Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Let the River Run, All the Dreamers Wake: Election Day Dawns

Election day dawns.

I’m listening to Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run,” the award-winning “hymn with a jungle back beat” that she wrote for the 1989 movie “Working Girl” (www.carlysimon.com/music/soundtracks/Soundtracks.html):

Let the river run, let all the dreamers wake the nation. Come, the New Jerusalem.

The New Jerusalem: that surprising, often obscenely realized, theme of American history from the birth of the nation. A city on a hill, a light lifted up for all the world to see.

And slavery. And destruction of the culture and obliteration of the lives of the native people.

Claims and counterclaims: the new Jerusalem limping beside inferno, dream and nightmare so intertwined that anyone who dreams of the first has to cope with the second, with the dream-destroying clutch of hate, fear, twisted use of God’s name, running through our history as the somber thread tightening always around the gold one.

On rare occasions, we rise to promise. Despite widespread popular consensus upholding the separation of the races and the denigration of people of color, we rose to promise through judicial and legislative action at the highest levels of our land, and moved—once, decisively—ever so slightly towards the new Jerusalem.

And that rising to promise builds towards the hope many of us now see in this landmark election in which a person of color may finally claim the presidency.

In bloody battles of brother pitted against brother in the 19th century, we chose freedom over slavery, once, decisively: the new Jerusalem, the birthright promise of our founders.

And today?

I don’t know, can’t say. That film about which I blogged some days ago, “Faubourg Tremé " (http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2008/10/faubourg-trem-untold-story-of-black-new.html)? It contains sober reminders that, for those seeking freedom in a land in which slavery was practiced by those who wrote the very documents that proclaim all are made equal, every step forward comes at the price of steps backwards.

Progress is never a straight or unbroken line. It comes with a price tag. It happens only when enough people dream the dream, wake the nation, and finally decide to band together to let rivers run. When people have had enough—enough of rivers no longer permitted to run free, of dreamers thrown into pits and left to die, of a shining new Jerusalem begrimed and made filthy by dirty hands that barter and trade what is holy, to benefit only themselves.

Those rare moments of leaping in the direction of progress happen when we reclaim our birthright rivers, dreams, the new Jerusalem, through concerted action. When we listen again to the groans of enslaved people distilled in the poetry of spirituals, to the hymns lined out Sunday after Sunday in our churches from the beginning of the nation (and the chants in our synagogues and the cries to prayer from our mosque towers). In these, there runs the poetry of freedom, of aspiration, of hope.

A poetry about heading to the riverside to be reborn—a riverside where we lay down weapons as we don the garments of peace.

A poetry of communion, of blessed ties that bind, of the beloved community in which the sons and daughters of slaves and sharecroppers will at last sit down at the table with the sons and daughters of slaveholders.

A poetry of gathering home, of tables with enough bread for everyone, of room for everyone, of no privileged seats or no restricted places.

A poetry of new shoes at last, which we wear as we walk and shout all over God's heaven.

Can the dreams that gave birth to our nation ever find realization? I don’t know. There are days that I doubt it.

What I do know is that they will never flourish in our midst until we let them flourish: and to do that, we have first to hear anew the songs they sing in hearts, to be moved by those songs.

And then to choose. And to act.