the material about indigenous history and the 300+ years of chattel slavery in our country because this is a painful one that I have struggled to teach in my third grade social studies curriculum. The Black Lives Matter movement inspired me to examine my own attitudes and biases surrounding race and ethnicity. Like most of my fellow parishioners, I identify as White European-American. I grew up on the campus of a New England boarding school and have deep family roots in the South. I descend from dozens of slaveholders and military and civilian personnel who drove Native people off their traditional homelands in the name of progress and profit. We, too, were America’s colonizers.

Sacred Ground provided the unvarnished truth of how racism was a structural part of American systems--even if not by conscious design--since the earliest days of the Europeans’ arrival. In addition to meditating on the wounds of American Indian removal and slavery and their continuing legacies, we heard the stories of people of Latino, Asian-American, and Asian-Pacific descent. We learned about the system of convict leasing in post-Emancipation America and of the Episcopal Church’s efforts (even back in 2006) to begin to examine its complicity in systems that perpetuate racial discrimination.

I believe that “the slow work of God'' is in continued education and reflection. I now feel validated as an optimistic citizen-educator, bringing home a deeper awareness of the resilience of the indigenous and the enslaved. Within and beyond my family and circle of friends, I find myself leaning into tough conversations by listening more and urging others to “tell me more.” I have resolved to move beyond the pain and discomfort I felt months ago and continue this important work.

Sacred Ground has lent greater depth to my third grade curriculum and strengthened my resolve to share the untold truths of history, highlighting the accomplishments of Black and Brown people. We began the academic year reading We Are Water Protectors, which recently won the coveted Caldecott award in children’s literature. We addressed the myth of Thanksgiving with more clarity. On Inauguration Day, my students and I cheered on Kamala Harris as she recited her oath of office and began a four-day analysis of youth poet-laureate Amanda Gorman’s powerful poem.

Good Shepherd sits on land traditionally inhabited by Piscataway, Nanticoke, and Susquehannock peoples--proud human beings with nature-centered, collectivist values--that were tragically erased by our forebears’ greed and ambition. Every time we meet on that sacred site, I hope we will acknowledge them and further commit to live the Gospel and end racial discrimination in all its forms.

-Ellen Hoitsma

Navajo Beauty Way Prayer

There is beauty again.

Beauty radiates within me

There is beauty before me

There is beauty behind me

There is beauty below me

There is beauty above me

There is beauty all around me

There is beauty again

There is beauty again

There is beauty again

There is beauty again

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