Bloom Again: As Witness
It's been a year
This short little poem was written, inspired by a rosebush that was growing outside of the church I was serving a year ago:
You have learned to grow
Under the shadow of hope,
Sweet is the sanctuary you'll
Never know, planted here.
Are there ways you may wish to
Be welcomed but find your
Roots run too deep into
Understood? No. Understated?
Rose J. Percy, July 24, 2022
That rosebush had to endure the various seasons and yet it continued to bloom. It lived outside near a window that looked into the sanctuary which I thought was symbolic. I imagined myself in its place.
I could hear the sounds of the church, could hear the songs, but could never make it inside. I couldn't feel the warmth of its covering but I could grow along the walls of its side. When I imagined myself in its place, I was able to realize that I was reading my story into the rosebush.
I was carrying a hurt and a weight.
I was uncovering new ways of thinking about vocation. We were doing church in a pandemic. I can look back now and see the ways that doing church online helped me come alive. I could avoid the parts of the church I hated the most:
Shallow after fellowship chats and the focus on family and its subsequent isolation of singles. I let go of a respectability mask, made simpler by not having to turn my screen on in the Zoom room.
In this short poem, feels as if words are missing—as if there's a constraint in the language and that is intentional. It's a conversation with myself.
Bloom again: as witness
These words are also a reminder for me of something Lisa Sharon Harper once said to me at a conference between sessions. I was wandering around this pastors conference, which I attended at the tender age of 24. Just out of college, and trying out this whole “incarnational ministry” thing. I felt so out of place there, seeing all these well-known authors and speakers (at least in the Christian social justice space). I was told to “mingle” and “make friends,” but I mostly stuck with the two male pastor friends I came to the conference with.
At one point, I was in tears. I cannot tell you precisely why I was crying at the time, but I know it had something to do with imposter syndrome. Were there Black women there? Yes, but they felt so far away from me, in their put-together outfits and heels. They looked like preachers. I looked at my #Africa shirt (literally a hashtag, and the continent of Africa), green vans, and braids with the edges slipping and felt inadequate.
At one point I was walking down the hall and the person with me pointed out Lisa Sharon Harper. They introduced me and mentioned that I was Haitian. At that time, the words of the 45th white house occupant about “sh*thole” countries were making a media frenzy. Lisa’s kind eyes greeted me with what felt like a spiritual hug.“Don’t you believe them, she said, “flourish as resistance.”
Flourish as resistance.
I held those words in my heart and even wrote them out in calligraphy and put them on display whereever I lived. And so as I write “bloom again: as witness” I think of her, and those passing words in the hollowed atrium of a conference hotel. ( Doubt she remembers me, but those words stuck to my soul. If you ever read this, Lisa…thank you.)
I receive the words, “flourish as resistance” as a directive for my life.
I recently had a chat with my former pastor (read: a long overdue exit interview). We talked about what it was like to be thinking about church differently in the middle of a pandemic. We talked about my anxiety, panic attacks, and the added weight of national racial trauma. We talked about the ways his church is currently trying to live into the values I used to preach about while I was there.
We lamented the ways we’ve missed each other: I miss your friendship, he said. And I feel like I missed seeing the community bring the visions we held together to life, I said.
There are Sundays when I miss having a default community of belonging. I tune into a church on Facebook live some Sundays (I won’t say which one.)
Breaking bread and breaking promises
There are some times when I miss breaking bread in community. But I know that breaking bread also comes with broken promises—either mine or the community’s.
I know what I am supposed to say: “But God—”
or, “But in Christ, we can—”
I currently live in the best place I’ve ever lived. I have peace of mind here. And it is because of a church (that I don’t even attend). I get to do the work of building sacred spaces online with Quni Community and through Dear Soft Black Woman.
I experience the sacred community of group chats and zoom hangouts with my like-minded friends. I have been held in community and in love.
I have found my place
I entered seminary to be ordained in a denomination that no longer feels like family. And somehow, on the other side of this broken promise, I have found my place.
It is a place exposed to the elements, where I still hear the sounds of Church.
I hear the sounds in the sanctuary but I also see the people who walked down the street.
I take my place, in the conversations that happen in the church parking lot.
I tithe to the places where my roots are fed.
Some will say it’s not enough. I have to “go to a church (building) in order to be part of a church for real.”
But I say I have never felt more authentically faithful: because my doubts also have room to breathe out here.
I am blooming, with no intention to stop anytime soon—
You, gentle reader, are my witness.
I decided to add a new segment to these newsletters. To stick with my landing metaphors, here are some guidelines:
Share this with someone who needs to be reminded they can “bloom again.” Maybe remind them of the ways you’ve witnessed their flourishing.
Write your own affirmation about what it means to “bloom again: as witness.” (Feel free to drop it in the comments or reply to the email!)
Recall and thank those who’ve spoken or written words that have helped you “flourish as resistance, whether you can do that directly or indirectly.