Wednesday, June 7, 2017

I am Hagar . . .

Hagar  1875
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Edmonia Lewis 1844-1907
African - Native American
Artist / Sculptor / Poet

Tyehimba Jess
Tyehimba Jess - Poet / Teacher

Hagar in the Wilderness 
My God is the living God,
God of the impertinent exile.
An outcast who carve me
into an outcast carved
by sheer and stony will
to wander the desert
in search of deliverance
the way a mother hunts
for her wayward child.
God of each eye fixed to heaven,
God of the fallen water jug,
of all the hope a vessel holds
before spilling to barren sand.
God of flesh hewn from earth
and hammered beneath a will
immaculate with the power
to bear life from the lifeless
like a well in a wasteland.
I'm made in the image of a God
that knows flight but stays me
rock still to tell a story ancient as
slavery, old as the first time
hands clasped together for mercy
and parted to find only their own
salty blessing of sweat.
I have been touched by my God
in my creation, I've known her caress
of anointing callus across my face.
I know the lyric of her pulse
across the lips... and yes,
I've kissed the fingertips
of my dark and mortal God.
She has shown me the truth
behind each chiseled blow
that's carved me into this life,
the weight any woman might bear
to stretch her mouth toward her
one true God, her own
beaten, marble song.
                                                      ~ Tyehimba Jess 2013

Last week I binge-watched The Keepers on Netflix.  Spoiler alert - the underlying them is sexual abuse.  It is an excellent murder mystery, if a bit heavy when remembering it is a true story. It brings light to the stories of sexual abuse in, again, the Catholic religion.  I'll refrain from commenting on the story other than to say, I think it's important for adults to watch.

Watching this series brought back memories for me, myself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. My abuser was not a priest or clergy person, but the rampant misogyny of my father's understanding of his Christian religion factored strongly into his narrative of the abuse. I have healed, but I am not immune to triggers when similar stories come my way.  This series was a trigger for me.

As a child I came to think that the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in the Bible's book of Genesis had something to do with what was happening to me.  In the past few years, the above poem, inspired by the marble carving of Hagar by Edmonia Lewis, has been transformative to me and my thinking about Hagar, in my thinking about my sexual abuse.

I love the idea that God is a mixed race women, hewn out of marble, each chisel strike defining a feature, an emotion, an understanding. I wish I would have known of this strong cool Hagar as a child. I may have seen myself as a strong survivor rather than an outcast, getting what I deserved for being a female. I have embraced this Hagar now. By some act of  secular grace,  I have found a proverbial cool water spring that assures my survival.

There are no words that can describe my cool water spring...I imagine if you have found a metaphorical spring that sustains you, you know that things such as this can only be described in the language of the soul, the feelings and actions that bring ecstatic connectedness with all that is sacred.

I hope that this poem and series will be the chisel blow for you that they have been for me - informing and transforming further the way I look  and the way I look at the world..  Neither poem nor documentary are reason for your tears, those belong to those who lived this, to Hagar. Instead, understand and embrace the message of this story - that absolute and solitary power and authority never serves anyone well - not children, not churches, not adults - not any one.

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The Keepers

(I learned that an earlier draft of this post was accidently posted a few days ago. That page is no longer available.  Sorry for any confusion.)

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