Listen to Your Children Praying

Days after moving back to the Philadelphia area, I attended the 20th anniversary concert of Tribe 1, “an ensemble of singers, poets and drummers dedicated to performing songs of Transformation.” In his introduction, Brother Robb Carter praised the group for the way it combines prayer, protest, and perseverance. Their opening song was a cry from the heart about the chilling, unjust violence routinely inflicted on black men in this country. Some new pieces called us to act together to weave a healthy society. In powerful gospel songs, the group moved us with heartfelt prayer. Together we created and sang a new song, with lines supplied by members of the audience put to music by the members of the ensemble.  Then Tribe 1 got their interracial and multicultural audience to our feet dancing in the aisles, inspiring us to remember that we can see through the illusions that imprison us and our society, and encouraging us to act from a place of powerful love and wholeness.

It was heart-warming to hear a favorite song I had sung years ago while living at Pendle Hill retreat and study center, where I participated in the gospel choir led by Niyonu Spann, founder of Tribe 1. During those years, while Niyonu was Dean of Pendle Hill, I had been fortunate to live in a racially and culturally diverse community of U.S. citizens and international students. As I danced in the old stone church where the concert was held, I recognized more than I had ever done before, what a precious gift it is to be part of an intimate and diverse community. I realized more clearly how impoverishing it is to spend too much time in settings in which there is little diversity of race or class, in which there is little variation from the culturally dominant modes of thinking, feeling, communicating, moving, and being in community.

The concert was dynamic. I felt more clearly the power that flows from prayer, especially prayer with others. I felt in both mind and body, and within the gathered group, the reality of how what we focus on contributes to our collective experience. I felt the power of naming reality.  We left encouraged to put into action the movement toward wholeness which we had experienced together.

At home, I listened to my copy of Tribe 1’s new cd, There is a Light, delighted to hear the concert again.   For days afterwards, while cooking, unpacking boxes, or taking care of the seemingly unending tasks associated with moving into a new home, I kept hearing the opening lines to my favorite hymn:

            Lord, listen to your children praying.

            Lord, send your Spirit to this place.

            Send us your love, send us your power, send us your grace.

When I heard those words repeatedly sung in my heart, I felt called to stop working for a while, sit down, pray, and listen for the quiet inward voice of the Spirit. I sensed how attention to God’s Spirit helps bring forth the matrix from which wholeness and love are manifested in the world.

My experience at the Tribe 1 concert helped me recognize that I needed to attend the special January 10th “called meeting” of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to address racism. I was among more than 400 Quakers who attended from 79 different Quaker meetings in the region, joined by many visitors. We began with silent worship and prayer. Lord, listen to your children praying.

At last summer’s annual sessions, concerns had been raised about many of the “isms” that separate and oppress various groups of people. Setting the framework for our time together, our clerk, Jada Jackson, recognized that sexism, classism, racism, and other isms of oppression are all linked. However, the elders and clerks who had been charged to discern how God wanted us to focus had been in unity that as a Yearly Meeting we are specifically called to address racism, amongst ourselves and in our society. Lord, send your Spirit to this place.

We were each asked to reflect on our privileges, and then on the ways we might be called to use our privileges to combat racism. And how might we do this together, in our Quaker meetings? Send us your love, send us your power, send us your grace.

For part of our time, we met in smaller groups. I was in one of four groups that formed from the seven meetings in Philadelphia Quarter. During worshipful sharing and listening, I was moved by what I heard, both from African American and white participants who told what they had learned from searching themselves and from their experience in the world. Listening, I was moved to a deeper commitment to learn about the ways that racism is still imbedded in my own consciousness and in the structures of our society. I wondered what I could do, personally and as a member of the Quaker community, to help combat racism.

All of the members of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which comprises just over one hundred Quaker meetings, are encouraged this year to read and discuss The New Jim Crow, by lawyer Michelle Alexander. This can help us to educate ourselves about the destructive ways that our society is systematically perpetuating raced-based oppression, particularly through a prison system and “War on Drugs” that unjustly targets people of color, especially black men. After prison they are deprived for the rest of their lives of many of the rights of citizenship and are henceforth legally discriminated against in almost every sphere of public life. Poverty and broken families are perpetuated by this system. Alexander’s book calls for a heightened political consciousness and a widespread social movement for change. I do not know a lot about these matters, but I am willing to learn more.  And I’m willing to listen more attentively to how God may be calling for action.  The Civil Rights movement grew out of radical faith put into action, empowered by the Spirit. As a community of faith, Quakers know that movement toward love and wholeness arises from spiritual clarity and surrender to God’s leadings.

Out of listening in my small group, I came away with the conviction that I need to educate myself more about the realities of how racism is still embedded structurally in our society, and learn how I can become a better advocate for racial justice. How can I live in a way that helps to create a loving, fair society? Prayer needs to be a part of every step of the way. Can I let God, through the Light of Christ within, transform me to be more purely and truly a vessel of God’s love? How am I being called to action in my own community, both my Quaker faith community and the city of Chester?

At the end of the called meeting, hundreds of Quakers reassembled in the West Room of Philadelphia’s Arch Street Meetinghouse. Many of us, like me, had been moved to a place of deeper understanding and commitment to the work of combating racism. The body approved a statement of our call and commitment to action.

            Lord, listen to your children praying.

            Lord, send your Spirit to this place.

            Send us your love, send us your power, send us your grace.

Listen to Your Children Praying: What is tugging on your heart in relation to the struggles, violence, and oppression in our world? How have you witnessed oppression in your own life and in your society? Are you interested in learning more about the hidden ways in which racism is perpetuated? How do you use your privileges to combat racism? Is your religious community concerned about this? Is your religious community welcoming of diversity? How does God want us to live and act so as to bring more equality, justice, healing, and love in the world?

© 2015 Marcelle Martin

About friendmarcelle

A Quaker writer, teacher, workshop leader, and spiritual director, I've traveled widely to facilitate workshops and retreats about the spiritual journey. I'm the author of Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey, and A Guide to Faithfulness Groups.
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7 Responses to Listen to Your Children Praying

  1. Ruth Neff says:

    Dear Marcelle,
    Very good to read what you have written and are thinking.
    In ways very similar to some of our activities here in Montana.. We are encouraging people to see how our country for well over 70 years has been supporting the Israeli government while it is oppressing the Palestinian people. This past August our senators voted twice unanimously to send Israel more 1 ton bombs to bomb Gaza. Over 2,200 people were killed .
    Please encourage people to view the talks on YOU TUBE by Miko Peled author of The Generals Son. and by Max Blumenthal who wrote Goliath.
    Another really important book to urge people to read is – Waging Peace – by David Hartsough
    Thanks for all you are doing. Ruth and Sam

  2. Susan Chast says:

    Dear Marcelle, How I wish I had seen you there! I was divided by pain in spine and legs, and so left early, but feeling encouraged, especially by Jada’s introducion and assuring each other we could do this, then being opened to think of new uses of privilege. I took this home in prayer and many days later spoke to two friends aboout their response. I am white; they are black–which is relevant to the laughter that ensued. They said they expected little because in the opening, nothing could have made people of color more invisible than asking Quakers to reflect on their white privilege. I am stating it simply–there was more, including me saying that I did not hear the word “white,” and discussing privilege that overlaps color borders. But I came away with the message to fiirst examine the language I speak, we speak. I have to worship more with friends of color whether or not they are Quakers. A mutual friend of ours will start a support group where it is safe to share our gaffes, I hope. Thank you always for your faithfulness.

    • Thank you, Susan, for sharing your experience and your intention to keep sharing and learning! In my memory the opening instructions were to reflect on all kinds of privileges and gave examples (including such things as healthy physical functioning) that showed that everyone in the room has some privileges. However, I understand that focusing our reflection on our privileges and then on how to use them to combat racism might have been a disappointing way, for some, to focus our time for private self-examination.

  3. Karie Firoozmand says:

    Dear Marcelle – Thank you for this beautiful post. I am glad that you had those experiences. I have been aware of much work on dismanting racism in my own yearly meeting, where a Working Group on Racism has existed for several years now, and in my yearly meeting there were study groups on The New Jim Crow about a year ago. This is the fruit of much work of the Friends who are called to expose and work within this concern for the healing of us all. Last weekend, which was the weekend of MLK Day, there was a commemoration by the Sons of the Confederacy in our city (they do it every year). Two meetings in our area (Baltimroe) hold a vigil across the street while they do this. We question the timing: why must they do it on the very same weekend as MLK Day? The statue where they hold their commemoration has been in place since at least 1948, but they have only been doing this ceremony since the year after MLK Day became a national holiday. So we stand to question them. One individual came across the street to talk to us. She was a re-enactor, not really an adherent to the group, and was open to hearing why we were there. This year, for the first time, we had members of the NAACP with us. As we stood, one of our members remarked to me that dismantling racism is in large part white people talking to white people about it. I think this takes courage, since we are culturally pressured not to admit that racism is alive and well. I think it also gives all of us who are white, and have resulting unearned advantages and privileges, a great deal to talk about. I don’t mean to shortchange what we can learn from our African American brothers and sisters, but I do mean to point out how much power we have to heal this situation.

    • Thanks, Karie, for writing about the vigil you and other Friends in Baltimore participate in on MLK Day. It is good to share how all of us, white and non-white, can use whatever power we have to heal this situation.

  4. Pingback: Dwight Lopes: Racial Healing-Reaching Hearts | In The Light Newsletter

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