This sermon was originally preached two years ago, written with Janice Mirikitani in mind and still does. I’ve updated it to reflect today’s moment. —Marvin K. White, Minister of Celebration
In this new beginning, God, create the new heaven and the new earth. We know that “and” is a conjunction. So, then God, be conjunctive. God be the “AND.” God, join us. God be our connectivity. God, take us jointly, or God, do not take us at all. Finish this sentence, God!
The earth is without form, and void, and darkness is upon the face of the deep. Spirit of God move upon the face of these waters, from Ferguson to San Francisco. God be about that fluidity. Kick rocks, God. God, say it, let there be light: and then, God, do it. God be the first bulb going off. Be incandescent. Be the first sun in our sealed tombs, and the first inspiration.
Come like morning glory. God be the first line of poetry. God, see the light? It is good: Now, God, divide the light from the darkness. God, the first line break. God, the Breath of Poesies. And God, call the light (to)day, and the darkness, call it (to)night. And this evening and this morning will be not the latter days, but the first day. God be the first stanza.
Creation now, God; make sense of it all. God, your only response to formlessness is to be poetry. God, unedit us. Creation is the God journal. Is the God, spitting bars. Is the God, stream of consciousness. Is God, the open mic. Is God, the spoken word. Is God, the itinerant. Is God, speaking in the vernacular. Is God, the visionary artist. Is God, the folk artist. Is God, the willy-nilly filling of all this space, like that blank piece of paper we leave here to face.
We pray that poetry will always be our God-response to hopelessness. Poetry will always be our God-response to state violence. To inequalities and inequities. To poverty, homelessness, to inadequacies of healthcare and glass ceilings for women and people of color. Speak revolutionary poetry, and mean it, God. Speak poetry that saves lives, and mean it, God.
Make our poetry, and our stories and our “re-mything” the appropriate response to, “Why are they still killing us?” The only way to answer our children, “Will they mistake my skittles for a weapon, mama?” The only way to break down metaphorically, their hate of us and to transform it into energy, “Why are they kicking us out of our home?” “Why is there no medicine for my condition?” “Why is there no food on my table?” “Why can’t I work if I want to work?”
The Poetry in us is the God in us; today, God, we are the making sense and the meaning of it all. We are the revision. And the new word count. We are the spell checked. And beloved, today, God becomes, and makes us, the free verse. We are invited as Poets to be the longhand of God striking the rock so that all holy waters flow into the world.
Everybody comes with a story. Our stories carry us, and we carry our stories with us. Our stories have shaped our experiences. When we tell and share and voice our stories, we get to decide which of our myths to debunk, truths worth saving, or tales worth re-purposing.
When told and honored, our stories can be maps that lead us to understanding our core beliefs, possibilities, wounds, triumphs, how we view other people, and in the case of the world today, whether our stories will be erased.
Everybody comes with a story. As Black folks continue to die at the hands of state violence and white supremacy, as women ascend through glass ceilings, as our elders are resisting being made invisible, as COVID deaths mount, as PTSD mounts, I know that we are all called to be writers.
We are called, with pencils and poster board in hand, to the scene of the crime and the scene of the joy. We are called to tell the story before the narrative is wrangled out of our hands. We are called to tell the story before we are re-cast as monsters in the fairytale of empire, before empire coopts, forces and before it jacks our culture to serve its expediency.
We are called to tell the story before we start believing that our narratives must leave our bodies to serve the technological, social, and psychological. Before we are labeled as antiquated, folk, old-fashioned, vernacular we must insist on making sure we all knew the words to our stories.
Everybody comes with a story, and writers know that the work invites us to hear one another deeply and intimately. The writing, the labor of writing, and the birth-giving act of writing says, “We will learn about and understand each other’s experiences.”
Today, the Janice Mirikitanian age begins. Today, there is an invitation for us to see the poetry in each other, to see each other in different ways, become creatively, theopoetically, neurologically, metaphysically, and psychically a part of each other. Our stories are what connect and continue us.
Janice will speak to us in the stories.
When I write poems, I break the line in such a way that you will know where to take a breath. Where my story stops, yours starts.
Be clear, writing your story may not get you out of poverty. Writing your story does not change that you are black and living under white supremacy or a woman living under patriarchy.
Writing your story does not change that you are an elder living in a youth-obsessed culture, but what it does do is put the valuation of your life in your hands.
What writing your story does do is extract you from capitalism. What writing your story does do is allow you to compare their laws against your truth.
What writing does do is free you.
The practices of poetry, and storytelling and writing prepare us to speak truth to the rarely acknowledged or challenged campaign against our erasure.
Poetry, storytelling and writing practices carve out the metaphorical and literal roads, ways, and steps that we can travel together.
Poetry, storytelling, and writing gather us to learn from each other’s (dis)location and how this knowing relates to our own liberation.
Did you know that the story of who nurtured you might save someone’s life?
Did you know that the story about what you are healed from is balm for some hurting soul somewhere?
And yes, your stories allow you to tap into ancestral knowledge about forgiveness.
And yes, telling your story means that you know that there is something in the universe that attends to your pain and is not waiting for your demise but becomes a present help because you are hurting.
And yes, telling your story says you know that there is no hiding from community, your kindred, your family.
And yes, your story allows us to covenant with one another. It says we will not allow each other to be broken.
And yes, your stories, like your fingerprints, say you are uniquely magnificent.
And if you allow me, beloved, I promise that I will keep praying over and helping you tell and provide space for your stories.
On this second Sunday, after the passing of Janice Mirikitani, let’s not think about the closed book, but the beginning of a new verse, a new chapter, and a new book.
We are born into a story. We have every right, in our voice and in our time, to tell our stories.
In the beginning, was the word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God. And you know what that makes you, beloved?