Everyday Ignatian is a monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
September 24, 2020 — I wasn’t expecting to grapple with trauma as I set out for a walk around the neighborhood with my two preschoolers. It was a beautiful, sunny day and my load was lighter than usual, as three of my kids had opted to stay home with their dad rather than elongate our caravan. I pushed the double stroller down the street, pausing to unwrap snacks and place them in outstretched hands, and headed to the library to quickly pick up a book I had reserved. We rounded the corner near the home of acquaintances whom we had met a few times, and I saw a black sign with white letters stuck in their grass: Black Lives Matter. Hot tears pooled in my eyes.
The family who lives in the home are white, as are most of our neighbors in this Midwestern town. I, too, am as white as they come, just like my husband and most of our kids. But our oldest son is black; he was born in Uganda and adopted by us at a year old. This summer’s racial climate has worn heavily on my heart. I can only imagine the weight carried by the few Black families who live around us.
When we adopted our first child 10 years ago, we tried to learn more about the Black experience so we could be better equipped to parent in a transracial family. Not long after, the dawn of social media accelerated our learning process at a tragic pace as deaths of unarmed Black Americans were caught on video and awareness skyrocketed. I learned that as a nation we have tried to turn the page on history without making any edits first, and we continue to pay the price.
Had he not been assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. would be 91 today. My grandmother turned 86 this month. It has not been as long as we think — less than a lifetime — since segregation, or even since slavery. A traumatized people will continue to suffer trauma; it is simply not true that time heals all wounds. Unaided, it cannot.
The reality of racial injustice in this country is not new to me, but it never stops being painful. It never stops being terrifying. While white Christians on my Facebook page emphatically claim it’s about thugs resisting arrest, gentle souls like Elijah McClain are murdered by police while calmly explaining, “I’m an introvert. I’m just different, that’s all.” Learning of McClain’s case was what put me over the edge this summer: He was too familiar, too like the son I love, too possible. Part of my heart still feels broken over his last words, and I wonder if I will ever heal.
Where is God when unarmed Black boys and girls are killed? Where is God in this moment of national reckoning? Why don’t the people who worship Jesus listen to those on the margins most like the ones he cared for so attentively? My Christian friends speak of the upcoming election without speaking of repairing racism in this country. Don’t they understand my son’s life is at risk? Don’t they hear the cries of the oppressed? It grieves and pains me and, if I’m honest, leaves a bitterness within that frightens me.
What do I do with that root of bitterness? How do I not give way to despair and hatred? I remember the others.
I remember the Black Christians I know who refuse to be silent, but equally refuse to succumb to hate and vitriol. I remember the white Christians I know who are attending protests, calling legislators and taking public stands. I remember my neighbors with the Black Lives Matter sign in their yard, declaring for all to see that they will do their part to make this a physically and emotionally safe neighborhood for all.
I remember that people are the answer to the question, Where is God? They always have been. Emmanuel, God-with-us, draws near the brokenhearted by putting skin on. Through human vessels of Divine Love. Through you. Through me.
Ignatian spirituality teaches us that we can find God in all things — even when it feels unlikely, even when the weight is too much. When God feels far away, unfeeling and inactive, we can look to our left and to our right and remember: This person right here is how God is showing up, passionately and actively. And there are so many more of us than we realize.
As we headed home from our walk that day, passing the black and white yard sign, I didn’t wipe the tears away. I let them come, let them fall as little prayers of thanksgiving for the offering of love from my neighbors. I let my tears be praise for an answered prayer, one that had asked God to just show up. Because it suddenly became obvious to me that this is how he’d done it: through the people all around me.
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.