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A Time To Breathe, A Time To Push

Martin Luther King once told us that when the night is darkest is when we can see the stars most clearly.

These are dark days, difficult nights of the soul for many of us in America. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the same dark nights of the soul are witnessing many stars shining bright. Some of these are old and ancient stars that have been shedding light for what seems like centuries. Others are newer, bright and bold lights.

Today I wanted to share one of these lights who has been bringing light to my own heart, and I pray, will also bring light to you. Hers is a name not so familiar to many of us: Valarie Kaur.

She speaks out of the depth of a tradition that is all too often absent from the landscape of where many look for spiritual wisdom: the Sikh tradition. We hear of our Sikh brothers when they are attacked, harassed, and occasionally shot because they wear a turban that reminds their attackers of Muslims. We hear now and then of Sikh gurdwaras being attacked. But how rarely do we hear from the heart of the Sikh tradition in the same frequency as we do Buddhism and Judaism and prophetic Christianity and mystical Islam. May that change, and may it change by lifting up voices of prophetic sisters like Valarie Kaur.

There are two pieces from Valarie that have touched my heart so. They are both beautiful, and I wanted to share both. The first one is a prayer that she wrote for America on the day after the election: “A Sikh Prayer for America on November 9, 2016.”

In it, she asks the boldest question I have heard in the post-Trump world:

What if this darkness
is not the darkness of the tomb,
but the darkness of the womb?

Tapping into the life-giving wisdom of mothers and midwives, Valarie also asks us to remember the advice during birth pangs:

then push.

Here is the full text of it:

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

In our tears and agony, we hold our children close and confront the truth: The future is dark.

But my faith dares me to ask:

What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?

What if our America is not dead but a country still waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor?

What if all the mothers who came before us, who survived genocide and occupation, slavery and Jim Crow, racism and xenophobia and Islamophobia, political oppression and sexual assault, are standing behind us now, whispering in our ear: You are brave? What if this is our Great Contraction before we birth a new future?

Remember the wisdom of the midwife: “Breathe,” she says. Then: “Push.”

Now it is time to breathe. But soon it will be time to push; soon it will be time to fight — for those we love — Muslim father, Sikh son, trans daughter, indigenous brother, immigrant sister, white worker, the poor and forgotten, and the ones who cast their vote out of resentment and fear.

Let us make an oath to fight for the soul of America — “The land that never has been yet— And yet must be” (Langston Hughes) — with Revolutionary Love and relentless optimism. And so I pray this Sikh prayer:

Nanak Naam Chardi Kala,
Tere Bane Sarbat Da Bhalla

“In the name of the Divine within us and around us, we find everlasting optimism.
Within your will, may there be grace for all of humanity.”

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh 

She returned to the same bold and prophetic question in a talk that she gave, and I invite you to watch the fire of the spirit pouring through her:

“Yes Rabbi, the future is dark, on this watch night,
I close my eyes and I see the darkness of my grandfather’s cell.
And I can feel the spirit of ever rising optimism
(in the Sikh tradition ‘Chardi Kala’) within him.
So the mother in me asks,
‘What if?
What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb,
but the darkness of the womb?….

What if this is our country’s great transition?”

Thanks be to God for giving us these stars on these dark nights of the soul.

May we breathe, and may we push, through the darkness of the womb, and witness the birth of a new America. May we be the midwives and mothers of an America that does not exist yet, but we must give birth to.

Let us breathe, and let us push…

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