Living in the Light

Background of light coming through forest canopy, black text, Living in the Light, Nicole Ward

The title of my lesson this morning is "yet." Yet usually comes with something negative and moves into something positive, it moves from something painful into something comforting. We use yet as a conjunction to connect, to tie things together. Yet usually connect something negative to something positive, something painful to something comforting. The word yet appears in the Bible, approximately 395 times.

I want to talk about the curiosities of COVID-19, the curiosities of the civil rights movement that is currently happening in Louisville, Kentucky that was brought to our attention by the murder of Breonna Taylor. The curiosity of COVID-19 and the movement, the negative, the yet, something positive, painful, and yet comforting. We may not be at the completion of the comfort. Hopefully we'll never really feel comforted by the things that we've experienced, because I think that that keeps us on edge and a bit alive.

COVID-19 has taught me to be quiet. The onset of COVID-19 happened around March when my daughter and I had been traveling to Oklahoma. We were on our way back to the city, and we had no idea that things were closing down early. We had planned to go on vacation. And while on vacation, of course, you clean out your refrigerator. There's no food at the house because you're going to be away. We came back to Louisville and the stores were closing early and there wasn't food on the shelves. We gradually started staying inside and self quarantining. What we thought may be a few weeks turned into over a year.

During this time of going inside our homes, inside our minds, we learned that when we shut our mouths the virus doesn't spread in the same way as when we're running our mouths. We learned that when we shut up those molecules that come out of your mouth, that cause illness to spread, they're trapped inside. Simultaneously, this movement started happening in Louisville and across the nation. There was this tension between shutting our mouths and speaking up. Considering the "yet" that usually connects something negative with something positive, we knew that we just couldn't shut up. We were going to take the chance during a pandemic and hit the streets. We were sick and tired with COVID-19 and being sick and tired with racism in Kentucky. We held these two tensions simultaneously. "Yet."

We learned that people were dying of COVID-19. People were losing their lives and we didn't fully understand what was happening. There weren't any masks in the stores. When we returned back home, we didn't know what to put over our faces, what not to put over our faces. This has been a tenuous time. Do we take to the street with the tear gas and with the National Guard, do we stay at home? We just couldn't sit still, there was this uneasiness that was real, that was rising up in us. The "yet." I need to go out there and I need to make a change. There's people dying and it's uncertain. People of color are really dying because there's already this disproportionality in COVID deaths. There was this death, but also there was this death of our old self and learning to live in a new way.

There was a possible resurrection that could happen. If we take to the streets and we say that this is wrong. If we wear our mask and mask up and still speak up, what happens? We want positive things to happen, we want positive change. I remember having conversations with Reverend Val. I remember how I felt watching posts on the internet, and my feelings of discouragement. I was saying, "Where's Unity? Where is my church? Where's my home? That is downtown. That's right here. Where do I go? Where do I turn? What is happening here?" And yet, I felt the negative in that, and also the positive in that.

I've been here throughout all the bumps of belonging to Unity and being one of very few people of color that belong to Unity after Reverend Susan Eng-Poole left. I knew that I still belonged to this place, but they were bypassing me. They were bypassing my experience of trauma, my experience of race in the church, my experience of race in my community. It was, "This is happening, but God is so much bigger than this." God is, yet this is the realm that we live in. The realm that we live in has to be addressed simultaneously. We can't just bypass the Black folks, the brown folks, the indigenous folks, or the other people of color. We can't just go around and say, "But God is."

I work as a licensed marriage and family therapist. I'm very sex positive. I'm all about inclusion. I'm all about love. I'm all about equity. I'm all about all these things. I had this righteous anger when I stood at the Jeffersontown Kroger, when the black folks were murdered in the Kroger. We say that we have to manage our anger. I say, you can feel a range of emotion, because these are all gifts. We are mind. We are spirit. We are emotion. We are physical. Let's tie all these things together. We can't bypass these things.

The civil rights movement, the COVID-19, the mask that we wore before we had to wear the mask. The spiritual bypassing that we did before these issues were constantly thrown in our face. The universe is saying that we have to address this, because we've manifested these errors. We've created these errors. This land that we're standing on right now in Anchorage, this was indigenous folk's land. This is blood land. We have to acknowledge these things in order to heal from these things, in order to build the beautiful city. We have to imagine the unlimited possibilities of what we can be when we're honest with one another.

Typically when someone asked you, how are you doing? What is the response? Okay, fine, thumbs up, that's what we say. I say that that's a mask that we wear because we're not being honest about what we're experiencing. The truth of the matter is that we can hold space for people that aren't fine. But instead we often just spiritually bypass those feelings, those emotions, those things people are experiencing. There's no need for that. There's enough room for all of it. The yet usually connects something negative to something positive, something painful to something comforting. We can find that willingness to take off the mask, to be honest with people in a trusting community about what you're experiencing. People can hold space for that. I say that it's time for people to create spaces who attempt to avoid and turn away ending relationships.

We've learned during COVID. So many relationships have ended, shifted, or have changed because these people don't wear masks, and these people don't take it seriously. These people don't believe that COVID is real. We've lost a lot of friends, too. "These people don't believe racism is real. This really wasn't an issue. This happened and that's why the police responded this way."

If it was a dog the police went into a home and shot, if it was a dog that the police put their knee on the dog's neck for 10 minutes... I have 10 minutes left of time to talk. Hold that space for that nine minutes that that knee was on that neck. If it was a dog, our nation would have lost it. There would've been no spiritual bypassing for that, and we are humans. I am a human.

Sometimes I've had the experience at Unity downtown, where people are like, "Who are you? Oh my goodness. You're visiting?" I've even had the previous reverend ask me that probably 30 times over his time there. Then I hear, "I'm color blind. I don't see your color." All of that is an insult to me. You don't see this? People go to Suntan City for this. People go to Florida and pull back their band and show the difference in their complexion. But somehow this is avoided. You don't see me. You're color blind. That's not okay. You don't see my full lips, but people get collagen injections for them. I know who I am. I know that I'm beauty and it's bypassed. I know who my people are. I know we're resilient. I know we're strong and we're bypassed.

I say today, in regards to the ending of relationships because people don't believe that certain things are, that COVID is, that racism is, I stand before you and I say that they ARE in this realm. They are. And oin Unity, I've learned that dis-ease. COVID is, dis-ease created out of error. Racism, sexism, ableism are dis-ease created out of error. We acknowledge our error so that something can shift and something can change these diseases being manifested as our errors.

We can build this beautiful spirit city, creating this beautiful spirit, this beautiful mind, these beautiful emotions, this beautiful physical city. Malcolm X said, "You cannot separate peace from freedom, because no one can be at peace unless there is freedom." Freedom here on our earth. Yet usually connects something negative to something positive, something painful to something comforting. Our source, our God, our universe, our creations, we are created in the image of God. We must total our differences, our similarities and our differences. You have to have differences for an ecosystem to survive, somehow we like to bypass the differences, but the differences are fine and wonderful. When someone said that they weren't, we started believing it. They said that there's limited resources, and then there's this fight for them. We know with this New Thought, with metaphysical thought, that there is no limit in the universe.

I think that we have a particular investment in the healing and the beauty of the new city, in the imagination and in the imagining of it, and in the yet of it. The negative of it all can be transformed into something positive, the pain can be transformed into something good. As a person of color, as an indigenous person, as people of color, as people in this community, we have a place. This is our place and our differences are wonderful and great, and to be acknowledged. If we aren't certain what to say, if COVID has taught us nothing else, it's okay to keep our mouth shut. If we don't have something to say, or it's something that we don't understand, go Google it, go talk to somebody that shares a similar complexion to you about it, because Black folks are pretty exhausted about explaining stuff to people. When it's this kind of situation, where I'm here to explain and this is the lesson, I will gracefully do that. But then when I'm at Trader Joe's and you see me, (Which is also its own set of stuff, but where do we shop when there's a food desert in the West End?) don't ask me then.

Mind, body, spirit, emotion, and finances. The mask is the presence of pretending. The mask is also the presence of safety, because we need these things for right now. We don't know how long we're going to need these things. Hold these two tensions, the pretending, and also the safety, the acknowledgement of racism and that you can't spiritual bypass this thing anymore. We just cannot.

"Surely goodness and mercy." So the song that I chose this morning was Donnie McClurkin's "Great is Thy Mercy." Great is thy mercy for me, God's loving kindness towards me. That is my birthright. I want my reparations and I want my peace. I want to be able to tell my own narrative without somebody else benefiting from it. I want to be able to sing my own song. I want justice. I want love. I want to live without fear. I want to live in boldness. I want to live in truth. I want to live in bravery. I want white folks to protect me, because if you're protecting me from racism, you're protecting me from one of your people being racist towards me.

I want boldness. I want to be physically and financially and emotionally and spiritually and physically fit for this lifetime. I want to be whole, I want to be alive. I want my daughters to be alive. I want my friends to be alive. I want to know that white folks have my back and have our back, especially in this particular spiritual community that talks about manifestation, that talks about the course of miracles that talks about this higher being, and creating and being made in the image of God. We have a lot of power in the city and I've not seen us use it. Not in the way that would be satisfying as a checklist like "Unity showed up y'all." But I've seen some really great efforts.

When the White Flag was at a Unity of Louisville downtown I was so happy. I couldn't wait to get to church. "What do y'all need?" I came by probably every other night just to check in and put my head in the door, just see that the lights were on and the space was being utilized. I think that space is sacred. I went into labor in that space on a Sunday and later on that evening had my 13 year old. Rev. Susan Eng-Poole, with Valerie present, christened my baby on that stage downtown. I had my 40th birthday party in the Activity Center eight years ago. That space is sacred.

We have some work to do y'all. Sometimes we need to sit down and rest, we need to tag team some other people in. Spiritually, we can do this. Physically we can do this. Emotionally we can do this. Financially we can do this.

So in closing, I'm going to share Limitations 3:19-26. "The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time as I grieve over my loss yet, I still dare to hope when I remember this, the faithful love of God never ends. God's mercy never ceases. Great is God's faithfulness. God's mercy being a fresh every morning."

And so it is.


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