My life on a swinging bridge

by Larretta Rivera-Williams


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Only once have I been on a swinging bridge. Before taking the first step across, my mind focused on what could happen if the bridge were to shake fiercely and pull away from its anchor. What would happen if I were unable to grab hold of a railing and bravely hold on until rescued — like I have seen in a movie?

My life is like a swinging bridge crossing a rushing river. I get up in the morning, not knowing what the day will bring. I step forward in faith trusting that all will be well: balanced, safe and profitable.

But what would life be like if I did not walk by faith, if I had no hope? Perhaps my days would be flooded by cold spells and darkness — two strong mixtures for pushing the soul into confined solitary vaults of anger and mental illness.

This is the way I perceive most of America today. Do people have less faith and hope, or am I just overwhelmed by the crossfire on the news and public streets?

A heaviness reigns over society that seems to applaud the flaws of humanity. The grisly grip of evil lurks in corners of darkness; light is snuffed out by political propaganda, violence, all forms of abuse (physical, mental, emotional, sexual) and an overall disregard for God's creation, both human and environmental.

I am weary of talking about racism, white fragility, homophobia and xenophobia, but every time I think we have turned a corner and a splinter of light manages to shine through clouds of ignorance, something else occurs that weighs heavily on my soul. Something else arises and I realize I cannot keep silent.

Yesterday and today, another riot, a savage beating, a racist slur, a noose hanging, another gun blast, a senseless bombing. … When will it end? Where is God in the midst of it all?

When I read books or articles on black history (February is Black History Month), the descriptions of racist attacks seem to place my life on that swinging bridge, and my mind on that twisted trail of weary disillusionment. By faith, however, I am able to find in the midst of weariness my restless soul.

It is within my restless soul that I find God. It is within my restless soul that I find the grace to wash away the stains of bloody brutality, obnoxious rhetoric, unbelievable situations and unnecessary consequences.

The soul is where my faith finds hope to rise above daily lewd and condescending atrocities. It is with my soul fueled by God's love that I can look into the angry eyes of one who hates me for the color of my skin and still see the face of God.

Two recent encounters subjected me again to the poison of racial malevolence. I am not fearful, but I have not been able to erase the experiences from my mind. Perhaps I am in the mode of awareness reinforcement: preparing myself for the possibility of future inhospitable surroundings.

Have you ever greeted someone with a handshake only to have them grasp your hand and shove you away? Have you ever looked someone in the eyes and said "hello," only to have them snarl and stare at you until you had to look away? Being the only woman and person of color in both scenarios, I felt alone and somewhat stripped of dignity. Another trip over that swinging bridge!

There has to be a better tomorrow on a future horizon. How can we love and not glorify the Lord? How can we love and not love God? How can we love God and not love one another?

The American hymn written by Fanny Crosby in 1868 sounds in my head, "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior" for we need you now more than ever! "Hear our humble cry, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by."

So though life at times puts us on a swinging bridge above a roaring river, yet faith — a steady stream beneath the current — keeps hope channeled and our minds focused. It is within the soul that we find our God, the "rock of ages" in times of despair. It is with the soul that we find our peace and courage to keep our hearts centered on what is good and holy.

It was from his soul that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 3, 1968 was able to profoundly say, as did Moses to the Israelites (Book of Exodus), "I have seen the Promised Land, and we as a people will get to the Promised Land."

No matter how many bridges we have to cross, we will get to the Promised Land. God be with us!

[Mercy Sr. Larretta Rivera-Williams is originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she is coordinator of pastoral care at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church. Since entering the Sisters of Mercy in 1982, she has ministered as an elementary, secondary and divinity school educator. She has written and produced plays as well as directed and choreographed.]