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“I sat in Dr. Cone’s classroom at Union—that’s where I did my theology—back in the late ‘80s,” said Eunice, her soft eyes alight behind rimless glasses. “Yes, he was a master teacher, mild-mannered despite the hard truth of his people he espoused in his lectures and books,” she added resting her hand upon the dining room table, its vase of tulips beginning to fade. “But I’ve been away from all that for sometime—I didn’t know of this book.”

Her response to my blog on Dr. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree left me breathless, but not from lung issues. Additional reflection upon his identifying the Crucified with Black victims of lynching flared my psychic pain: Both experienced mob rule, torture, jeering, and slow agonizing deaths, alluded to in the first blog, but now felt. Rather than follow the chaplain—patient dialogue of previous visits, our conversation took off in a different direction: its synchronicity demanded it.

Yet, it did not come off as I had hoped, due to my dearth of words; they only came later. At best, I skirted around the glaring issue stinging my innards, and some preliminaries did surface: Eunice’s South Carolinian origins; growing up in York County, site of numerous cotton and rice plantations worked by slaves; her physician father’s segregated waiting room; planning a picnic for the townspeople on the grounds of Davidson College, her college, that up-ended a KKK rally planned for Main Street; attending Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, known for its liberal bent; and her continued studies in spirituality that enhance her role as chaplain.

I listened, deeply, asked questions, and later researched South Carolina’s practice of slavery through the lens of the Crucified: it blistered my soul wound still more, scraped my entitlement, and woke me to what’s coming.

Our chaplain—patient dialogue will continue.

 

 

Orphans, in real life or within literature and film, evoke squeamish feelings. Blistered by abandonment, the fabric of their known world unravels around their muddied shoes—if they have them. Nothing works. But there are exceptions.

One of these unfolds within the historical novel, The Girl from the Train (2015) written by South African, Irma Joubert. From the first page, the plight of Gretl, a German Jew, alarms us. What will become of this thin waif, sole survivor of the open cattle cars packed with hundreds of Jews enroute to Auschwitz?

I’m not afraid, Gretl thinks… I’m brave…” She rolls into a ball upon the forest floor and waits until daylight. Yes, think about other things, she adds. That’s what Oma used to say.

With pluck, she sets out for the creek, the sun warming her back. She listens. She waits for the next development. Then she’ll know what to do.

A chance meeting with the Polish metallurgist Jacob quickens her heart; he becomes “family,” the support she needs to continue engaging the world around her. Her resiliency and groundedness, enhanced by her fluency in German and Polish and Russian, endear her to many.

Such stories serve as correctives for our own childhood abandonment, never far from consciousness; its wound spirits us toward deeper compassion for our humanness, within the grace of a merciful God. Psychic growth abounds. That’s why we’re here …

 

 

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