On Thursday, May 7, The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley asked me to join her in distributing some flowering plants to businesses in Old St. Paul’s neighborhood that were damaged in the recent demonstrations. Mary knew there were at least seven places (Café Poupon, Coffee-Land, 7Eleven, Subway, Lumbini’s, the Indian Grocery Store, and Mick O’Shea’s), because she and The Rev. Mark Stanley had walked the block along Charles Street on Tuesday (from Saratoga to Pleasant) with brooms and dust pans in-hand offering to help clean up. Most of the businesses had windows broken and some had suffered significant theft.
At each place we stopped, we told whoever took the plant that we were from Old St. Paul’s and that we wanted them to know we were sorry they had been damaged and that we supported them as neighbors. Almost every recipient, at first, seemed somewhat surprised but soon were smiling and thanking us for the plant. And, as we shook hands, their appreciation was reflected in the look of gratitude in their eyes.
A few days before this, I stopped in at Coffee-Land to see how they were progressing (and, truth be told, to get one of their delicious cherry Danishes). They were busy serving customers and, when it was my turn, I said to the owner and his wife:
“I am so sorry for what happened to you. It is so very sad.”
He replied: “It was probably more good than it was bad. So many have shown love to us afterwards.”
This week, Mary had a banner made that reads, “One Baltimore: respecting the dignity of every human being.” One of the promises we make at baptism (or when renewing our baptismal vows throughout the year), is to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Now this promise is displayed in front of Old St. Paul’s and is putting out a vision for the city.
We have a LOT to do in establishing “One Baltimore.” As we try to find our way in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, we can begin by looking for opportunities to connect. Smiling at people waiting at the bus stop and giving a pleasant “Good morning” might help break the ice. Engaging in short but sincere and caring conversations with strangers each day can give personal expression to our vow of “respecting the dignity of each human being.”
—Eileen Donahue Brittain, Treasurer for St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore
Needless to say, there’s a lot going on right now.
Our city is still reeling from last week’s events as we begin to address the issues of stunning inequality, systemic racism, violence, and poverty.
In the midst of all this, many are also having their own personal crises as loved ones pass away or suffer illness, as unsatisfying jobs or the utter lack of them sap energy and optimism, as things don’t work out as hoped, as more die in Texas and Nepal and all around the world. —All of these things have the power to haunt and tear down all our stores of enthusiasm, hope, patience, and empathy if we allow them to.
In last Sunday’s Forum (led by The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley), we were encouraged to share “I” statements about how these issues have made us feel or have altered our perspective on things. I didn’t share anything at The Forum, not knowing how to put it all into words then, but now, here, I’ll do my best:
Last week, I began feeling that nothing I’d previously held important—my work, my regular/daily concerns, my personal goals—was important anymore. In the face of my neighbors’ pain and struggle, all these things so personal to me seemed empty and small.
Last week, I felt exhausted, oscillating seasickly (and often selfishly) between an energetic desire to act and a great energy-sucking despair at not knowing what to do (or, worse, knowing what to do but being too afraid to do it).
Last week, I felt my whiteness (and all the racist advantages it gives me) with an incredible, constant keenness that made me feel terrible about myself and my society.
Last week, I felt the nature of my neighborhood—one of those within Baltimore’s “White L”—with both a tremendous guilt and also an odd (troubling) sort of gratefulness.
Last week, I often felt petulant, petty, resentful, and angry.
But that was last week. And while many of these feelings continue to linger in me and while many of the lessons I’ve learned from this past week will no doubt stay with me for years to come, I have—through meditation, church, friends, and family—come to a much healthier, more energetic, and more hopeful place.
Last week, my husband and I listened to Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates speak about many of the challenges and problems that Baltimore’s been facing for so long now. During the Q&A session, one woman asked Coates what she could do to re-inspire her children who, given all that they’ve seen on the news about the world around them, have come to feel helpless, hopeless, and at a loss. Coates, to my surprise and great appreciation, replied (paraphrasing), “If Ida B. Wells didn’t give up hope, then your kids certainly don’t have a right to.”
Last week, I let myself begin to feel hopeless. Because it was easy.
This week, I am practicing hopefulness because I believe it is what’s right. Consider John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God didn’t send Christ into a world deemed hopeless—but into a world deemed worthy of saving, a world full of possibilities, potential, and love.
And this means it’s all worth fighting for. This means it’s worth not taking the easy way out by falling into self-pity, hopelessness, and prejudice.
This week, I’m ready to take up the challenge Mary posed to us at our last Forum: to live by and look out across a twenty (thirty, forty, however long it takes) year horizon, and continuously open myself up to learn from and listen to my neighbors. For learning and listening are the tools of the hopeful.
Last night, we gathered at Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore to offer our prayers for the healing of Baltimore. Here is a copy of the prayers that we used, which were adapted in part from some prayers in the New Zealand Prayer Book for the Anglican Church. Friends from all around the country joined us in prayer last night, and you are invited to pray with us too.
Prayers for Baltimore
Leader: Let us pray:
-O God of many names, lover of all peoples; we pray for justice and peace in our hearts and homes, in our city and our world. Amen
-We pray for Freddie Gray and for all who mourn his death. Amen
-for those who are angry about the ongoing problems of racism, income inequality, education disparity and police brutality. Amen
-for all who are hoping for accountability and systemic change. Amen
-for the young adults in our city who have lost hope and turned to violence. Amen
-for parents who worry about their children getting into trouble Amen
-for the protesters and police, for the National Guard and the Fire Department. Amen
-for Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and all who direct law enforcement. Amen
-for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Governor Larry Hogan, and all in authority. Amen
-for religious leaders working with our citizens, and for community organizers who are bringing people together. Amen
-for the small businesses that have suffered due to vandalism and looting. Amen
-for reporters and those in the media who are telling our story to the world. Amen
-for teachers and educators who are making a difference in the lives of children. Amen
-for all citizens who live with fear and a sense of helplessness. Amen
-for those who yearn for equality and a kinder world. Amen
People: Be our companion and guide, O God, so that we may seek to do your will.
Leader: For the broken and the whole
People: May we build each other up
Leader: For the victims and the oppressors
People: May we share power wisely
Leader For the mourners and the mockers
People: May we have empathy and compassion
Leader: For the silent and the propagandists
People: May we speak our own words in truth
Leader: For the peacemakers and the agitators
People: May clear truth and stern love lead us to harmony
Leader: For the unemployed and the overworked
People: May our impact on others be kindly and creative
Leader: For the hungry and the overfed
People: May we share so that we will all have enough
Leader: For the troubled and the thriving
People: May we live together as wounded healers
Leader: For the vibrant and the dying
People: May we all die to live
Leader: Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be a cause of suffering to one another
People: May we ease the pain of others
Leader: Knit us together in mind and flesh, in feeling and in spirit
People: And make us one, united in friendship
Leader: Let us accept that we are profoundly loved by God
People: And need never be afraid
Leader: May God kindle in us the fire of love
People: To bring us alive and give warmth to the world.
Leader: Let us now name before God, either silently or aloud, those persons and problems that are on our hearts this day.
All Say Together: The Prayer Attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley
Photos by Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach
Last night our church, Old St. Paul’s, hosted a prayer service for healing in Baltimore. While three different protest groups passed down our street during the service, we sang “Amazing Grace” and prayed, and listened to a sermon from Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton about weeping, doing justice, and walking humbly with our God. After all that has happened in our beloved city, it was a relief and a comfort to gather with fellow Christians to lift up our hopes for equality and peace for all citizens of Baltimore.
At the end of the service, Bishop Sutton spontaneously invited all of us to go outside to stand on the front porch of our church to sing hymns as a few protesters and neighborhood folks walked by.
Singing “This Little Light of Mine,” we walked the block, with the bishop and our crucifer in the lead, and we waved to the many people having dinner in nearby restaurants and shops, many of which had been vandalized and looted in the recent uprisings.
As cars passed, people rolled down their windows to clap and wave and give us a thumbs-up. The bishop shook hands with a man sitting at the bus stop, and with people on the street. As we walked, the bishop kept prompting us to sing another new version of the song, apparently that he was making up as we walked along:
Up and down this street, I’m gonna let it shine!
Prayin for Freddie Gray, I’m gonna let it shine!
For Baltimore, I’m gonna let it shine!
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
Tears streamed down my face as I felt a sense of grief that we still live in a world where we have so much injustice and racial discrimination.
By the end of that short walk, there in the middle of downtown Baltimore, I also felt that our songs were healing our neighborhood. It made me smile when I saw that someone had put up balloons on every streetlight along the row of shops that had been vandalized near our church.
It was just a little prayer service with fifty-four people gathered, and it was just a short stroll around our neighborhood, singing a children’s song, but something significant happened as our group tried to do our small part to bring some healing and hope to the people in our beloved city.
It will take a million little acts of kindness and even more actions, large and small, to correct all the injustice in our world before we can get to the point when we will no longer feel the need to march around our city, proclaiming that all lives matter, especially to God, who loves all people equally and unconditionally.
–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley
Photos by Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach