The Easter season always reminds me of frilly dresses and ruffled socks and memorized speeches recited on Easter morning. From Ash Wednesday somberly beckoning me to remember from whence we came, clear through to Resurrection Sunday’s triumphant declaration of victory over death, Easter brings with it a unique combination of holy contemplation and bittersweet joy.
As winter turns to spring, we can almost see the church season preceding Easter as our surroundings stretch and yawn, sprout and grow. Cold, leafless park trails give way to reveal daffodils peeking out of their bulbs and ushering in the return of color and light and life.
This time last year, I began to timidly tiptoe over the threshold of my own personal renaissance. The early days of the pandemic had awakened my muse, allowing my writing voice to emerge from its reluctant bud, which had bee nestled securely in the tender soil of my heart. The same spring, I began volunteering with a couple of local nonprofits, even helping to start one.
Spring had sprung.
But amid so much newness, my introverted, routine-loving self dreaded that allowing my voice to grow and thrive felt like losing sight of my roots in a way that would utterly unmoor me.
Thus, I began looking to the Black church – which was one of the first places outside my family that I felt seen and heard and accepted – to ground me. To remind me of who I was and still am. To reach backward in time for that childlike faith and old-time religion that had formed me, I turned to music and began to assemble a YouTube playlist of Black church songs.
For the most part, I was able to easily recall the songs that moved me as a young churchgoer. From Mahalia Jackson to Aretha Franklin to Kirk Franklin, my playlist came together quickly, a nostalgic mixture of tear-jerking contemplative tunes and bops that conjured vivid mental images of our youth group executing choreographed moves in the choir stand.
And then I got stuck on one song in particular.
In my mind, I could hear its lyrics about leaning on Jesus, but no combination of the words I typed into the search field yielded the song my memory held.
Y’all. There are a *lot* of songs about leaning on Jesus.
But, as usual, my Mama came in clutch.
Shortly after I texted her my conundrum, Mama sent me a YouTube link to the exact song I was looking for. I clicked the link and immediately recognized the familiar tune as Karen Clark Sheard began belting out, “How did you feel when you come out of the wilderness?”
Sheard’s anointed vocal runs rounded out my little collection of religious remembrance and transported me back to a time when faith was simple and pure and untinged by doubt and fear. Gospel music helped my feet to find their way back to solid ground.
When I added that last track to my playlist, I didn’t know just how much I’d be needing Sheard’s beckoning to lean on Jesus in the months to come.
For reasons relating to the trauma that often goes hand in hand with being Black in America, my family decided last year to leave the church we had attended for twenty years. Upon exiting, I felt simultaneously devastated and relieved: devastated because I immediately lost the relationships we had built over the entirety of my adult life; relieved because I didn’t have to wonder any more about what my church’s priorities were or when they would acknowledge and affirm my Blackness as part of my God-given identity.
No longer were there any barriers between me and the Jesus and liturgy I love.
Initially, this time in my spiritual life made me ponder what the Israelites must have felt like at the beginning of their wilderness wandering. They had trusted God and followed their leader through the sea on dry ground, not knowing what was on the other side but trusting that they’d get to the place God had prepared for them.
Surely, I reckoned, they must have felt uncertain and confused.
I could certainly relate.
But as time wore on and I found that I felt more peace and not less, I couldn’t help but speculate that perhaps my experience in this and other predominantly white churches had been the wilderness. And maybe by leaving those spaces behind, I had found my way into the promised land.
The spiritual space in which I now reside is full of a deep, resonant peace. Here, gathered around our coffee table with my family and seated on cushy couches laden with minky blankets, I am healing, growing, learning.
I practice the liturgy.
I break bread and drink wine.
I don’t worry that those worshipping with me may not see the value in my life or that they may fail to affirm the wholeness of my personhood – including my race.
I am no longer wandering in the wilderness of the white church, wondering when I will arrive at some nebulous concept of a promised land.
I have arrived.
I am safe.
I am free.
The new life that arrives with spring is keeping my mind focused and my mind clear.
I am out of the wilderness and fully leaning on Jesus.
Spring has sprung.