My associates Cynthia Park and Alan Cowart and I saw 1,146 unmarked graves of African-Americans on a visit to Alta Vista Cemetery. Some of them have been unmarked since 1872.
Barbara Brooks recently visited with us at the cemetery. She spoke through tears about the hope of honoring those 1,146 African-Americans who were buried there, separated way in the back of the cemetery. When she described the hopes of many people trying to find a way to learn who they were — who they are — my heart swelled and remembered so many stories from the Bible.
When you visit the site now, it’s a beautiful space with old oaks standing watch over so many loved ones, who are known and unknown. But now each grave has a marker.
The spirit has a tricky way of turning places of alienation into spaces of peace and beauty. That’s resurrection stuff right there.
We, as Christians, know this story, or at least we should. We know stories where rocks cry out when no one else will. We know stories where prophets cry out for justice, mercy and truth. We know stories where discarded bones come together and breathe new life. We know stories where Jesus reaches out to those who are marginalized and oppressed, facing the anger of the religious establishment who would prefer things be maintained the way they were. Truly, this story is not limited to Christians.
All people of faith hold fast to the truth that the Beatles were right all along: All we need is love.
Our scriptures are full of stories that call us to see with new eyes, listen with open ears and allow our hearts to be opened and filled with the spirit of Christ who heals and restores.
It can be painful to affirm the truth sometimes, and it seems our culture would rather foment anxiety and fear than cast the demons out. Naming the truth is not about inflicting shame, guilt or blame. It’s about honesty and forgiveness within a community. It’s about having the spiritual courage to lessen our grasp on control and practice humility. Humility, after all, connects us with our humanity, which resonates with humus, our earthy nature. It all goes back to groundedness, doesn’t it?
Which leads me back to these 1,146 graves. Folks knew there were some graves there. They expected to find a hundred or so.
The city brought in ground-penetrating radar to see what they could see. They found 1,146.
It took ground-penetrating radar to see what needed to be seen. It took a machine to uncover things maybe folks wanted to keep hidden, or at least didn’t honor.
There are so many things in our lives that we would prefer to keep buried, aren’t there?
So many painful things that need named out loud. Maybe we’ve forgotten where we have buried them — deep down and out of sight. But we should never forget that the ground-penetrating radar of the Gospel of Christ has the power to help us see those things that we need to see, mark those things that need to be marked and heal those things that need healing. Let us never fear!