The Bishop Wept

The Bishop Wept September 29, 2013

I’ve been thinking this week about moving forward, about looking to the future.

That seems to be what the prophet Jeremiah was doing in today’s lectionary reading from the Book of Jeremiah.  Thinking about the future–how hard it is to imagine, much less embrace in the middle of the pain of the present–made me think about the country of South Africa.  In that deeply divided country a painful process of embracing the future was lived out through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, one of the leaders of which was Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

As we finish four weeks of a preaching series called, The Cost: What it Takes to Tell the Truth, I was struck by this powerful poem about Archbishop Tutu that speaks to the pain and courage it takes to live with an eye to a hope and reconciliation-filled future.

That cost, bravely paid, is what makes a prophetic voice ring clear and true.

The archbishop chairs the first session

By Ingrid de kok 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission.April 1996. East London, South Africa

On the first day

after a few hours of testimony

the Archbishop wept.

He put his grey head

on the long table

of papers and protocols

and he wept.

The national

and international cameramen

filmed his weeping,

his misted glasses,

his sobbing shoulders,

the call for a recess.

It doesn’t matter what you thought

of the Archbishop before or after,

of the settlement, the commission,

or what the anthropologists flying in

from less studied crimes and sorrows

said about the discourse,

or how many doctorates,

books, and installations followed,

or even if you think this poem

simplifies, lionizes

romanticizes, mystifies.

There was a long table, starched purple vestment

and after a few hours of testimony,

the Archbishop, chair of the commission,

laid down his head, and wept.

That’s how it began.


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