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Sermon: Our Name be Witness


For Women’s History Month, I wanted to share some of the stories that I wrote about the women in my family, and decided to read from my last book, our name be witness. As many of you know, I was caregiver to both my mom and grandmother, both lived and died with Alzheimer’s. They trusted me with their stories. So I wrote this book, our name be witness, not to speak “for” the women in my family, but in hopes that they would through their voice through me, and speak through me.

The collected stories, is me coming to terms with that which has been occulted or hidden from me. I am clear that my ideas are not new. They come from somewhere. I write into the deep end and write my way back to these women.

our name be witness makes a case for an exegesis that requires the use of dream books, almanacs, folkways, charm, magic and spell in addition to bibles. As both a believer and a student, I find it hard to suspend my belief in these women, just to call myself Christian. I won’t do it if I can’t tell their stories. These stories are my breaths before I use any stroke I can muster to get back to shore. I wrote the book remembering that the opposite of floating is fear.

So for Women’s History Month, we did a little bibliomancy or “divination by sacred text.” My grandmother used to have a bible on her nightstand. Every morning she would open the bible and let her finger touch a random page. This would be her scripture for the day.

I invited the church to think about a number from 1-140, and I read the corresponding passage in the book. It was my hope that everyone would be able to use the wisdom of these black women’s stories that I kept, I remembered, I wrote, and I held on to. Think of a number…

● On some mornings, biscuits popped out of blue cans and eggs were cracked, scrambled and fried. Barely recognizable bacon greased our plates. The two browns of syrup and fat made us all sop happy. On some mornings rituals were everything.

● That’s your mother. The only one you gon get. Understand it? She the start this and you the finish this. This love. Compassion a candle for later. This here a different light. Get clear about it. Just cuz you never knew her power don’t mean it wasn’t there. Don’t mean it wasn’t workin’. That’s her Godliness. Get your thoughts clean and while you at it, clean the house. Clean it for today. Understand that dirt is yesterday’s. Overlook the dirt, clutter, mess, clothes, stains and dust and you living in the past. You not expecting that things can get better. Expect that things will get better every time you do something better. Expect things will be different if you do something different. Expect things will look differently if you see something differently. Expect things will feel different, if you imagine something different. Let past hurt pass away. All that misunderstanding distorting the truth. Girl, you are the opportunity. You are the meaning, the respect and the good times with folks that you’re looking for. It is why you are here. You are the next new thing. Too late? Ain’t no such thing. Love is new. It is never late. Love. Feed your body with things that fuel it for the long haul. Accept your beauty. Be easier to spot it when you see it in others if you do. Stop playing that tape if you too scared to skip to the next song. Since childhood too long to be thinking you ugly. Cut it off as soon as you think it. Do a 23rd Psalms on it. Give your body something to think about. In your mother’s house make it an altar for learning, loving, living and peacefulness. Leave some space on the mantle for magic, for new thought, for memories that come floodin’ back. It is bigger than where you live and who you come from. If this ain’t a day full of cosmic signs, I don’t expect is one.

● You talk to God last night huh? See what I told you? He say something ’bout me? Different from praying huh? Godliness is a choice every time you enter a door or a dream. A conversation not an order. Ain’t no glass ceiling between you and God. Ain’t nobody standing in the way of your promotion. You smell like you Goddrunk. Found out he the designated driver. That’s what silliness and lucidity is. Difference is this morning don’t need to spill Mary’s blood and your radio set to wake you up to the miracle station. This morning inventory your space. Rent God a room. Let God reside in you. Offer this, your body, as the one to view this human condition through. You an expansion of His territory. You His growing spurt. You in the thought of God. Thought of God. Make sense? So unselfish. So much honor. You in service. You stronger in this wake than when you laid down. Go do what is expected of you. You heard right.

Take note. There is enough shame to go around. It will all zero out. Balance. Whether it is the address or the zip code. All rumors have some truth. The curse is not generational. It is hourly like St. Bartholomew’s or daily like Wall Street’s opening bells. She has to forget it all. She is the tongue-swallowing mother. The only way you can be the childless daughter.

By Marvin K. White