God of Our Weary Years, God of Our Silent Tears
Or Have Our Tears Been Silenced?
Not all tears are silent. Tears can come in many forms and express a range of emotions. Tears can be a physical manifestation of intense joy, sadness, anger, frustration, or a mixture of emotions. And sometimes tears can be a release of pent-up emotions — helping us to feel lighter and more at ease.
Tears can be a form of nonverbal communication, conveying to others the depth of our feelings. So whether they are silent or loud, tears are a powerful and important part of the human emotional experience.
Silent, might be the tears of the woman putting on her face to go to work in the morning after her lover just ghosted her. Silent, may the tears of the man who, try as he may, cannot find where his health went, or cannot find a job with a decent wage. Silent, are the tears of the powerless 9-year-old. Silent, are the tears of the farmworkers who feed a country but can barely feed their family. Silent, are the tears of the earth, including Atlanta’s South River Forest.
And silent are the tears of God, sometimes, at least for the only God I know anything about.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.
“True to our God, True to our native land.” I appreciate that he’s calling Black folks to be loyal to the land upon which we were born, here, our native land. I can’t speak for all African Americans, but my mind sometimes wanders and wonders about returning to the land of my earlier ancestors — somewhere in Africa, the Motherland — that I have, so far, visited 14 times in my life. I resonate with the Jamaican Rastafari poet who said, “Slavery is not African history. Slavery interrupted African history.“
But here we are. We are here on Turtle Island, where we have come over a way that “with tears has been watered”; where “we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” It is here that “out from the gloomy past,” where “now we stand at last, where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”
Therefore, it is here, here we will keep calling on the God of our weary years and our silent tears.
Which God have you been calling on, especially when trouble comes your way? Over 30,000 — what a nightmare — over 30,000 of our family in Turkey and Syria perish. And we pray! But we can be certain that nobody is praying harder than the Turks and Syrians. To which God are they crying out? And when someone may insist that God will answer them, we have to
ask —answer? Which God will answer Syrians who were already suffering from a civil war that has lasted over a decade with over half a million already dead?
Tell me — which God is this? To which God do the 7 million Venezuelans
who have fled their country cry out? Before you say, “but many Venezuelans have settled in other Latin American countries, and they’re doing okay!” I ask — Wouldn’t you want the freedom to see your home? To which God have Palestinians been praying while the global community turns its head, hoping the violence against them will magically end?
To which God are the 900,000 Rohingya calling, who, according to Human Rights Watch, remain refugees in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh?
To which God do Diasporic Jews call, in the face of surging global anti-Semitism, including recent troubling threats right here in Santa Barbara?
Jesus said: Watch out that you don’t look down on these little ones! After all, I can tell you that their angels are in heaven, constantly looking at the face of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:10, paraphrase)
Now notice that Jesus does not promise that his Father will protect the powerless. He does not reassure us that the vulnerable will be safe. The words of Jesus here are more of a warning than a promise.
Here’s what he said: It’s going to be horrible for this world because of the things that trip people up. But it’s going to be really horrible for the person responsible for tripping others. (Matthew 18:6, paraphrase)
What he promises is that they have an angel looking at His Father. What Jesus promises is that somebody is paying attention. He does not promise that nothing will go wrong. Rather he promises that nothing goes unnoticed. As I often heard preachers say, “God is looking, and he’s booking.”
The God that Jesus describes, his Father, is offering something good. This God pays attention. This God is present, and has always been present.
Historically, people have prayed to gods who are tribal. The God of Israel, the God of Persia, the God of Korea, the God of the Incas, the gods of Egypt — these deities have various functions, like providing for the tribe, the nation — to send rain in its season, to sustain their crops, to protect their crops from external threats like marauders. Sometimes they needed their God to go before them into battle. What these people on different continents shared was the simple fact that their God was with them.
When I was a really small boy, one day on the way home from school, I stopped at Stop n Go Market, and I bought some corn nuts and headed home. But a much bigger boy — my age — stopped me. He grabbed my wrist and he said, “Gimme some of them corn nuts.” He held my fist against a block wall fence and threatened to scrape my knuckles. I was terrified.
Then I heard a voice behind me. Elder McCoy, a preacher whose family lived across the street from where we were standing yelled, “Joey Walker,” (that’s not his real name) “you leave him alone!” Elder McCoy was much bigger than my nemesis. He let me go and never bothered me again. In that moment Elder McCoy was my angel. He was the answer to a prayer I never uttered; a prayer I never even thought.
Today, you need a guardian angel, and in some cases, you may be the guardian angel for somebody. You are the potential answer to somebody’s prayer.
But the world has come to know angels and a God who is not like Elder McCoy, yet the God whom the world has come to know claims to be a universal God. See, hundreds of years ago, some people took the responsibility to make sure the whole planet knew about this universal God, presented as the “one God for everybody.” The problem is that theirs is not a God who’s been paying attention. This purported universal God overlooks ethnic cleansing and land theft. This God closes his eyes to transatlantic human trafficking. This universal God creates institutions that sexually exploit children. (It’s why you never hear of residential school graduates — just residential school survivors.) Because this God does not pay attention.
Like many of us, this God has caused people who have been trampled upon to ask questions about the faith system they were sold, because it has not worked for them.
Cuban American writer and podcaster Kat Armas asked herself and wrote, “Can this Christ — the one who has infiltrated much of our theology and mission efforts — the Christ who is white, elite, and of European descent, be redeemed? Is this the Jesus who ‘saved’ me?”
Or could there be another Christ? You see, the reason our tears are silent is that someone has been silencing them. They have indoctrinated us to remain silent. Through violence, they intimidate us.
So we cried in silence, because we wanted our families to be safe — or at least in less peril. We didn’t want our women to be raped, so we cried in silence. We didn’t want to lose our job, so we cried in silence. We cried in silence when we didn’t want to be deported — yes, that happens to Black folks, too. We didn’t want our churches to be burned down, so we cried in silence. We didn’t want to forfeit that promotion, so we cried in silence.
But listen, we’re not as silent as we used to be. More and more we choose to cry out loud, because our tears refuse to stay silent.
We were silent for so long, so, in the midst of our weary years, we started making noise — a joyful noise. This noise is our worship.
Folks who don’t understand think we are just making up our stories — and overreacting and complaining too much. But what is really happening is that our tears are finding their voice. So, when you think that we’re being too loud, just remember that’s our tears talking.
I truly want to applaud everyone who is here and trying to understand. (You know that I love you.) You are active in the movement for Black Lives. You follow Black authors and documentaries but most of all, you attentively and intentionally listen to Black people you know.
And thank you, thank you, for being acutely aware that unless you are African American, you cannot appreciate the level of unconsciousness that we experience all … the … time from what you might think are the unlikeliest of channels.
Therefore, Black folks here, on this land, in what is called the “land of the free and home of the brave,” are determined that we are going to be free and brave. So, more of us are making noise. Zora Neale Hurston, one of the classical authors who is being canceled by conservatives in Florida, once said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
As I close, before anyone decides that you are not going to be loud with us, I ask that you hear me out, because this is a joyful noise.
As you may know, nobody praises God more than people who have faced scarcity, or violence, or addiction. Nobody praises God more than people who appear to have the least amount to be thankful for.
So feel free to not praise God, if you don’t relate. But if you do, don’t do it because of guarantees that you will be safe or your people will be safe.
Don’t praise God for that. I say, praise the God who pays attention — The God who sees.
It’s okay if you find yourself giving thanks in those special moments when wonderful things come your way, but the reason you really need to lift your hands — why you really should dance and shout — is because there is One who sits high and looks low.
This is what faith looks like … faith feels its way forward.
So if you have decided to praise God, to make this joyful noise, then come and go with me to my father’s house, as I listen to some Shirley Caesar, or Tasha Cobbs Leonard, or William Murphy or John P. Kee or Mali Music or Jekalyn Carr or PJ Morton or Kirk Franklin or Mary, Mary, or Chloe and Halle … or the Howard University Gospel Choir, because they show me that they agree that it’s alright to feel your way when you can’t see your way, knowing that there is Somebody who does see.
And who is this One who sees? Isaiah 57:15 describes it this way:
“For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, “I dwell in the high and holy place and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
So I am inviting you to make some noise…we are going to make some noise up in here on this land we will:
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
…march on till victory is won.22 And I’ll close by saying we’re gonna rise up…
And I’ll close by saying we’re gonna rise up…
We’ll rise like the day, we’ll rise up
We’ll rise unafraid, we’ll rise up
And we’ll do it a thousand times again.
God, of my mother and father, and I say to the ancestors, that we need you.
I want to open the arms of my heart and welcome those who are seeking refuge in this God of our tears and our weary years.
I want to welcome people into the experience and not to flee it. I want to invite people into the worship that was born on slave ships and nurtured in the fields of places like South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. I want to invite people into a connection with the God of the powerless. The God who says, “I see what’s going on, and I’m with you…and Trouble Don’t Last Always.”
Thank you for your presence because we’d rather have your presence than anything else…than all the power and the influence, the riches of the age.
We need your presence because your presence has connected us, has grounded us, in the reality that we find joy in every day.
Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Wherever you are right now, go ahead and say it out loud, “Thank you Lord!“