Today, Takoradi is a peaceful, but busy coastal city in West Africa in the country of Ghana where we lived for two years. On our way to visit the coast from up country where our home was in the rain forest, we saw cacao beans drying on mats in the sun and large rubber tree farms. The coast was beautiful except for one thing. It was the slaving castle at Cape Coast. It started out as the Swedish Africa Company in 1653 to trade timber and gold. But in the 18th century, the British fortified it into a slave castle which still stands today. And so, from the famed Gold Coast came the dark, heinous history of slave trade to the Americas. We toured the slave castle and it was eerie and heart breaking. There was an underground dungeon which was a space of terror, death, and darkness. This slave castle stood in juxtaposition to the vast wealth of the white British colonists who lived the high life literally on the backs of people whose country they had invaded and ruled. This experience of being in the slave castle was one of the most powerful and formative of all my days.
Later in the week of our visit to the Ghanaian coast, we decided to go for a swim at the beach a few miles away. It was an ill-fated decision. With no life guards and no warning signs, we took out for the waves. It looked harmless enough as we watched people work with their fish nets and walk with their baskets of food and buckets of water.
But, beneath the waves was a serious undertow that we were unaware of as we went into the ocean. We swam out only to find ourselves in a world of trouble. Thanks to the quick thinking and strength of my mate, we escaped drowning and lived to tell the tale. Over these many years I have thought about that day with gratitude for our lives being spared but also with a haunting memory of history. How many people were held on that coast and brutalized before being sent to a life of cruel work and loss of freedom? Tragically, it was millions. Today, the Ghanaian people continue to be a proud and accomplished people. Their history is remembered but their resilience is astounding and so very admirable. They are a people I deeply love.
The things I have had to endure in life pale in comparison to the lives of so many. I know I have had a life full of ease and privilege. I have never been someone’s property or faced horrific hardship. It almost feels like sacrilege to even bring up my living in relationship to all who suffer so mightily in our own country and in most of the 3rd world. In some ways, my life offers only shades of contrast not true understanding. Even so, I know that whatever life story or history we have, we all need a certain amount of resilience in the waves of life. I look back at history and feel inspired by the lives of so many who have given their all with such audacious and heroic leadership. We humans are created with an innate desire for freedom with an ability to overcome.
Resiliency is a gift of the Spirit given to us. I feel an assuring kind of hope that God is with us in and through all times. Love wins. It may not be victory in the short term, but eventually, love wins. "We Shall Overcome" is an anthem of strength, determination, and resilience not to be sung lightly. So many are still fighting the good fight with courage and perseverance. Yet, the waves still roll. Some waves are small and some are enormous.
What gives me the strength to dare to go back into the waves? What can I draw from to really believe that I can confidently cast my worries toward a loving God who will comfort and sustain me? The truth is that no matter where we find ourselves in life; no matter how much money or comfort we have--everyone has their dark nights of the soul at one time or another. None of us escapes pain and challenges in life altogether. Just think of King David who frequently called out to God in distress pleading for relief and forgiveness and strength. He had all the wealth anyone could imagine, but he was still human and in desperate need of God's sustaining and loving Presence. David begged God not to leave him or forsake him. And....God never did. Even so, David and we, have to deal with the consequences of life. Sometimes despair can be circumstantial and sometimes of our own making. No matter the situation we are facing in our lives or in the world, God is able. God is reliable and God promises to never leave or forsake us. I believe with all my heart that God's tears are mingled with our tears. I also believe that light comes in the morning and God's love helps us as life deals us a hand.
What will I let define me? How will I respond to waves that crash against me or try pull me under? I trust again and again that I am not alone and somehow, some way, God will provide a way forward against all odds. I do believe that in my weakness, God is strong. I trust completely that love is the greatest force in the universe. Some might warn me against it, but guess what? I WILL go back into the ocean because we are meant to embrace life and live it to the fullest. Mind you.... I will probably at least check out the risks a little more carefully at age 66 than what I did at 24. But I hope to be swimming in the ocean or at least my lake until the end whenever that comes.
Prayer: God of the wind and the waves, have mercy on us as a human race. And, have mercy on me. Grant me a resilient heart and a willing spirit to allow love to inform and shape my response to all people and all the challenges of life. Amen.