• Great Hearts Sorrowing

    Posted on August 26th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Voices of Healing: African American Women of Faith

    Part III: Elizabeth Keckley: Great Hearts Sorrowing

     

    Note: Taken from Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith. For more information on this book, please visit: http://bit.ly/YmaM1

     

    Note: For Part I on Elizabeth Keckley, please visit my blog post at: http://bit.ly/FSNIt. For Part II, please visit: bit.ly/ENWjJ.

     

    Great Hearts Sorrowing: Permission to Grieve

     

    Through a series of sovereign appointments, Elizabeth finds herself in the role of dressmaker for the President’s wife. More than that, she finds herself in the relationship of sacred friend to the President’s wife—Mary Todd Lincoln.

     

    Over time, the emotional, turbulent Mary Lincoln came to love and even need “Lizabeth,” as she called her. The need exploded when Mrs. Lincoln’s son, Willie, became ill. “He was very sick,” Elizabeth reports, “and I was summoned to his bedside. It was sad to see the poor boy suffer. Always of a delicate constitution, he could not resist the strong inroads of disease.”

     

    According to Elizabeth, “He was his mother’s favorite child, and she doted on him. It grieved her heart sorely to see him suffer.”

     

    Willie worsened, lingering a few days, and then died. “God called the beautiful spirit home, and the house of joy was turned into the house of mourning.”

     

    Elizabeth was there when President Lincoln arrived. “I never saw a man so bowed down with grief. He came to the bed, lifted the cover from the face of his child, gazed at it long and earnestly, murmuring, ‘My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!’”

     

    The scene continues.

     

    “Great sobs choked his utterance. He buried his head in his hands, and his tall frame was convulsed with emotion. I stood at the foot of the bed, my eyes full of tears, looking at the man in silent, awe-stricken wonder. His grief unnerved him, and made him a weak, passive child. I did not dream that his rugged nature could be so moved. I shall never forget those solemn moments—genius and greatness weeping over love’s idol lost. There is a grandeur as well as a simplicity about the picture that will never fade.”

     

    Mrs. Lincoln’s grief was inconsolable.

     

    “The pale face of her dead boy threw her into convulsions. Around him love’s tendrils had been twined, and now that he was dressed for the tomb, it was like tearing the tendrils out of the heart by their roots. Willie, she often said, if spared by Providence, would be the hope and stay of her old age. But Providence had not spared him. The light faded from his eyes, and the death-dew had gathered on his brow.”

     

    Mrs. Lincoln was so completely overwhelmed with sorrow that she did not attend her son’s funeral.

     

    Elizabeth could empathize with a grieving mother’s broken heart.

     

    “Previous to this I had lost my son. Leaving Wilberforce, he went to the battle-field with the three months troops, and was killed in Missouri—found his grave on the battlefield where the gallant General Lyon fell. It was a sad blow to me, and the kind womanly letter that Mrs. Lincoln wrote to me when she heard of my bereavement was full of golden words of comfort.”

     

    Clearly, all were given permission to grieve. Speaking of President Lincoln and all the President’s men, Elizabeth describes the funeral scene.

     

    “And there sat the man, with a burden on his brain at which the world marvels—bent now with the load at both heart and brain—staggering under a blow like the taking from him of his child! His men of power sat around him—McClellan, with a moist eye when he bowed to the prayer, as I could see from where I stood; and Chase and Seward, with their austere features at work; and senators, and ambassadors, and soldiers, all struggling with their tears—great hearts sorrowing with the President as a stricken man and a brother.”

     

    The permission to grieve extended over time, as it should. “For two years after Willie’s death the White House was the scene of no fashionable display. The memory of the dead boy was duly respected. In some things Mrs. Lincoln was an altered woman.”

     

    From Elizabeth’s perspective, President Lincoln grieved as one who had found Christian hope.

     

    “Mr. Lincoln was reading that divine comforter, Job. He read with Christian eagerness, and the courage and hope that he derived from the inspired pages made him a new man.”

     

    Here Elizabeth records a profound Presidential example of scriptural exploration bringing hope to the hurting. In her words, “What a sublime picture was this! A ruler of a mighty nation going to the pages of the Bible with simple Christian earnestness for comfort and courage, and finding both in the darkest hours of a nation’s calamity. Ponder it, O ye scoffers at God’s Holy Word, and then hang your heads for very shame!”

     

    The Rest of the Story

     

    For the rest of the story, please return to this blog for part four . . .

     

    Note: Readers can enjoy the empowering narratives of over two-dozen African American women (and scores of African American men) narrated in Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/XvsTu

     

     

  • Elizabeth Keckley: Acquainted with Grief

    Posted on August 24th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Voices of Healing: African American Women of Faith

    Part II: Elizabeth Keckley: All Silver in Heaven

     

    Note: Taken from Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith. For more information on this stirring book, please visit: http://bit.ly/YmaM1

     

    Note: For Part I on Elizabeth Keckley, please visit my blog post at: http://bit.ly/FSNIt

     

    All Silver in Heaven: Acquainted with Grief

     

    Like her Savior, Elizabeth Keckley was a woman of sorrow acquainted with grief, and thus able to bring sustaining and healing spiritual care to Mrs. Lincoln. Though enslaved, her first few years were at least spent in the love of her intact family. However, soon her father was sold to another slaver and the golden dream faded all too soon.

     

    As Elizabeth poignantly recalls it:

     

    “The announcement fell upon the little circle in that rude log cabin like a thunderbolt. I can remember the scene as if it were but yesterday;—how my father cried out against the cruel separation; his last kiss; his wild straining of my mother to his bosom; the solemn prayer to Heaven; the tears and sobs—the fearful anguish of broken hearts. The last kiss, the last goodbye; and he, my father, was gone, gone forever.[1]

     

    Elizabeth’s earthly despair was all-encompasing; her longing for heaven all-embracing.

     

    “The shadow eclipsed the sunshine, and love brought despair. The parting was eternal. The cloud had no silver lining, but I trust that it will be all silver in heaven.”[1]

     

    As was typically the case in slavery, Elizabeth’s family was not given permission to grieve or the opportunity to hope.

     

    “Deep as was the distress of my mother in parting with my father, her sorrow did not screen her from insult. My old mistress said to her: ‘Stop your nonsense; there is no necessity for you putting on airs. Your husband is not the only slave that has been sold from his family, and you are not the only one that has had to part.”[1]

     

    To these unfeeling words, Elizabeth’s mother made no reply. “She turned away in stoical silence, with a curl of that loathing scorn upon her lips which swelled in her heart. My father and my mother never met again in this world.”[1]

     

    When she was fourteen, Elizabeth went to live with her master’s oldest son, a Presbyterian minister, married to “a helpless wife, a girl that he had married in the humble walks of life. She was morbidly sensitive. . .”[1] At eighteen, a Mr. Bingham, a village schoolmaster and member of her master’s church, said he would whip her naked. She refused. He subdued her. Tied her. Stripped her dress. Whipped her.

     

    “I could not sleep, for I was suffering mental as well as bodily torture. My spirit rebelled against the unjustness that had been inflicted upon me, and though I tried to smother my anger and to forgive those who had been so cruel to me, it was impossible.”[1]

             

    He again tried to conquer her, striking her with savage blows. “As I stood bleeding before him, nearly exhausted with his efforts, he burst into tears, and declared that it would be a sin to beat me any more. My suffering at last subdued his hard heart; he asked my forgiveness, and afterwards was an altered man.”[1]

     

    In her future ministry in the White House, Elizabeth would need her indomitable spirit in the face of unspeakable suffering.

     

    The Rest of the Story

     

    For the rest of the story, please return to this blog for part three . . .

     

    Note: Readers can enjoy the empowering narratives of over two-dozen African American women (and scores of African American men) narrated in Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/XvsTu

     

  • Voices of Healing

    Posted on August 23rd, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Voices of Healing: African American Women of Faith

    Part I: Elizabeth Keckley: A Voice of Hope

     

    Note: Taken from Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith. For more information on this stirring book, please visit: http://bit.ly/YmaM1

     

    African American Sisters of the Spirit

     

    African American sisters of the spirit like Elizabeth Keckley, who ministered to the grieving Mrs. Lincoln, and Octavia Albert, who ministered to the soul-wounds of ex-enslaved African Americans, vividly demonstrate how to move beyond suffering to healing hope. Their courageous, hope-based spiritual care is a small sampler, an appetizer, if you will, of a great breadth of wisdom for soul care and spiritual direction contained in the history of women in the African American Church.

     

    While space allows just this sampler, history is filled with powerful and empowering examples of African American feminine sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding.[i] Though some have tried to silence their voices, their speaking of God’s truth in love with hope can still be heard by those with ears to hear and hearts to learn.

     

    Elizabeth Keckley: A Voice of Hope

     

    Picture the scene. It’s Civil War America. Women have no right to vote. Across the South, blacks have no rights whatsoever. President Lincoln is assassinated. His widow, Mary Lincoln, is devastated. To whom does she turn?

     

    To a black woman. To Elizabeth Keckley.

     

    In the story of her life Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House, Elizabeth (1818-1907) explains, “. . . I have been intimately associated with that lady [Mrs. Lincoln] in the most eventful periods of her life. I have been her confidante . . . I have written with the utmost frankness in regard to her—have exposed her faults as well as given her credit for honest motives.”[ii]

     

    Given the inauspicious beginnings of Elizabeth’s life story, her spiritual friendship with Mary Lincoln is staggering. “My life has been an eventful one. I was born a slave—was the child of slave parents—therefore I came upon the earth free in God-like thought, but fettered in action.”[iii]

     

    How did a black woman of that cultural era become confidante to the slain President’s wife? Elizabeth expresses her understanding with Christian humility. “God rules the universe. I was a feeble instrument in His hands. . .”[iv]

     

    The Rest of the Story

     

    For the rest of the story, please return to this blog for part two . . .

     


    [i]Readers can enjoy the empowering narratives of over two-dozen African American women (and scores of African American men) narrated in Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/XvsTu

     

    [ii]Keckley, Behind the Scenes, xiv, xv.

     

    [iii]Ibid., 17.

     

    [iv]Ibid., xii.

     

    Elizabeth Keckley: A Voice of Hope http://bit.ly/FSNIt