Day 4

When I study America’s dark history I can’t help but see parallels on every page between the faithfulness and bravery of Black women and the women of the Hebrew scriptures.  The steadfastness of both groups of women have been a line to cling to in my own dark days, and I mourn the patriarchy and triumphalism of modern history-telling and Biblical scholarship in white spaces that allowed me to not know the true stories of these women beyond a passing mention of their names until I was an adult.

So as an adult, I hold in one hand the story of Rahab and in the other, the narrative of Harriet Tubman.  

In Joshua 2 we see Rahab in a place of fear, bravely speaking truth to Joshua’s spies. Spies she has hidden, subverting the government that ruled over her, because not all laws are just and meant to be followed by those who fear God. 

How can I not see the uncompromising Harriet Tubman in these words?  An intrepid woman who risked everything, caring more about the freedom and well-being of others than her own safety, to subvert the unjust law of the government sitting over her. 

We see in both Rahab and Harriet a spirit that speaks to the power of God in a broken world.  That spirit is what allowed them both to exist, and even thrive, in dark spaces. Rahab had to trust in the words of the spies that when Jericho fell, she and her family would be spared.  Harriet had to constantly put her life in the hands of conductors on the Underground Railroad, hoping against hope that she and her family would live to see freedom. 

Listen to the words of Harriet, even as she is in the darkest of spaces, proclaim purpose over her life.  

“I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.” 

And Rahab as she pleads for lives to be spared, 

“Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them – and that you will save us from death.”

These were women living under the bondage of a system that was not for them.  Women who subverted that system for the good of themselves and their families, counting the cost, and deciding it was worth it.  As we sit in dark spaces, draw from them and their stories. Not a false sense of “everything will be fine in the end and the light will shine again” or “just keep your head up and stay positive”, but a reality that even in darkness, evil can be fought and goodness found.  And regardless of potential outcome, it’s worth the fight. 

For further inspiration to keep a steady path through the evil of this world, look to the faith of the enslaved in our nation’s history. If they could still have hope and beauty in the darkest of spaces, we need to sit at their feet and absorb their wisdom, In the worst of potential places one could end up, they sang to one another about a path forward. These are words of practicality, of inspiration, of hope, and of resistance:

Follow the Drinking Gourd

When the sun comes back, and the first quail calls
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
For the old man is waiting just to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
For the old man is waiting to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
Well the river bank makes a mighty good road
Dead trees will show you the way
Left foot, peg foot, travelin’ on
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
For the old man is waiting to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
Well the river ends, between two hills
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
There’s another river on the other side
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
For the old man is waiting to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinkin’ gourd

Elizabeth Behrens grew up in Iowa, but has lived in Kansas City with her husband and four children for the last 11 years. She has a job she loves as Educator and Online Community Manager for Be the Bridge–a non-profit organization and a community of people who share a common goal of creating healthy dialogue about race and racialization in the U.S. Her work with Be the Bridge allows her to teach online classes, lead trainings, and interact with a group of over 24,000 fellow racial bridge builders in the organization’s Facebook group. She also volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in foster care. When she isn’t busy with work and volunteering, she can be found being rejuvenated by reading, gardening, or if she’s lucky, traveling.