When words fail

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. —Romans 8:26

I had planned to share with you another magical place on my recent journey to the California coast. But that’ll have to wait.

I don’t know which of the many words tumbling through my head I ought to share here. I don’t know which words to fling up to heaven, like the song of a caged bird. I’m relieved to have a Holy Spirit who will intercede with groanings. There are some prayers for which words alone do not feel sufficient.


One of my least favorite memories came screaming back this week.

When I was just out of college, I taught at an all-white high school in a rural community. The klan had a heavy presence in that community, and every so often, one of the teenage boys would ask me if I had gone to the march the previous weekend. Some of the students wanted to know when was I ever going to get married, because I was clearly teetering on the edge of becoming an old maid. I was an outsider to them, a woman who talked funny and definitely wasn’t from around those parts.

One young man insisted on carving swastikas in his tests and quizzes. He didn’t like me having the temerity to tell him to stop doing that. He bragged to another teacher that he was going to kill me. I remember one of the assistant principals asking me if I had any students in that boy’s classroom who would protect me if it came down to it. And that was the end of any conversation about the matter.


Of everything I’ve read this week about Charlottesville, the one line that keeps repeating in my head is from a Bitter Southerner article, The Perpetual Unpleasantness:

As for me, I find myself inextricably drawn to a simple idea: that the time for the benevolent but silent white Southerner is over. —Chuck Reece

Silent benevolence is not unique to Southerners. Racism isn’t, either. And so I would enlarge Reece’s call to include all benevolent but silent white people.

Reece’s words remind me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

So let me not be silent, but instead, find the courage to speak when necessary.

A white man filled with evil intent killed a young woman this weekend. He ran her over with his car, believing her death was better than trying to understand her words. He’s not alone in believing her death justified.

On Monday, one of my former college professors shared a link to an alt-right KKK site. The site listed several reasons applauding the young woman’s murder. I left the page after reading their number one reason. Do you know what their number one reason was? You should. And it should chill you. It was this: She was childless and, as such, a burden on society and therefore useless.

Now, y’all can just take a look at my Good Aunt series to know why that number one reason might have really grabbed my attention. So, no, I should not remain silent.

I get it. Silence is more comfortable. Easier. Safer, at least in the short term. But it does nothing to stop the spread of the disease of racism. To get to the root of what causes such intense hatred. To get us to a place of healing.

The number of voices crying out against what happened in Charlottesville gives me hope. My faith demands hope, too. My faith also demands bravery and wisdom and reconciliation. I hope we’re all up for the task ahead.

I’ve shared this image with you before, and I’ll leave you with it today.

The image includes the NASB’s translation of the verse, but perhaps the more heartening translation for this circumstance is the NRSV. It says:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

2 thoughts on “When words fail

  1. Hope – I had no idea that you experienced something first hand that the rest of us would have nightmares about when just imagining that situation. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Bless you and your perseverance. That teaching job, at such at young age, with such ideals, must have left you terribly frighted and bewildered that people could honestly be so narrow minded and carry around such hate for another human.

    This past week’s events leaves little doubt in my mind about the smallness of people. My heart aches for this country right now. And now, hearing about the gloating comments from the KKK website that you mentioned does little to ease this feeling of woe. Prayers for us all.

    • Thanks for your response. It was a frightening and bewildering time, but then so are times like these we’re living through now. Prayers, honest conversation, and lifting each other up are all good ways through the mire.

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