By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? - Psalm 137:1-4 (NRSV)
Many of us are distraught about singing these days, wondering when and how we will be able to sing God’s song together again in this strange pandemic.
More to the psalmist’s point for those of us who are white: When will we stop asking our siblings who experience marginalization and exile to sing our songs our way? When will we stop demanding tunes of acquiescence in the face of injustice? When will we recognize that we white folks are the Babylonian captors of this psalm?
Chances are this psalm has nothing to do with singing. It is a lament: about how difficult it is to flourish when hearts have been broken, how hard it is to hope when spirits have been crushed, and how exhausting it is for those treated as exiles to hold on to the holiness of who they are when they have to struggle every day to prove that their lives matter.
Perhaps white folks’ experience of this brief pandemic “exile” from worshiping and singing together, our separation from loved ones and so much that we love, will open our hearts more fully to the pain of our oppressed neighbors.
Who’s to say what music our hearts will make when the “someday” of justice is now?
Forgive us for failing to honor our neighbors’ songs. Teach us to sing (and live) the music of justice and equality.
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.