Breaking our cages [repaired format]

UnknownMany years ago, when I was a young teen, I encountered Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book is a harrowing account of growing up in poverty and incest, but it ends with a tender scene of the young Maya cradling her new-born child next to her, in the bed. The ending breathes hope: that even out of devastation can come new life.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to see my friend Betty, with whom I earned my doctorate at UCLA.  Betty is a Cherokee who works on Native American and American literature. She was in town for a conference presenting a new book on a major American writer; Betty had written a chapter demonstrating his indebtedness to Native American oral tradition. One of the other writers objected fiercely, not to the content of Betty’s chapter, but to the fact that it was being included in the book at all. It was too much, this woman felt, to allow Native Americans to be part of the mainstream conversation; they had no place there. Betty, who was telling me this story, looked at me in anger: “After five hundred years they are still telling us we do not belong?!”

Maya Angelou and Betty represent a host of saints who have faced down discrimination and poverty and oppression and have made lives of enduring grace. They show us the strength that comes, “not by might, nor by power, but by [the] spirit” of God. (Zech 4:6) They embody the marvelous alchemy by which anger is transmuted into courageous witness, lending fire with which to make a better world. They also show us the real human cost of that work. They teach us to yearn to be better than we are, higher and more gracious and less likely to turn away.

Today, Maya Angelou went to meet her God. Let us listen, one more time, to her words:

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

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This entry was posted in The Rev. Dr. Deborah Meister and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Breaking our cages [repaired format]

  1. Jo says:

    And now that freedom is complete. Thank God for all that she was,is, and taught us.

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