“The Land of Bitter Tears”
As a person of faith, I’ve been struggling with the problem of human suffering on the global scale, affecting all people indiscriminately. One of the reasons for this self-obsession is because I was born in suffering, and in growing up in a poor family, I have experienced suffering in a deeper level. Another reason is because I was born in a country wherein the majority of its citizens, on a daily basis, experience an immeasurable dose of suffering; it appears that they’re unable to overcome it. Also, I have also witnessed close friends, family members, strangers, and relatives who have suffered greatly and profoundly. A central topic that I have been trying to make sense of and which has occupied my mind and shaped both my intellectual and spiritual life since my seminary days is this: the issue of “Black theodicy.” I have observed the predicament of “theodicy in black” in my country of birth, in Black America, in continental Africa, and elsewhere in the global South. I articulate my own struggle and vulnerability about human suffering, especially black suffering in rapport to the goodness and presence of the Christian God in the world, in various forms of literary productions. For example, I wrote two difficult chapters about it in my new book: “Theologizing in Black: on Africana Theological Ethics and Anthropology.” Perhaps, my most difficult and painful articulation of the issue of human suffering, black theodicy in particular, appeared in the form of a poem I wrote ten years ago—only two days after the January 2010 earthquake that annihilated 300,000 lives in Haiti and caused immeasurable damages and financial deficit. I wrote this poem, “Haiti: The Land of Bitter Tears,” very late at night. I couldn’t sleep. I was severely disturbed and tormented. I was afraid. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I lost words. Language has failed me on that night. I was angry at everyone; at God; at myself; at the Haitian politicians; at the United States; at Canada; at France; at Germany; at oppressive systems and structures (i.e. capitalism, income inequality, economic injustice); and at the International Community….
As we continue to remember those who have lost their lives at the hands of brutal American Police officers and to strive for justice and equality and peace, I am also asking myself this basic query about the significance of God and the meaning of his presence and absence in the midst of incessant black death and the history of racial tragedy in the United States. Hence, I turned to the poem I wrote ten years ago. In various ways, it seems to me that America is/has become “The Land of Bitter Tears” for Black and African American people, as well as for the brown population, the poor, the marginalized groups, and the economically-disadvantaged populations.
“Haiti: The Land of Bitter Tears”
(written on January 14, 2010)
Oh, the most merciful and gracious God, why Haiti again?
Have we not had enough?
Is this what you call love?
This justice is bitter.
We, who are left behind and alienated, how shall we look up?
God of our bitter tears,
where’s grace when it’s most needed?
Where’s hope for our wretched souls?
Where’s love when hate abounds?
Kindness has left us.
Joy is no more.
Peace has renounced us.
God of our endless wounds,
has the land of freedom in black become a graveyard, and a jungle-folk?
Mourning their tragic loss,
A hundred drop of tears,
In Children’s face, they come and shed.
God of our weary years,
long ago Négrier betrayed us;
300 years of bitter herbs…
of poignant and despairing spirituals, we shall sing no more.
Trampled under the strength of the mighty ones…
200 years of failed justice and false hopes,
of foreign uses and abuses of Ayiti Cherie,
What will happen next…?
in peaceful solitude of death, we will be remembered.
God of our silent nights,
have not our weary feet stumbled?
Who will write our story?
Who will write you songs of praise?
Sing joy in the realm of the loss?
How about morning melody?
Have we all been together erased and excommunicated?
God of our heavy sorrows,
if we must die, let it not be like orphans or dogs,
Nor those without hope
May we forever forget?
May we evermore trod?
It’s a long road to Guinea, of eternal dark days ahead
No sun will shine for us, in our dark land.
We know all the roads of the world,
since we were sold in slavery, long ago.
God of our darkened days,
will the moon guide our sleepy paths?
Will we sing the spirituals of the age-old Nile in the new land?
Silence, separation, tears, lynching, all we know and experienced.
We are fragmented and split between;
we knew hope, but experienced bitter tears;
shall we hope again?
We also knew how to count;
shall we count again?
Will another song spring forth from our voice to the sky?
God of our forgotten trials,
on your unqualified loving-kindness,
unconditional mercy and unreserved love,
We shall stand and fall…
Upon the Lord above, in hope our soul shall rest,
Standing tall at thy summit…
Lest we forget Thee…
Lead us into thy Light…
Toward freedom we shall march…
Oh, God of our weary years,
in the land of our bitter tears.