Two weeks ago, I stepped into the auditorium space at Stony Point Center in New York for the first time, exhausted from travel and lugging heavy bags all the way from Michigan. I had finally arrived at YAV orientation, joining the other forty-some young adults who would embark on this journey alongside me. I’m going to be honest, drained as I was, I don’t remember much about that first night. I know we worshiped, and I know I felt a deep sense of uncertainty about the week ahead, the people around me, and my future. I’m sure I prayed for clarity, courage, and purpose for all those things. Ironically, as the week unfolded it became clear to me that the great take-away would be the opposite of a perfect, one-line answer to all my questions and yearnings.
The week of (dis)orientation began with a full day-and-a-half training on anti-racism with Crossroads in which we confronted our implicit biases, pondered our racial identities, opened ourselves to feeling the visceral pain of injustice, and learned how we all might join in the global struggle for liberation. Along with constant reminders to “Take a deep breath in…Let it out,” Jessica Vazquez Torres kept us grounded in the training through the concept of a courageous space. Building on the idea of a ‘safe space,’ a courageous space pushes participants further to trust one another and be comfortable being uncomfortable. The courageous space tenet ‘embrace ambiguity’ captures this spirit and represents what I am working on internally this year. I’ve always had a hard time with ambiguity. I want answers and a clear path forward, not a plethora of choices and possibilities. Needless to say, post-grad life is stressful for me. Like life, the work of anti-racism does not come with any hard-and-fast answers about how to fix our broken world or even how to fix the brokenness of racism within ourselves. I often find myself taking it all in and losing hope that we could ever find a clear path to reach the peace so many dream of. But then, in the midst of heavy conversation about systemic racism, Jessica asserted: “If I have all the answers, I don’t need to pray. If I have all the answers, I don’t need God.” I lost track of the training for a moment, my mind and heart stuck on those words, connecting them with one of my favorite Madeleine L’Engle quotes from A Ring of Endless Light, in which the pastor grandfather reassures his granddaughter that, “God can handle your anger.” God can handle our anger, questions, frustration, joy, hope, uncertainty, brokenness. Ambiguity is a part of these difficult conversations and self-reflections, and so is God. Lightbulb! Life felt illuminated, my uncertainty suddenly just a part of the journey of faith rather than something to be afraid of. I took a deep breath in…and let it out.
Over the rest of my time at Stony Point and the first week here in D.C., I’ve had many opportunities to practice my new mindset. I’m constantly asking (and allowing) myself to sit with emotions, questions, and frustrations rather than jumping into thinking mode to figure out a definitive answer. Ambiguity shows up in small things like letting go of absolute control over scheduling and knowing that answers will come when they come. It also appears in questioning how I fit into my new community on H Street, where the majority African American community is actively being displaced by luxury high rises and high-end grocery stores. I still have a lot of work to do to solidify my identity and sense of self in terms of spirituality and my whiteness – areas which I hope will be enriched by my work at Northminster Presbyterian Church and the allyship organization Service Never Sleeps.
I’ve found it surprisingly comfortable to settle into the ambiguity inherent to the issues I’ll be working with this year and the lifestyle I’ll be living. To me, that’s an indicator of the fact that this is the way life is – trying to force an understanding or an answer will not solve the emotional turmoil that comes along with the struggle for truth and justice. As my YAV year commences and I open myself to all the opportunities and challenges this time brings, I’m remembering to embrace ambiguity, and in doing so embrace God.
Take a deep breath in. Let it out.
Okay, let’s begin.