Minnie Bruce Pratt: When I Say ‘Steal,’ Who Do You Think Of?

Photo by Leslie Feinberg

I became familiar with the poet Minnie Bruce Pratt when I was in high school and read “Motionless On The Dark Side Of The Light,” in the No More Masks: An Anthology of 20th Century American Women Poets.

Pratt was born in Selma, Alabama, in 1946. She graduated from Bibb County High School when it was under segregation, and entered the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a year after George Wallace “stood in the schoolhouse door” in an attempt to stop desegregation.

She says that she received her real education “into the great liberation struggles of the 20th century through grass-roots organizing with women in the army-base town of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and through teaching at historically Black universities.” Since coming into women’s liberation, and coming out as a lesbian in 1975 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Pratt has been active in organizing that intersects women’s and gender issues, LGBT issues, anti-racism work, and critiques of empire. Currently, she is a professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Writing & Rhetoric at Syracuse University, where she also serves as faculty for a developing Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/ Transgender Studies Program.

I came across a lecture she gave in 2004 and wanted to share an excerpt here. The first time I read it, I was struck by the oddness of it pushing up against the gospel readings from Matthew 6 and Luke 12. It has the whiff of Advent about it.

“Every week Miz Nell Weaver had us memorize a Bible verse, one for each letter of the alphabet. This was in the fourth grade, Centreville, Alabama, 1956. One by one, on Fridays, our name would be called and we would go into the only privacy there was, the cloakroom at the back of the classroom, and there in the narrow space jumbled with coats and book bags, we would stand in front of her and open our mouths and recite. “I” was In the beginning, of course. And “L” was Lay not up treasure on earth where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal. Lay up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust doth not corrupt and thieves do not break through and steal. (Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.)

Who did I think was stealing? What was the endangered treasure, that which would rot away and be lost? Why was I being taught that any security I might ever have would be after I was dead?

Continue reading “Minnie Bruce Pratt: When I Say ‘Steal,’ Who Do You Think Of?”

Kennel Shank: Advent Longing in Real Time

Two candlesI was happy to read this lovely Advent meditation from former Sojourners intern Celeste Kennel Shank in The Mennonite Weekly Review.

The longing of Advent came early for many of us this year. Amid economic recession, war and strife around the globe and in our communities, we desire Christ’s coming.

We remember loved ones missing from around our tables this Christmas. We mourn ongoing conflict and oppression in so many places. We feel the sting of lost jobs, income and savings in our families and churches, and among our neighbors.

We need the renewed hope of Christmas morning to break into our tiredness and despair.

The prophet Isaiah spoke to a weary people in exile, and speaks to us today, exiles in a strange land. Isaiah promises, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together” (40:4-5a).

It is difficult to imagine such transformation when we look around us. President Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan dashes hopes, at least for several years, of an end to the U.S. military campaign there.

The announcement also is a setback for those who expected substantial change in U.S. foreign policy, and a focus of economic resources on human needs in our country and abroad.

Yet Christ was born into such a world of woe, to a poor family in an occupied land. He was lain, newborn, in the lowliest of places, with a murderous tyrant seeking his death.

Despite such strife, we can picture the hope of Mary and Joseph as they held the infant and imagined how the angel Gabriel’s promises would come to pass.

Read Celeste’s whole commentary here.

Thomas Merton’s Trees

"Merton's Porch" by Paul Quenon
"Merton's Porch" by Paul Quenon

Today, I cut a few Christmas trees for the house, and a big one for the novitiate. It was not quite raining, but cloudy and cold. Walked home alone by the lake near Bardstown road. The loblolly pines planted during my 1955 crisis are doing well. The whole property is dotted with trees I have planted in hours of anguish. The ones I planted in hours of consolation have not succeeded.–Thomas Merton

From Thomas Merton’s Journals [3:360]

Shall the Mountains Fall and Hills Turn to Dust?

peruandes

Over at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns site, Maryknoll lay missioner Barbara Fraser has a nice reflection for the second Sunday of Advent. Fraser spent many years in Peru.

In the Andes mountains, water is life. Rains fall from November to March, during the growing season. In the dry months, however, people depend on glaciers, which slowly release water, irrigating pastures where animals graze and feeding streams that provide water for drinking and washing. As the glaciers disappear, the pastures dry up, and neighbors begin to fight over access to the remaining pastures and streams. Some cannot continue to make a living from the land. They migrate to cities, where they face hardship and discrimination, because they have little formal education and do not speak Spanish well.

Farmers in the Andes see the world they have known collapsing around them, because of the changing climate. What they feel is probably similar to what the Israelites felt when they were in exile, or what the Jews of John the Baptist’s time felt under foreign occupation. They lived in a time of  uncertainty, had little control over events, and did not know if they could promise their children a better future.

Today’s readings reminded them ­ and remind us ­ of God’s faithfulness and the promise of salvation. But the readings also remind us that God calls us to action, to prepare the way for salvation.

Read Barbara Fraser’s whole reflection here.

“We Astronomers” by Rebecca Elson

Orion Nebula from Hubble
Orion Nebula from Hubble

We Astronomers
by Rebecca Elson

We astronomers are nomads,
Merchants, circus people,
All the earth our tent.
We are industrious.
We breed enthusiasms,
Honour our responsibility to awe.

But the universe has moved a long way off.
Sometimes, I confess,
Starlight seems too sharp,

And like the moon
I bend my face to the ground,
To the small patch where each foot falls,

Before it falls,
And I forget to ask questions,
And only count things.

From A Responsibility to Awe by Rebecca Elson (Oxford Poets, 2001)