Emancipation is the result of faith in action
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the glistening skies,
Let it resound, loud as the rolling sea.
As Bermuda pauses tomorrow to remember the emancipation of slaves throughout the British Empire on August 1, 1834 and the life and legacy of our national hero, Mary Prince, my thoughts turn to the kind of faith that must be required to fight for freedom.
The scriptures say that faith is the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things unseen. I can only imagine the level of faith my ancestors had to be able to fight – for generations – for something only ever hoped for and unseen by so many.
The freedoms that we celebrate this weekend were hard won. And at the heart of the fight was a faith in a god that they believed would deliver us. They were likely to call it by different names and worship this god in different ways, but the strength of our ancestors’ faith was clearly apparent.
History tells us that most early abolitionists were White, religious Americans. And it’s true that there were several, but there were also many leaders of the abolitionist movement who were Black men and women, slaves and former slaves, who had a vision and hope of freedom; people who believed in something that they could not see.
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
Let us march on till victory is won.
The magnitude of this faith is not forgotten when I think of the liberties I enjoy as a Black woman in this country, 187 years after Emancipation. I often ask myself if I have that same kind of faith. Do I have the same depth of faith as my forefathers and mothers? A faith that can move metaphorical mountains. A faith that develops nations. A faith that changes the world.
Or is my faith limited to the transformation of my own life? Is it limited to weekly worship, scriptural study and prayer? Am I willing to use this faith for a greater good? Am I willing to put my faith into action?
When I think of freedom, I think of faith in action. A faith that a power greater than me – a power greater than all of us – will equip me for service. Because as history has shown us, faith coupled with courage is a powerful thing.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
Of course, on this long celebratory weekend I also reflect on Mary Prince, a local hero, a hero for the cause internationally and at home; a woman of courage, strength and – dare I say – a woman of faith. Her autobiography, The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave, is filled with references to the prayers she prayed – prayers that “God will find a way to give me my liberty”.
But her prayers didn’t simply end in ‘Amen’. They manifested into action, action that contributed to the answer of her and countless other prayers for freedom. By adding a little courage to her faith, she was able to tell her story and expose the misconceptions about slavery in this country, ultimately participating in the abolitionist movement at a global level, becoming the first female slave to publish an autobiography and earning her ‘national hero’ status at home.
All of this was the result of her faith in action. Activism, in whatever capacity you serve, is an act of faith. A decision to plant seeds – mustard seeds maybe – for trees whose shade you may never enjoy.
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out of the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
There is so much more work to be done. We are free, but still grappling with the impact of our enslavement. So today, I challenge myself to do more with my freedom. I challenge myself to put a little more action behind my faith and believe that God is able to take my seemingly insignificant contributions and multiply them.
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.
Excerpts from James Weldon Johnson’s poem Lift Every Voice and Sing