Ps. 137: Exilic Emotions

Reverend Dr. Leslie D. Callahan (from Gary, West Virginia) is the first female pastor of the historic St. Paul's Baptist Church in Philadelphia, PA. Dr. Callahan earned the Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Harvard University/Radcliffe, the Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, and the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Religion from Princeton University. She was ordained in 1997 at Judson Memorial Church and served as Minister of Christian Education at the First Baptist Church of Princeton, New Jersey. She also served as interim pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. A gifted professor, Dr. Callahan, has served on the faculty of New York Theological Seminary (NYTS) as Assistant Professor of Modern Church History and African American Studies. Prior to her time at NYTS, she was a member of the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania as assistant professor of religious studies.

 

The complex emotions of exilic texts mirror my own complicated relationship with the United States—the way that I am aware on a cellular level that this place is simultaneously both home and not home.

I am a U.S. citizen by birth. I know the pledge of allegiance and the Star-Spangled Banner by heart. I have earned degrees from premier institutions, gotten good jobs with benefits, and bought a house. But history and current events are replete with reminders that my people—Black and Woman—have only provisional welcome and entree in this society. We are so often embraced only on the terms and for the purposes of the captors’ culture.

Last year, with a milestone birthday looming and a pastoral sabbatical beckoning, I made plans to travel to the continent of Africa. I had done no DNA analysis to determine from which community, nation, and people in Africa my blackness originated. And while I associated an apocalyptic phrase from the tradition of the spirituals—“as soon as my feet strike Zion”—with the visit, I had no conscious expectation that anything earth-shattering would occur during the trip. I simply felt that I was behind schedule when it came to Africa, and it was past time to get there.

Following an overnight flight, my feet touched for the first time the soil that gave birth to humanity—Africa the mother of us all. I sighed. Standing on the shores of the Atlantic and looking west, I confronted the pain, sadness, and rage of my ancestors’ displacement. Our group retraced our people’s steps and walked back through the “Door of No Return,” praying and singing, weeping and wailing.

In an instant I marveled that I had taken my Disney princess-fascinated 6-year-old daughter to Africa to visit castles. But we found was no Magic Kingdom. These castles were real, and nothing about them is pretty, built as they were on the enduring foundation of racist, capitalist brutality.

Goree in Senegal, Elmina and Cape Coast in Ghana, and many others up and down the coastline remain as monuments and memorials. They follow a pernicious architectural pattern. There are dungeons, dark and dank, still carrying the memory and fragrance of barbarous captivity. Dungeons for men, women, and children. And above the dungeons there are the remnants of enslavers’ quarters and trapdoors allowing access to the bodies of their captives. There, too, are churches.

Have you ever seen child-sized shackles? While you imagine them, try to grasp not just the sadness but also the rage. This kind of rage could easily manifest as it does in the concluding words of Psalm 137, a desperate cry to avenge terrible violations inflicted on innocent children by their captors. People who can brutalize children don’t usually stop until someone or something else stronger makes them stop.

The irony and tension of exile is that we make our home in places that we know on a cellular level are never fully home. But it is not just the indignities of this land that remind us that another land exists, it’s also the soul-deep refusal to forget that some place—beyond any specific geographical location—more like home exists. It is the ancestors singing in our ears of the places we come from and destinations yet unseen. It is a life-giving determination to live in the beauty of that unseen home. Perhaps that is why at the very moment we question how we can sing the holy song in a strange land, we do so by means of a song.

 

Read more about the PsalmSeason here & subscribe for email updates.

 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

"It is permissible within our religion to defer, or to make up your fast later if you're feeling sick."
From experience, I know that Hispanic families had been greatly, and disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and survey data from the 2021 PRRI-IFYC Religious Diversity and Vaccine Survey corroborates this.
As the last few days of Ramadan are upon us – take our interactive quiz to find out how much you really know about this holy month.
We weren’t sure what to expect or how to navigate the complexities of getting to know colleagues from a distance, but IFYC team members Silma and Nadia welcomed us into their homes, their traditions, and their faith.
As the final project for the class, we wanted to do something that would make our campus a more inclusive, interreligious place.
IFYC is collecting prayers and meditations from diverse faiths to show our solidarity with the people of India, as well as links to charitable organizations that people can support.
Generally, tradition holds that the body is to be cremated or buried as quickly as possible – within 24 hours for Hindus, Jains and Muslims, and within three days for Sikhs. This need for rapid disposal has also contributed to the current crisis.
“Humanitarian Day embodies why Islam is relevant in America today. It’s why many Black Muslims embraced Islam, to be part of the solution, not only in their personal lives, but in their communities." - Margari Aziza Hill, MuslimARC
Recently, I asked a group of IFYC Alumni to share what they do in one sentence. I love their responses because they capture who they are so well.
As a nurse and a physician occupying different spheres in relation to the patient, Anastasia and I held comparable but also differing views about the role of religion and interfaith in the realm of patient care.
El movimiento necesita artistas, educadores, trabajadores de la salud, padres, funcionarios electos, científicos, clérigos, directores generales, y cuantas personas sea posible para hablar en contra de la injusticia donde sea que la veamos.
The scholarship covers the students’ tuition, as well as housing and living assistance while they pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees across all 18 of Columbia’s schools and affiliates.
En esta foto del sábado 9 de mayo de 2020, el Rev. Fabián Arias lleva a cabo un servicio en casa, al lado de los restos de Raúl Luis López quien murió de COVID-19 el mes previo, en el barrio Corona del distrito de Queens en Nueva York.
It is certainly within the rights of philanthropic and political institutions to 'not do religion,' but such an approach undermines any meaningful, holistic commitment to community or place-based humanitarian efforts in much of this country.
Last month, Kevin Singer, co-director of Neighborly Faith, brought two interfaith leaders together to discuss their respective publications and the consequences of the Equality Act on religious organizations, institutions, and places of worship.
It is in this spirit respeaking memory and finding time to etch it into the future that I offer the following exercise. It is designed to do with your friends or folks – preferably three or more. Take some time with it. Use it as a catalyst to...
Imagine my surprise upon coming to USA and celebrating my first Easter, but didn’t people realize it was Easter? Why are all the egg die and chocolates already sold out and none left for us celebrating a few weeks later?
They will, in other words, be learning the skills of mindfulness meditation — the secular version of the Buddhist practice that has skyrocketed in popularity to become America's go-to antidote for stress.
This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Chaplain Fuller’s leadership and guidance has left a lasting, rippling effect on and off campus which will guide communities and individuals into multifaith work and engagement long after her tenure at Elon.
In the grip of a deadly second wave of COVID-19, religious charities and faith-based organizations are among the many civil society groups that have stepped up to mobilize relief efforts.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.