Part I: Saints, as beacons of the Church. Part II: Cultic notes on Black Saints in Early Modern Global Capitalism
Train tracks into the city crossed a bridge. Trash and foam marked the rocks of a stream well below. It was probably full of cats, the bag floating, bumping. A sudsy water from industry runoff By the time I walked the tracks with my father, shanties of aluminum roofs, with cement blocks and masonry floors in some cases, actually strong enough to have survived an earthquake the year before. America was her name, a paraplegic who beamed and in her way welcomed me with a joke, pointing to a picture on the wall, an artist's conception of Jesus. There for half an hour and walking back to the Godparents program I followed the woman, my guide, Soila. I told my dad, in the country for a rotary water project, about America. Maybe he thought of Jessie Crow a 92 year old Lakota elder wasting away from cancer in her home isolated on the Pine Ridge Reservation who my mother would visit during their year, as they say, "on the Res."
In 1985, I was three years old playing on the floor at the feet of Catholic nuns, brothers, lay women and men and priests gathered Friday evenings for recreation. A toy car could launch projectile orange circular saws, which I recall as vividly as the wrinkled face and fingers of Jessie Crow. An occupational therapist, my mother was undoubtedly concerned for her balance, but making do without the resources that would allow installation of balance grips in a bathroom, here she would have made sure that Jessie could reach her medicine, re-arranging cabinets, training herself to simple leverage mechanisms, a tool she could use to put her shoes on, a positioned make-do banister with which Jessie could raise herself from the beds on the floor.
On twitter or in second hand form you may have heard a quote of Dr. John Perkins: "You don't give people dignity; you affirm it." With my mother's tool-equipping, she found ways Jessie could continue practicing her dignity living on her own independently. Even when I am gazing at an icon of Nicholas Black Elk sometimes I can see Jessie, though the sage Oglala catechist is depicted with his cosmic vision, a vision of awesomeness, thunder, Earth, then I wish for an even more transparent window. Or, perhaps, another kind of "tool" that I might "use" would that I receive the grace I need to be closer, to hold the widowed Jessie Crows of the Res, recognizing her dignity.
Our family had just left our house when I noticed a couple with a baby in their arms, coming down their apartment steps struggling to unfold a stroller. "Have you lived here very long?" I started awkwardly. Immediately I was embarrassed that they had lived there for a year and a half. "What were their names?" I asked Emily afterward, only remembering the baby's name. "By the time my head came out of a fog, they were already saying the baby's name," Emily replied.
If some experiences, complex, vivid, reliably transmit lessons, possibly universal truths--they may even be norms of effectiveness coopted by the Capital Big Business, ministers of the gospel of prosperity teaching mindfulness and meditation, prayer as a tool of focus and industry, such proscribed embodiments, kneeling, sitting straight, walking mindfully, holding hands reverently, circling, gazing in one another's eyes--but these are the few externals. Saints, holiness of life, do more than proscribe gestures. Yet we are invited to copy, emulate or entertain a knowing that the holy life is possible. I do not think of saints, but believe in saints. We live in an exponential age--and we do not know our neighbors. Saints, like ordinary people, do not need to be given dignity, or given visibility. Rather we see them, grasping something holy about them, affirming it. Emily and I "woke" up to the possibility we could share baby clothes with our neighbors. Similarly, my community of saints could be expanding as exponentially and I do not know it, perhaps, because of all that could mean for us, what calling to particular action. 899 saints canonized by Pope Francis since he ascended to the Chair of St. Peter in 2013--think of the 899 ways we might each be called to give familiarity to the gospel of Christ to our neighbors!
The life narratives we shape from infrequent insights, cutting, editing, compresssing like zip files a vast volume of observances and moments when it is most true to say "Are we even good? Does our life have meaning?" the way Emily sometimes asks me. To which I reply, usually, no. Today I said "No, hon, I mean this morning on my walk I saw a message chalked that said 'America is a crook' and thinking of the vast resources of the globe consumed be so few of us, and of the paranoid President Nixon "I am not a crook," I felt the sidewalk messenger was right, on this Earth day, who are we to pretend innocence. "We are all accountable" Kathy Kelly writes about the harm done by the U.S. in Afghanistan--while Lehman could leave his job, a failure, and with his golden parachute of 500 million walk away from the financial crisis without a single wagging finger--"That is a crime" says Dr. Perkins telling this story "but you can be sure a black woman who steals a food stamp will be marked." No hon, we are not icons of God, we are not windows of eternal truth, we are honest about this I hope, not to stew in white guilt.
Experience can teach, experiences can exhibit. Yet wisdom learned is a humble story. While some proclaim a politics of wisdom for the elite, eg. pearls are not to be cast to the swine. Only asking, inviting contemplating, others symbolize but do not prescribe. Cole Arthur Riley, in This Here Flesh, writes of Perkins's message that dignity is not given, only affirmed. "I wish somebody had told me that as I sat cross-legged under those bridges or on sidewalks with bucket lids digging into my behind. I wish somebody had told me that I wasn't restoring those people...Even after five years of soggy sandwiches and piles of french fries and laughter and loss, some part of me still believed that I was giving these men and women dignity, and for that I am ashamed." (11) A powerful insight, the shame she is expressing akimbo, disillusioned by the time she recognizes in John Perkin's words "you don't give people dignity" her mistaken impression, already aware that her sense of calling to serve was distorted. "I can say now that I liked eating with them in part because I was too afraid to talk with my peers in classes and in hallways, and perhaps in part because I thought this ritual made me interesting and kind." (10) Speaking frankly of what was her why, her interest in contact, gaining "experience" with poor who lived under Bigelow Boulevard in Pittsburgh.
After Emily read these pages, I shared how I had acted, so confused by a man standing, begging for money, staring catatonic through a crowd of pedestrian shoppers. This was Christmas time, when I was back in Seattle after studying abroad in El Salvador for the fall, walking along Pine Street and 4th Avenue for a movie. My sister waited as I attempted to "humanize" this man, but after a minute, and asking me to come along, she left me sitting cross-legged, allowing the stream of traffic to pass between us.
Dr. Perkin's is steeped in the social gospel. Saying of the process of discipleship for Dr. King "he was nothing but a little city preacher, nothing but a little philosopher, but he got involved in helping a tired woman on the bus." Preaching on Ephesians 4 :1-16 he challenges the myth of bigness of church, "bigness promotes the error of bigness" causing ministers to puff themselves up at the risk of intimidating others who will think they haven't what it takes to be disciples. Instead, reminding listeners of the early church who, dispersed by persecution, met in Antioch, gloried God in Paul's vision of supporting community in Samaria, Judea and beyond. Dr. Perkins speaks of the mission to go to "those who didn't have the clothes, and the dress and the automobile and the resources to commute twenty miles. We need a congregation reaching those people in those neighborhoods, reaching those people in that community because true religion is this to visit the fatherless and the widowed, ...the evidence of our effectiveness is our effectiveness reaching the poor [19:05-43].The mission of the church is in planting churches in neighborhoods, in love words and deeds, if see the poor talk about jobs and poor, if see the lonely and the hurting start hospitals and clinics in those neighborhoods" [28:25]. "It is in pain and in agony you find solutions to problems; you don't do that in prosperity" [29:34].
"Its coming from the experience of the early church, about journeying together, being a church together in a pilgrim church, a walk and journey listening to each other and the holy spirit," [3:50-4:35] "drawing the ecclesiology of Vatican II, our first vocation is to be baptised, all together in this church as missionary disciples, [5:27-5:45] "a theology of the people, the people of God, the church is this living reality of all the baptised" [5:27-6:25].
Why we need Black Saints
The portraits of the six candidates--Mother Mary Lange, Sister Thea Bowman, Mother Henriette DeLille, Julia Greeley, Father Augustus Tolton and Pierre Toussaint--are displayed on the altar of St. Ann Church in Baltimore.
Support for the call to elevate Black Saints is growing, according to an article by Mary Sewell and Ralph E. Moore, Jr. "Canonize the Saintly Six" in (The Catholic Worker March-April 2022 Vol. XC, No. 2) On December 14 2021, a box containing 1,115 letters was mailed to the Vatican. One of the leaders of a change.org petition to Pope Francis, 50 years ago Ralph Moore went into a west Baltimore Church and painted the statues of Jesus and Mary Black. Brian Stieglitz the UK's Daily Mail 14 March
What if there were an African American saint from the United States? Eleven white US Catholic Saints depicting models of holy lives do not reflect our particular church. Two years ago, friends gifted us a devotional portrait of Pauli Murray, a US Black woman who became the first Black Episcopal priest, and in 2012 a saint in the Episcopal church.
Last fall, I went shopping online for an icon of a Black saint. I stopped after watching a video "On Black Saints in Early Modern Global Capitalism." Erin Kathleen Rowe, Black Saints in Early Modern Global Capitalism spoke compellingly of the agenda of those who sought to Give dignity.
Cultic notes on Black Saints in Early Modern Global Capitalism
Tracing the devotion...
...redemptive suffering, the way it organized spiritual life in the period,
selfish, manifests in problematic, troubling ways, ultimate result of which is the sanctioning of slavery that God wants them to do.
invested finan[cial solidarity??]
to think with these complex strains of rhetoric and practice, belief and action.
mutual aid. cofraternities use status as Christians to provide legal and social avenues
lawsuits on behalf of their members against their enslavers.
the orders, the Franciscan and Carmelites, part of their own stories telling about themselves, and the presence of the image can generate its own
among white cofronternities in the 17th century, intensification of language of spiritual slavery, communal experience of black sanctity, they're happy to appropriate.
their advertising, hype.