“And when you encounter obstacles, because I guarantee you, you will . . . I want you to remember . . . the power of hope. The belief that something better is always possible if you are willing to work for it and fight for it.” Michelle Obama, January 6, 2017
audacious /ôˈdāSHəs/: (adj) showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks.
By now, you all have already heard the news that God is a black woman. Our black woman God pops up throughout the centuries and on all the continents. But since writing about my creative resister sisters here in the United States is my thing, I will hone in on us. In United States history, God has appeared in her black woman form far too often for us to track, but I will give a shorthand genealogy. You should spend the next week adding your God-sightings to this list.
We have spotted God in the beautiful poetry of Phyllis Wheatley. We have spotted God in Harriet Tubman’s stubborn pursuit of freedom. We have spotted God in Jarena Lee’s compelling preaching. We have spotted God in Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s fearless anti-lynching crusade. We have spotted God in Septima Clark’s Freedom Schools. We have spotted God in Ella Baker’s student organizing. We have spotted God in Pauli Murray’s endless pursuit of excellence. We have spotted God in Fannie Lou Hamer’s embodiment of the Gospel. We have spotted God in Ella Fitzgerald’s crooning. We have spotted God in Mahalia Jackson’s unforgettable rendition of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” We have spotted God in Angela Davis’s activism. We have spotted God in Katherine Dunham’s movement. We have spotted God in Nina Simone’s haunting tone. We have spotted God in Maya Angelou’s cadence. We have spotted God in Mae Jemison’s intellect. We have spotted God in Alice Walker’s tenacious writing. We have spotted God in the strength of Misty Copeland’s body, in the power of Ava DuVernay’s filmmaking, and in the boldness of Viola Davis’s acting. I would dare to say that in the past several months, we have spotted God in Michelle Obama’s encouragement to reach toward what her husband calls “the audacity of hope.” (Have you heard Michelle Obama’s Farewell Address as First Lady? Listen.) There is something holy to be found in the black women of history and the present day who, through their genius, beauty, courage, talent, confidence, and love, teach us to be audacious enough to claim, or perhaps more precisely, to reclaim holy hope. God demonstrates Her audacity daily in the outrageous nature of Creation.
In her 1983 book of essays entitled In Search of our Mother’s Gardens, Alice Walker explained that the term womanist derives from the word “womanish,” which means, among other things, “outrageous, audacious, courageous, or willful behavior.” It is the second week of January, and I am wondering how this year will change me. I am wondering how I can grow more deeply into my Christian, womanish ways. The word that keeps rising to the surface of my thoughts is audacious. Audacity is a trait I have been actively struggling with since 2013 although, admittedly, I have been less than audacious for most of my life. Sure, I have tried new things, but I limit myself in the trying to results that seem logically possible. My parents often recall that when I was a toddler, they sent me to a Montessori School during the day. I was always the last to try every new activity. I preferred to take a step back and to watch every other child try the new activity, whether it be swinging, or sliding, or tumbling first. Only after I had determined that the activity was safe would I try it. Because of my tentative audacity, my hard work often results in spinning wheels. No doubt, any observer would say that I am headed somewhere, but I am not getting to my destination anytime soon! As I am accessing my life, and thinking about the hope I have as a follower of Jesus Christ, I recognize that it is half past time for me to become a more audacious follower of Christ, and I can, because I bear the very image of God.
If you had asked me four years ago whether I was a risk-taker, I would have told you that I was a calculated risk-taker. I am willing to take a risk so long as I understand the return I will receive from taking the risk, and am sure that I will be satisfied with it. When I was once explaining my risk-taking practices to a mentor, she wondered what prevented me from diving in and trying a new thing. It was sometime after this conversation that I first started studying womanist ethics and theology. I started approaching my academic work through a womanist lens. But, it is being away from my academic setting that I am finally beginning to embody a womanist ethic. I have, in recent months, rethought the definition of a womanist, and I have come to the realization that I never understood the definition as well as I thought I did and that I could spend years mining it. So, at this moment, I land on the word audacity. I demand audaciousness out of myself, but I wonder how to get there.
As a Christian woman, I believe that I can only take “surprisingly bold risks” when compelled by the Holy Spirit. Last week, I was a featured speaker during Spiritual Emphasis Week at Redeemers AME Zion Church in Plainville, Connecticut. (The town has more to offer than its name suggests.) The featured text for the week was 2 Corinthians 3:7-18. In this part of his letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul wrote about the new life believers could experience if they read the “Old Covenant” through the lens of the freedom Jesus offers. In verse 12, Paul explains that the hope of the greater glory offered through Jesus Christ compels him to act with “great boldness” because, as he explains in verse 17, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Paul’s writing here is faithful to the belief of his time that people experienced transformation by beholding The Divine.
As I grow with God in the year to come, I pray to grow in audacity of the holy sort. I pray to grow in the audacity that has me rabble-rousing for the things that matter. I pray to grow in the kind of audacity that teaches me to be silent when I am supposed to be silent. I pray to grow in the kind of audacity that helps me to live into the purpose for which God put me on this planet. I pray to grow in the kind of audacity that compels me to hope against the odds. I pray to grow into the kind of audacity that forces me to throw myself into the projects that change people’s lives from the inside out. I pray to be outrageously audacious for the causes of the Kingdom of Heaven, for we are creating heaven in the here and now.
My fellow Free Agents, how will you practice outrageous audacity? Start choosing holy boldness today, and pick it up again each morning when you awaken. See you next Monday.