It is all about resilience. Do not allow record to break you. You are created to break record. Are you fettered all limbs? Don't worry. Be determined to fight to the end. If you are focused, and refuse to listen to your fears, you will surely make it. Are you discouraged by the injustices in the world? Don't mind. Try your best. God rewards efforts and not success. Success is a gift from God. Last Sunday, being the first Sunday of Advent, we discussed the new heavenly Jerusalem as a just world to be heralded by the coming of Jesus Christ who says, "Behold, I am coming soon." Today, the message becomes more intense. The second Sunday of Advent is usually a time we read from the second Isaiah - the message of consolation. To all who suffer social injustice, those trampled upon with the boots of the mighty, the voiceless and those feeling useless and joyless, the message of consolation is proclaimed. "Console my people, console…" That is the message. The comforter is coming. The voice cries in the wilderness that the way of the Lord be made straight and smooth. The sufferers are consoled and gifted with hope.
The theme of the new heaven and the new earth as a just world is beautifully expressed in the second reading of today. For this new world to be a reality, we must work for justice. This new world however begins with the coming of Jesus as the agent of the new creation. He is the King of Justice. He has come for the down trodden. He has identified with those denied of justice. He will represent the voiceless and give hope to the hopeless. We are thus called upon to prepare the way for his coming. Preparing a way for the Lord consists in working for justice. It has to do with dismantling all unjust structures. It is about speaking to power about justice. What do you think? Preparing the way is about recognizing the equality of all men before God and acting accordingly. In this way, we check power from abuse. It is all about consolations. It is about creating a new world where the road of each one leads to the heart of another. It is a communication free world free from rancour and malice. It is a world where crippling structures are dismantled, boots of the mighty cast into fire and caged souls allowed to fly in the highest altitude.
Unjust structures are crippling. But hope lies in the determination to rise despite all odds. Belief in the world entails a proleptic celebration, the singing of a caged bird using the language of Maya Angelou. Today, we look at one of her poems "I'll still rise." In this poem, she offers hope in a hopeless situation. She refuses to accept defeat and failure. She encourages us not to believe in circumstances. For Maya, we should not allow circumstances to define us. Ngwanu! Let us rise. Born in 1928, this Afro-American suffered many odds in life but kept her head straight believing that no circumstance could deter her from achieving her goals. Maya Angelou came from a broken home, suffered rape as a child, gave birth outside wedlock at the age of 17 and divorced three good times, yet she was not broken. Alongside Martin Luther King Jnr, she fought for the right of the Blacks in the United States of America. A singer, a poet, a writer and a human right activist, Maya offered hope to all and sundry especially those who are unjustly caged. According to Maya, without the virtue of courage, we cannot achieve anything in this life. She was so controversial that some of her works were banned in the US schools and libraries. Of all her poems, I so much cherish two namely, I know why the caged bird sings, and still I rise.
Still I rise, a poem of nine stanzas with the second and last lines rhyming,- lies and rise, gloom and room, tides and rise, eyes and cries, hard and yard, eyes and rise, rise and thighs, - is a mixture of pain and triumph. The last two stanzas assume the AAIBBI structure with the leitmotif of Rise. It is structured into a monologue where the I addresses the You. The I is a corporate pronoun and shows the solidarity of the poet with all who have been marginalized and oppressed. It is not just the personal suffering of Maya but the harshness and bruises experienced by the Black Race in the hand of the racist White represented as You. It speaks of the condemnation of the Black Race in the United States of America and the bewilderment of the White Race that the supposed broken still sing with joy. The I therefore questions the You for being surprised that the gloomy is rising and singing, jubilating in chains. The simple answer is resilience - rising like the dust and the air. An interesting observation in this poem, the marginalization here is an intellectual marginalization. Hence the first stanza gives us a preview of the whole message.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
It is the marginalization of the Black Race by the White intellectuals, writing their stories for them and painting them black with lies. Ideological weapon is the deadliest of all weapons. Maya realizes that narrative has played a major role in the oppression of the Blacks. For her therefore, narratives could also be an instrument of liberation. It is time for us to tell our stories. If we do not tell our stories, strangers and enemies will do that for us. Who told them that we need their help? Who told them that we need their administrative supply? Who told them that we have not reached the age of consciousness to handle our things? What interest have USA and UK in Nigerian politics? Bright Chimezie sang that We don't need to call oyibo before we solve our problems in Africa. America dey me too far. Europe e far. Then ask Chimamanda and she will tell you that to every question there are two answers; the right answer and the one one writes so as to pass his exam. She is not joking. After all Mungo Park founded River Niger even though before his arrival people had been fishing along the river bank. This is the power of narrative. We must rewrite our history. We must rise like the dust.
The You here representing the oppressive White could also extend to our present day dictatorial governments in many parts of Africa. In this information age, facts seem to be playing little role because persuasion and manipulation seem to be the most effective tools. We are marginalized. We are crushed. We are bastardised and yet fed with ideological narratives. The aim is to conquer our psyche for that is the true conquest. In every power play there is an intrinsic logic. The flaw of this logic leads to the emergence of the corruption of power. When people question that logic, they become rebels. They are tagged with all sorts of negative names. They are painted black with bitter twisted lies and trodden in the dirt. The aim of all these is to break them and silence them forever. The aim of all these is to extinguish any voice that will question power. The aim is to tag revolutionary any voice that speaks the truth. But the irony remains that those who want to say the truth say it anytime anywhere even when it entails defending it with their blood. To such people the message of this second Sunday of Advent is addressed. Be consoled. Be comforted. It will not last. Keep your heads straight. Always rise like the dust. Never submit to oppression. Never yield to injustice. Always speak to power about justice. Do not sleep and snore under the heavy boots of the mighty. Inside the mud, keep crying foul. In this way, you will always be resilient. Even if you are to die, gather the remaining strength you have and point for the younger generation the advent of a new heaven and a new earth, the end of systemic oppression and the arrival of a just society. Keep pointing to this world and never allow your blood to be a waste. Make it a foundation for the new world. Rise. Maya said that you should rise. She too rose and fought for a new world. Why can't you? Why are you comfortable that the unjust feed you with crumbs from the very bread that rightfully belongs to you? Why are you afraid of speaking out? Is it because you are enthroned by the oppressor? What do you gain having a cemetery as a palace? Do you want to be the leader of a stagnant group? A rider of a lame horse? Why do you enjoy the company of those who have nowhere to go? Get up and rise. Biko, rise. Rise like the dust. Rise like the air.
Side Comment: Do you crush me because I say no to your oppressive regime? Are you afraid of my outspokenness? You therefore decide to crush me like a smouldering fire? It won't help you. Christ our redeemer is coming. Whatever measure you apply, "like dust, I'll rise.”
-REV. FR STANLEY EKWUGHA, ISCH