The magi finally made it. The thousand pieces of my holiday jigsaw puzzle took some time to assemble this year – two have gone AWOL in the past decade and one reminds me that our golden retriever Klickitat used to like to chew on bite-sized bits of cardboard. Anyway, I finished the puzzle and, after I write this, I’ll tuck it away for another year. Yes, I know pieces are missing, but I’ve had this one a long time. Its pieces are smaller and larger than in other puzzles and cleverly cut so it isn’t easy to fit them together. It’s a challenging task. Completing it – as best as I can -- is satisfying. I won’t part with this one.
Today I read a piece in America, the Jesuit magazine, that has given me new ideas for my devotional reading. “The Black Writers All Catholics Should Read” caught my eye because some of the authors mentioned are familiar to me and others I’ve not run across before. James Cone was one of my professors in seminary. The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation and his more recent book The Cross and the Lynching Tree have confronted, convicted and challenged me. If The Lynching Tree had what we in newspapers called a “nut graf” (a concise answer to the "so what" question) this might be it:
“Theologically speaking, Jesus was the ‘first lynchee,’ who foreshadowed all the lynched black bodies on the American soil. He was crucified by the same principalities and powers that lynched black people in America. Because God was present with Jesus on the cross and thereby refused to let Satan and death have the last word about his meaning, God was also present at every lynching in the United States. God saw what whites did to innocent and helpless blacks and claimed their suffering as God’s own. God transformed lynched black bodies into the re-crucified body of Christ. Every time a white mob lynched a black person, they lynched Jesus. The lynching tree is the cross in America.”
I know of Bryan Massingale because his work was quoted in Alison Benders’ Open Wide Our Hearts, a study guide on the U.S. Catholic bishops 2018 letter on racism – yes, they did issue one that year. This essay reminded me that I want to read one of Massingale’s books. I think I’ll start with Racial Justice and the Catholic Church.
Through the years, I have prayed and read scripture for as my devotional time. But now I find myself – quite literally – by focusing on books that break me open, scatter my pieces and slowly help me put them together again. The magi were strangers, even outsiders, who contributed wisdom to the story of Jesus’ birth. Better late than never.