By Kathy Staudt, Companion, Potomac River Chapter


Reflecting on a Transformative Conference

“When we begin to talk about racism, the Holy Spirit turns up.”

I wrote this in my journal during the Companions’ Mid-Atlantic regional conference in October without noting who said it. Perhaps it was Ruby Sales, our keynote speaker, or perhaps our chaplain Emily, in one of her deeply inspiring and challenging homilies. Perhaps it was our song leader Ana, inviting us to sing our prayers.

Whoever said it, I see how true it is six months later, as I reflect on the seeds planted in me by our gathering around the conference theme “Liberating Love through Prayer and Action.”

Ruby Sales’ Challenges to Us

In her inspiring keynote, Civil Rights leader Ruby Sales insisted on the connection between love and liberation. To people of color she said, “You have to love yourself. You can’t let yourself be defined by those who do not love you.”

To the white people she warned against the insidious tendency to define ourselves in contrast to “others.” People of color see us doing that even when we don’t see it ourselves.

Even though we were on Zoom, we felt Ruby’s prayerful, resilient presence through her prophetic and yet loving challenges to us.

Six Months Later, What Sticks With Me

As a white person, I’m often in a hurry, in conversations about racism and injustice, to rush to “So what shall I do to fix this, so I can feel better?”

Instead, Ruby challenged us to deepen our willingness to listen to people’s experience from a place of love that is grounded in God’s love for all of us. God loves us regardless of the barriers we put up and regardless of the forces of the state, technocracy and economic structures that tend to dehumanize and co-opt us.

Since the conference, I have carried Ruby’s insistence on love as the ground of prayer and as the liberating force for us as women of prayer – love for ourselves, for our communities, for one another, and even for enemies and oppressors.

I keep coming back to one story Ruby told. Raised in the Black church, she learned to pray by always beginning in praise. This reminds people that God is ultimately in charge. It teaches resilience and a connection to the Spirit that works for the good of the Beloved Community.

When she got to Episcopal Divinity School, she was struck by the way white people were praying. They seemed often to start by instructing God about what needed to be done or how they needed to change. “It seemed very entitled, to me,” she said, with fierce gentleness.

That was convicting for me, and it has given me a new perspective on intercessory prayer – the core of our vocation as Companions.

The prayer that liberates is rooted in love and praise. It is about God and not about us and our preferences and prejudices. Liberating prayer helps us to grow in trust that in the face of injustice, God has this. We are called to join the work of liberation, grounded in prayer and leading to action.

This is not always a comforting way of prayer because the honest prayer of love leads us to see each other and ourselves fully. Spiritual growth requires us to listen to stories and truths that are hard to hear. And this will move us to action in ways we cannot always predict.

Does Anti-Racism Have to Be Political?

During the conference, someone asked, “Does anti-racism always have to be political?” Panelists Rondesia and Peter Jarrett-Schell really couldn’t see how we can avoid being political because racism is about power, and healing is going to have to come with changes in the power structure.

A Call to Listen

We did not come out of the conference with an answer to “How can we fix it? What should we do now?” Instead, we came out with a more challenging task to face the multifaceted reality courageously and learn. I’ve been engaging in this task by:

  • Expanding my reading around race and whiteness.
  • Joining a Sacred Ground group.
  • Paying more attention to public policy, especially around housing and education.
  • Listening.

The main thing I’m doing is listening:  listening to hard truths about myself, my companions and friends who are people of color, and about the system in which we live.

But I also am trusting more radically in the love that calls us to prayer and action – the kind of prayer that I continue to learn as I pray together with fellow Companions.

It is not comforting but it is liberating – and I am grateful that this conversation has opened up in our shared life as Companions.