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  • Mary Ellen Gervais

Lenten Reflection: Saturday after Ash Wednesday

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:9b–10)

I came to Sacred Ground out of a sense of “I should” – “I should,” given the recent events in our history, do something to make better the state of our society in relation to race. I didn’t think I needed to study race and faith for my own self because of course I was not racist. Even my best friend who is a black woman did not understand why I was participating in this series. But throughout the series I became aware of not only my personal historical involvement in racist actions (my ancestors were in New England in the 1600’s and most assuredly took part in the horrors imposed on the indigenous people) but also my naiveté about the role I and all of us currently play in continuing the oppression of people of color. Sacred Ground took us through a holy walk of our history of oppression of all peoples who did not have the privilege of being white: indigenous people, people of Latin decent and of course all people whose skin was black. Understanding the history of racism in this country is critical to our moving forward to change it. As Amanda Gorman said in her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb”: “Being American is more than a pride we inherit; it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

For me this walk brought me to a fuller understanding of how we can repair it and then to repentance and what repentance really means. In one of the last readings from Jim Wallis’ America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America, different perspectives on repentance were presented but all led to the same overall understanding. Repentance is a metamorphosis, a transformation, “stopping our present path leading in the wrong direction and turning completely around …” What does this mean in my life? For now it means that I need to raise my awareness of how I contribute to the original sin, both personally and by allowing societal structures to continue to perpetuate the sin. It means speaking the truth of what we have learned about our past and still see in our communities today. But for me, who struggled with seeing hope through all of this, it means, “affirming God’s goodness at the heart of humanity – Planted more deeply than all that is wrong.” (from the Prayers from Iona).

-Mary Ellen Gervais

How can we step into the past in order to repair it? What does repentance mean to you in your life right now?

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