Lenten Devotional: March 2

Break Every Yoke

By Alys Willman

The great Saint Reverend Beth Long likes to say “Scripture is dangerous, if you read all of it.” These days, I am reading Isaiah 58.  All of it. I read those lines of what promises God has in store for me and my soul leaps:  your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall be like noonday…. The Lord will guide you, satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong.”  

Yes, Lord!  I want that!

But I am also reading the first bit, what it takes to get to these promises:

If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

Isaiah 58:9-10

I have been thinking a lot about that yoke, and feeling some tightness in my neck and shoulders.

Growing up I heard the stories of Scripture:  Don’t take something that isn’t yours. Love your neighbor as yourself. 

At the same time, I was ingesting another story that explained why a lot of things belonged to me. That story went something like this: “Your great grandparents came to this country with a cedar trunk and a dream. They worked their tails off to send your grandfather to school, whereupon he got drafted into the war, and as a reward for his fine service, he got to go to graduate school and buy a house on the GI Bill, which is why we can afford for you to go to college, and you’ll do the same for your children.”

Nothing in this story is false. 

But I have learned, later than I would have liked, that there are other characters in the story, and now I am questioning how much God might say is really mine, if I were to truly ask God’s honest opinion (which admittedly I have not, yet). 

One of the many other characters in this bigger story is Hattie Thomas Whitehead. In her book, Giving Voice to Linnentown, she describes in poignant detail how her grandparents and parents worked hard, bought property, and sent her to school, only to have their family home burned to the ground to make room for student dormitories, receiving about 48 cents to the dollar what the white folks in similar houses got in compensation. She documents exactly what was taken away with Urban Renewal – not just the bricks and mortar, but the space people could call home, the yards where kids would wait til dusk for a chance at grabbing some of Mrs. Sussie’s pears right off the tree, the dinner tables serving whoever happened to be around when the food was ready, and the security of knowing there would be something to pass on to the children. 

I have been thinking about the story I was told, and the bigger, more complex story I now know. The old story has come to feel like a yoke around my neck. Today, Isaiah’s words as asking me, am I ready to fast from this story? Am I ready to take this yoke from my own neck?   

(I’ll admit, that bit about pointing the finger is tough.  I’m looking at you, UGA, but we’ll deal with you later).  

I have a choice now. I can stick with the old story and ignore Hattie’s.  Or, I can be part of crafting a new story with all the characters, plot twists, and complexity I now understand to be part of it.  I can choose to see my liberation as bound up in Hattie’s and everyone else’s. Heck, I could choose to see my liberation as bound up with UGA’s liberation. 

I am coming to believe that if I do that, the promise of the Scripture will be revealed. I don’t know what is ahead. All I know is that I don’t want to carry that yoke anymore.