My heart aches for the victims and the loved ones of the shooting at the church in South Carolina yesterday. Who takes the lives of people in a sacred place or children in schools or people who are out to a movie with their families or friends and why? I am so troubled and saddened that I just feel the need to share.
When I am home I attend prayer meeting once a month at an AME church in Chicago. We also have Bible study for anyone who wants to attend. The prayer meeting is also open to anyone. We meet in the evening and we have discussed the question of locking the door because we are often all women, small in number and the church is in a disadvantaged area but we decided that the church door should be open to anyone and everyone who might want to attend. So we sit there…powerless to any person or any situation that might bring harm to us.
Do you know what we do while we are there? We sing hymns and we pray. We pray not for white people or black people but for all people. We pray for the leaders of this country and for the leaders of the world. We pray for the children and the teachers that are in schools everyday and we will begin to pray for the children who are now on the streets during the summer vacation that they will be safe. We pray for the sick and the shut ins and for the families that are grieving because of sickness and death in their families. We offer prayers for love, understanding and peace and we give thanks for good things… for new life… for acts of kindness for restoration of health and for all blessings.
Why do we pray? We pray because we believe in miracles. Why do we believe in miracles? We believe in miracles because we believe in God and because we hold fast to our faith and His promises. One of His promises is that “when two or more are gathered in His name” there He will also be.
Why am I writing this? I know that I am compelled to do something. We all should be. Not just for this incident but for all the senseless shootings that are taking place in the world – particularly in our country. An attack on any house of prayer is an attack on every house of prayer. This type of hatred can be directed in any direction because it shows disrespect and disregard for all that is sacred. My daughter and I saw this church in South Carolina when our family held its reunion there. Because we are AME we were especially interested in the history of this church… that the AME church was formed because the people of color were made to sit apart from white parishioners and were not able to go to the altar to pray until the whites had finished praying. This was in the house of God.
Our family had their reunion in Charleston recently because we had researched our history and found that my mother’s people had been brought first to the islands and then to the beaches of South Carolina where they worked not on cotton plantations but on rice plantations. I remember that my great-grandmother had a scar on her back until the day she died because she had been beaten as a little girl because she moved too slowly when she was told to bring something to her mistress.
We are no longer slaves on plantations. We now have beautiful homes in Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, there are streets named after great educators and doctors from our family. We have doctors, teachers, lawyers and judges in our family and yet more than 300 years later there is still such hate that someone can walk into a church and take the lives of innocent people? I am encouraged, nonetheless, by all of the wonderful people who I have met along my life journey. I am grateful that when I was a little girl my father taught me that pain, joy and sorrow can visit anyone.
I remember when we were watching television and there was a report that Richard Speck had killed all these little girls in the forest preserve and I commented on how terrible this man must be. My father reminded me that this murderer maybe had a mother, father and family that was devastated by what he had done and that both families needed prayer. My father, mother, and many amazing people in the AME Church taught me about love, compassion, grace, mercy, and hope.
So, in a few hours I will go with my daughter to the beautiful AME Church pictured here and I will join others in prayer not just for the victims and their families but for our country and the world and I will listen so that I can figure out what I can do to make sense of all of this and to help to bring about a change. I will examine my heart, my thoughts and my consciousness on the questions of love, hate, racism and guns. Yes guns. Somehow people have lost the ability to talk out problems. Instead they seem to feel powerful when they have a gun in their hands. Lately these guns have been used not for protection but for malice and destruction.
How can we support a man who collects guns for a hobby but not have a plan that offers protection to school children who have to huddle in a closet in their school room to keep from being shot or a five-year old girl who has gone to church with her family and has to lie on the floor of her church in the blood of others and pretend to be dead so that she can stay alive. I don’t know if we have 300 more years to figure this out but I believe we will because we must. We must do this for our children and our children’s children… I implore you to pray individually and collectively and to search your hearts, thoughts and consciences and then find your voice so that we can engage in meaningful conversation on some very important issues.
PS. Tonight at the memorial service the choir sang a song which went:
“I pray for you. You pray for me. I love you. I need you to survive.”
My friends, we need one another to survive. God bless you and I do love you!
– Joanna Sherrod
Joanna is a retired educator who resides in Chicago with her husband, The Honorable Theodore Sherrod. Upon Joanna’s request, her daughter, Danielle, posted this powerful plea in Facebook, and we asked to publish it in Garden Spices Magazine.