Lord /lôrd/ (n.): someone or something having power, authority, or influence; a master or ruler.
“lord of the sea”
synonyms: magnate, tycoon, mogul, captain, baron, king…
Call it an aversion to authority, but I always shudder when I hear someone refer to a deity, no matter the pantheon, as “Lord.”
The year was 1986; I walked hand in hand with my precious mother to uptown Oxford, Pennsylvania on the way to the library.
The town of Oxford was no place for a wild dreamer like me to conjure the magic of a full life. It rests just a few miles from the start of the Mason-Dixon Line. Oxford seemed to always be caught in a purgatory between freedom of thought and the amputation to progress. Its secrets were in the underground KKK meetings and sterile church services. Twenty five hundred people, most of which were God-fearing, boxed-in racists, comprised this decayed town that smelled of dead dreams and cow shit.
As mama and I walked past the shoe maker’s store, we encountered a woman that lived in the row of homes on Market Street named Mary Morales. Mary was a shunned woman of the town, which meant she was a good friend to mama. Mary had long graying hair, never wore makeup and had faded, home-made tattoos on her arms. Her behavior was often erratic in that upon greeting mama, she often broke down into tears. Today was no different.
“Praise the Lord!” My mother greeted her with an exciting cadence and broad smile.
“Praise the Lord!” Mary replied. She asked mom how she was feeling and before she had a chance to answer, Mary wept.
“I’m so lucky to be a slave to Christ. He is my Lord and master. I can never go back with him in my corner. I can never be without him.”
As the two women chatted about the pitfalls of life, I will never forget the look of desperation in Mary’s eyes as she poured out her heart to my mother whom she believed was a messenger sent directly from God, as she later pointed out in their conversation. As we stood there for what seemed to be an eternity, I became scared of the way that Mary talked about death and the devil. I pulled on mama’s skirt and was ignored.
“Can we pray, Ida?” Mary implored.
“Of course we can.”
In the street, two desperate women stood in the heat of the midday sun supplicating to their master to grant them the gift of their ships coming in to rescue them from the curses of their lives. “One day my ship will come in.” Mama always said this to me as she stared at the mailbox waiting on my father’s child support check. My mother had many Lords and Masters.
But who was this Lord-God? I often wondered to myself. Whenever I thought of God, I would never actually see a human being in my heart’s eye or my mind’s eye. God never looked like the men on the stained glass windows of churches or suffering on the cross – weak, bloody, and lamenting. Instead, I would see a bright light filled with colors beyond human comprehension.
This idea of a slave master being all-loving and giving, even for me as a young child seemed…preposterous. How could we ever come to know of divine love from such a breeding ground for victimhood and self-hatred?
When we would read our bibles at home, I would scribble over the words. My doodles were of odd shapes; shapes I believed were the face of God. In the margins I would write “I ❤ God.” Did I know who or what God was? No. I still don’t. All I know is what God feels like.
Every time I seek the face of the concept that the two women bound themselves to, who now live in the realm of death, I feel a little sick. Slavery is not love, and I wish now, as a woman who believes in the power of God, that both Mary and my mother had at least one day of freedom from the shame of their sins and secrets.
To call God “Lord” is a limiting disservice to the expansive emanation of love and divinity that extends beyond the boundaries of socio-economic status, gender roles, judgments and a hierarchy that pre-dates the black plague. A participatory relationship with a higher power means that there is a relationship that requires a foundation to be built upon: a relationship where both parties work together to expand the heart and soul of humanity. If God shall be called Lord, then I surely feel deserving – being a chip off the old block – of being called High Priestess, Lady, or just plain worthy of love. I will not allow the love in my heart, given to me by a force beyond all forces, the holiest of holies, to be diminished because I am lamenting the fact that I am a slave. I was not born with shackles on my body nor in my mind and the spirit that calls me to live and breathe, desires me to meet it with open eyes, free from the blinders of entrapment.
When humanity sets out with a deficit, owing a repayment of a guilt offering that was never asked to be paid, trouble abounds.
Shame, guilt, fear, hate, ignorance, violence and war have been started on less than a guilt offering. There have been many that have been killed and have made a killing in the “name of the Lord.” Empires have been strategically built on the name of a gentile loving, pure hearted man who never had a place to lay his head, who made his promises and kept them with his only repayment being to “Love one another as I have loved you.” That doesn’t sound like a Lord or baron, or tycoon, or slave master. That sounds like a true friend with an exceptional capacity to love.
On that day on the way to the library in 1986, had I possessed the words in my mind and mouth then, I would have said this to yet another fallen Mary, and weakening Ida Jane:
Jesus is not about martyrdom. He did not enslave you before you took your first breath. He is about bringing together all peoples of the world no matter who they are or what they have done. His mission was to simply express love and gratitude for the few moments of life that we have with one another. We are to break bread, not hearts, to empower, not enslave, and to uplift, even when we have to die for equality.
(See Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thich Nhat Hanh for modern day embodiments of Jesus Christ.)
Love, spirit, and service: what better things to live for? What better way to celebrate the joys of life with the one within you?
The darkness of the world is awaiting this illumination to occur within our consciousness. This is the second coming or rapture that I remember my family screaming about whenever a heavy thunderstorm hit or a special report aired on the news. The rapture is the act of limitless love and the enlightenment that is sure to follow. Yes, it feels like you are called in the air by the one you love the most, but it is much more than being called out of a hapless, lost-cause world. It is an active happening in each heart of a person that dares to believe in the possibilities of wholeness in a world that infuses us with broken ideologies, shadow politics, and the manipulation of truth.
God is love; love is as the force of air, propelling all people open to its uniqueness like leaves to gust. There we fly to a higher plane where we once again, are left to our own devices of discovering the mystery of life.