R-E-S-P-E-C-T

(Part 4- Respecting Voices from the Past)

     Today’s post is part 4 of thoughts concerning respect that were prompted after listening to televised reports about the death of Aretha Franklin, “The Queen of Soul.” As I heard one of Ms. Franklin’s signature tunes, “Respect” played, my thoughts returned to other recent headlined stories and the matter of respect.

     Lately, my thoughts have turned often to ‘respect.’ A topic formed: ‘respecting voices from the past.’ The only problem was I’ve been connecting posts to recent headlines, and the theme didn’t seem to fit.

     That is, until the announcement of Senator John McCain’s passing. Since the ‘breaking news’ announcement, I’ve heard multiple people speak with deep respect about the war hero, U. S. Senator and presidential candidate.

     Senator McCain spent many of his final years in Washington, D.C., one of my favorite cities. I’ve been privileged to visit several times and look forward to going again in a few weeks. In the D.C. neighborhood we’ll visit, powerful people like Senator McCain decide issues impacting a nation—even the world.

     In another neighborhood, only a short distance from this center of power, a marginalized population struggles to make decisions determining day to day survival.

     The respected voice from my past came from this second D.C. neighborhood. Memories echo more than 15 years later.

     The women’s ministry group I led partnered with a small group of women living in the inner city of Washington. They called themselves our “D. C. Sisters.” During one of my trips, I was asked to speak to their Monday evening gathering about prayer. The assignment was intimidating. I suspected I could learn more about prayer from my D.C. Sisters than I’d be able to teach.

     Unable to sleep, I began preparing during the early morning hours. While most of the city slept, I prayed: Lord, you know the stories and the hearts of these women. Please help me say something worthwhile.

     After seeking divine assistance, I decided to talk about the blessing I’d found in personalizing and praying Scripture. Thumbing through Psalms to find an appropriate passage, I paused at Psalm 121.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills—

Nah, that doesn’t apply to these women, I mused. There are no hills in their neighborhood. I kept thumbing but kept returning to Psalm 121.

     I’d already met several of the women present at the weekly Monday evening Bible study. My dear friends, Brenda and Mildred, had begun their hilarious bantering. Someone once told me highly honed humor is common in the inner-city. Levity softens tough, often brutal life circumstances. Brenda and Mildred died before they were 60 years old. If Heaven holds a comedy event, I’m sure these two are favorites.

     One lady I hadn’t met sat alone. I extended my hand, but she didn’t respond, and I realized after looking more closely, she probably hadn’t seen me.

     “Hi, I’m Sue, and I haven’t met you before.”

     “Oh, hello, Sue. I’m Sister Evangelina (a pseudonym).” Her voice was gentle, soft, mellow. Her flawless complexion was the color of a heavily-creamed latte’. Numerous silver plaits, gathered together at the nape of her neck, cascaded halfway down her back.

     In our introductory conversation, I learned Evangelina loved Jesus, was legally blind and was raising three grandchildren—not uncommon in the inner city where families are often ripped apart because of drugs, violence and absent fathers.

     The women were gracious, receptive and interactive during my talk. Toward the end, Sister Evangelina told me she could tell I was sincere, commenting that too many speakers want to tell people what to do rather than caring about who they are. Since authenticity is one of my core values, her compliment was a treasure.

     Then Evangelina said she was a ‘psalter,’ and Psalms 121 was one she sang. “Would you like me to sing it?” she asked. “Of course!” I responded.

     The pure soprano voice filled the small meeting room. Nods of assent affirmed the lyrical words of King James resonated.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

     Eyes turned skyward. Shoulders swayed.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

     

By the time Sister Evangelina concluded, tears trickled down my cheeks. This precious woman had sung more than mere words.

The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Nothing more, I believe, needs to be said!!

I hope today’s post will kindle memories of voices worthy of R-E-S-P-E-C-T from your past…

Sue Reeve

 

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