Missio on Loving the City: A Poet’s response to a Prophet

A Reflection on Jeremiah 29…

At first, when I read this passage, I thought I would attempt to write a thorough essay explaining how I, as an African American women, a product of a divorced parent, in one of the largest urban centers in the United States, feel both daily and keenly as if I have been exiled.  I wanted to attempt to explain how God stripped me of all I knew and led me to a community where I constantly question my place, feel deeply alone, and often wonder if I will ever feel as though I belong.

However, I have never been one much inclined towards essays. And as much as I am black, woman, urban, and etc., I am also – on the rare occasion – an artist. So, after nixing several drafts of the intended essay, I decided to do that which comes naturally to me when I am faced with the need to express that which I find inexpressible; I wrote a poem. It is as much a response to Jeremiah 29 as it is to my own heart’s cry and struggle. It does not have answers, no more than I have answers, to the many questions that the past two years have lead me to ask. But it is the only way my heart knows how to dance with the Lord through this season. Perhaps in its rhythm you also will find a way to move in step with the Lord as he, and the text, dance with you…

I am a refugee. I am an exile.
No
I am not from Syria
Or Palestine
Or Israel
Or Sudan
Or Rwanda
Or Nigeria
Or Lebanon
Or Yemen
But I am
A color the world rejects
A gender the world neglects
And have a socio economic lineage that does not deem me a success
How I have come here is part math and part mystery
A magic and science
And pure act of deity
Of Trinity

What I bring I bore on my back
In memories and habits
Heartaches and belly ache laughs
The aching knees and shuffling feet
That brought me here can carry no more
And so I pitch my tent
And hope
And long
And pray
For more

For home

For the familiar that I’ve never known

And in looking up
My weary eyes take in that
I am not alone

We all
A dust made fragile framed
Band of travelers
No more sure now of where we came from
Then we ever were of where we were going
Sit here
Together

And through the prism of my tears
I see the beauty

For here amongst these weak and broken
I have found a father
And a mother
A sister
And a brother
And though we are nomads
We matter
And though we are sinners
We have been sainted
And though we once were scattered
We have found ourselves now gathered
And the womb of sorrow that has cast us forth
Has birthed us into joy
With cries of pain that prove there is yet life

We are alive…

 

Mortar is not mixed with ease
Seeds do not quickly bring forth trees
And care does not come carelessly
But it is not as dark here as it once was
And my hands are warmed by flames
Kindled in kindred-ness
I have sought and found my peace
And I would freely give it
Even as I have received
For I was once an exile
I was once a refugee

 

“To God’s elect, exiles… who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

1 Peter 1:1, 2:9-10

 

Alexis Stanford lives and works in Northern Virginia and is a member of The Falls Church Anglican.

Images: FreeImages.com/Matthew Trow

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