Calenthia S. Dowdy, PhD is a restless black woman. She teaches college students and sometimes speaks and writes, and does a bunch of other things in anticipation of the next great thing. She lives and serves in the Mennonite churches of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Waiting is hard.
And when what we are waiting for appears, it is often nothing like what we imagined. In fact, it is better. We just don’t know it yet.
My soul glorifies the Lord. Mary exclaimed those words during a visit with her elderly, barren, and pregnant relative, Elizabeth. When Mary arrived, the baby growing inside the barren womb of Elizabeth leapt for joy. Elizabeth became filled with the Holy Spirit and told Mary the same thing the angel Gabriel had told her; that she too would be with child and give birth to a son who would be called Jesus. Elizabeth was aged and past childbearing, but would give birth to John the Baptist. Mary was young and would conceive and give birth to the God-child while still a virgin. I imagine that neither situation was viewed as ideal; not by Elizabeth, and certainly not by Mary. But Mary sang”
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state
of his servant. … He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up
the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”
Waiting is hard. And then what we thought we were waiting for looks and happens differently. Jesus would be born but not by royal parentage, not in a majestic or kingly fashion. He’s poor. Born in a barn, as a refugee in hiding from a wicked king who wants to kill him. The Jews were waiting for a king they could serve, but they got a poor suffering servant who the state sanctioned violence upon.
And therein lies the mystery and beauty of the gospel, God coming to earth, born in flesh to serve a created and violent humanity. This God-king likes surprises. This God-king looks and acts differently.
The way(s) God appears reminds me of The Shack.
After waiting eight years, the hugely successful novel The Shack is back as a film due out in March. The ads and trailers for the film were released this week, and the controversy kicked up again: God can’t look like that!
The story is about a man who spirals into a deep depression after his daughter is murdered. This causes him to question God and his deepest held beliefs. After receiving a mysterious letter he is urged to return to a shack in the Oregon wilderness where he meets the physical manifestations of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God. To everyone’s astonishment, God who goes by “papa” is an African-American woman. I love this surprise. The author understands that God often takes the form of the least of these, identifying with those who are usually pushed and held at the bottom rungs of society. This black woman God is amazing.
Unsurprisingly, as with the novel back in 2008, some Christian leaders are angry that God would be portrayed as a black woman. They say this is heresy because everyone knows that God is a white man. For them, God is not lowly; He is powerful and mighty.
However, Mary sang and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit because they knew they were palpable surprises. The unexpected.
The weak shames the strong. God scatters the prideful and lifts up the humble. Women. Elderly. Barren. Virgin. Poor. Refugee. Black.
Waiting is hard. And when what we are waiting for appears, it is often nothing like what we imagined. In fact, it is better. We just don’t know it yet.
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