Paul and I took a wonderful twenty-eight year old Nigerian seminarian, Moses, out to dinner at Otto's Restaurant yesterday. I love him like a grand-son, not only because of the intelligent, spiritual, gifted young man that he is, but also probably because his twinkly brown eyes, huge smile, and rich black skin remind me of my twins, who now live in Beacon, almost a day's trip away, with their brother Elijah and Mama Merritt. Over dinner, our friend Moses and we discussed this wonderful being-in-touch-with-your-body that's part of the African nations' culture.
He shared with us that Africans dance at Church services. It's a given. Warm, physical affection is a given, too. A mutual friend, a Sudanese man, married with children, still recalls his culture shock, coming to the U.S., when Americans looked at he and his male friends strangely because they walked closely together holding hands and embracing as they talked. Women friends are naturally affectionate with each other as well. Physical closeness is a reflection of and extension of warm African biological family and village family ties. "I am because we are," is an African philosopher's affirmation.
I fondly remember meeting a woman from Rwanda who, upon meeting me, took my hand and held it as we visited. The immediate connection of our hands forged the immediate connection of our minds and hearts.
Celebrating Mass at our St. Lawrence Feast Day and Central City Summer in the City this past Sunday included joyful, vibrant, African-American music. I loved the opportunity to sway, clap my hands, use my whole self to praise my God Who deliberately made me a unique human being composed of both body and soul. Praising with my whole self reminds me of the truth of my resurrected life in which I will be forever praising God with a transformed-but-still-me body, mind, heart, and soul.
How I love these Psalm prayers - "All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries" (Psalm 47) and "Let Israel be glad in their Maker... Let them praise His Name in festive dance, make music with tambourine and lyre." (Psalm 149.) Hallelujah! The ancient Israelites, our spiritual ancestors, used their bodies in worship! It seems our African brothers and sisters know what many of us whites have forgotten and should re-learn about praising God.
But we also give praise to God with our lives, and how often we live as if our sacred bodies don't exist, forgetting to use hugs, kisses, and simple touches to express affection when bodily expression profoundly heals. At the nursing home where my Mom is, I touch and kiss many of the other residents, who smile at my greeting. And I wonder about how many other loving touches their withered bodies have received lately.
Our sacred bodies can inflict the most intense sinful wounds as well. An African-American woman friend of mine told me of her ongoing hurt at her job as a cashier when white customers would take change from her while carefully avoiding touching her skin.
I love cuddling Jay and Say, love stroking their skin, hope they absorb the love of this old white Grandma to make up in advance for any white person who looks at them as anything other than black and beautiful and human and made in the Image and Likeness of God. I remember my seventh grade students, years back, who scoffed when I told them "You know, if you hugged a black person in a totally dark room, you really couldn't tell the color of his or her skin. That person would just feel - human." They didn't believe me. I hope life has taught them the truth.
I hope my boys stay safe. Don't get beaten up or shot down by people so overwhelmed by fear that they don't know that in a dark room both black and white bodies feel warm and soft and wonderful. And so fragile, easily wounded, so in need of bodily expressions of healing love.