I am now five weeks into maternity leave (keeping in touch days mean I can pop up every now and then, which is why I'm tapping away on my phone with a baby on my lap) and you won't be surprised to hear that they haven't been quite as I expected when I first learnt I was pregnant. The newest addition is yet to be made official as the registry office is working through a three month backlog, most of her family have only seen glimpses of her on video calls, and so far I have spent disappointingly little time (for which read no time at all) eating chocolate cake in cafes.
But more than that, I find that once again I have brought new life into a changing world. My son was born three weeks before the Brexit referendum, and now my daughter has emerged into the middle of a pandemic and what feels like the beginning of a new civil right movement.
As I am currently functioning on reduced sleep and coherent sentences are proving harder to come by than usual, I won't yet try to offer any meaningful response to the Black Lives Matter movement, except to say that black lives do matter and racial justice has to be part of the kinder world we have already started to talk about. It is something we as individuals and as a church need to engage with and pray into, and so I do want to offer these responses from within the Baptist family as a starting point or stepping stone for your own thinking and action, as well as this talk given by the winner of this year's Theology Slam, and the following prayer which has been used by our fellowship.
Loving God, as the sins of systemic racism and police brutality rear their heads once more, meet us in our anger, sorrow, and frustration. Guard us from indifference, ignorance and silence. As Black lives continue to be taken too soon, and because all were named and loved, we lift names to you, in remembrance and resolve: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Belly Mujinga, Darren Cumberbatch, Olaseni Lewis, Sean Rigg, Mike Brown, Breonna Taylor and so many more. As righteous anger overflows onto the streets, we join in with the holy cry of ‘How long O Lord?’ While we pray for peace, may civility not become the enemy of justice. We lament that past protest has fallen on deaf ears, and pray for a world transformed by your love. We plead, for Black communities: justice, safety, equality. For those who could choose to look away: repentance, education, solidarity. Help us to declare in word and deed: Black Lives Matter. Amen.
I also want to offer some words which have special meaning for my family, and which I think have particular resonance in these days. When my son was born, I read over him the words of a Franciscan blessing:
May God bless you with discomfort, at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. May God bless you with tears, to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor. Amen
I continue to pray those words over him, and all who despair at the world as it is and strive for the world as it can be, and I hope they touch my daughter's life too. But in the weeks before she was born, I was reminded of another blessing of sorts, Bob Dylan's Forever Young, and felt that these were the words I needed to give to her:
May God bless and keep you always May your wishes all come true May you always do for others And let others do for you May you build a ladder to the stars And climb on every rung May you stay forever young May you stay forever young May you grow up to be righteous May you grow up to be true May you always know the truth And see the light surrounding you May you always be courageous Stand upright and be strong May you stay forever young May you stay forever young May your hands always be busy May your feet always be swift May you have a strong foundation When the winds of changes shift May your heart always be joyful May your song always be sung May you stay forever young May you stay forever young
There is a similar bent towards justice in the wish for righteousness and truthfulness, but there is also a hopefulness and joyfulness which we so desperately need to sustain us in our discomfort and anger and tears and foolishness. I hope these words prove true in my daughter's life, but also that as she is touched by the blessing we gave her brother, so he is touched by these words given to his sister. And I pray that these blessings reach all who read them and all who need them.
For now though, it's back to cluster feeds, daytime naps and longing for that first slice of chocolate cake...