An Armor of Adoration

Credit:  Olya /Voloshka

God is good all the time – all the time God is good

This is the refrain I most closely associate with my Grandmommy, a sweet and powerful woman who embodies the black Pentecostal Holiness tradition more than anyone I know. No matter what disappointment she faces, no matter what oppressive force she encounters, she prophetically and emphatically insists on God’s goodness.  As a young girl with nascent cognitive abilities, I took Grandmommy’s simple action of proclaiming God’s goodness in all circumstances at face value in the same way that I took rainbows at face value.  I was unaware of the multiple layers, processes and shades that gave breadth and depth to what appeared on the surface.

As I grew into young adulthood and my critical race theory developed, I began to see all of the ways in which racism, a key chromosome in America’s DNA, is at work in every space, especially Christian churches and institutions. As I grieved this reality, my commitment to proclaiming God’s goodness crumbled. In my youth, I didn’t make the connection between Grandmommy’s fierce practice of adoration and her equally fierce resilience. Rather, I thought that adoration was a cheap form of transcendence, a distraction from the real work of justice and equity. 

At the time, I didn’t recognize that Grandmommy was drawing from a rich tradition of adoration in Black American Christianity, one that dates back to the enslaved people who while facing unconscionable injustice proclaimed:

He’s the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords,

Jesus Christ, the first and last,

No man works like him.

He built a platform in the air,

No man works like him.

Nor did I realize that my enslaved ancestors, like many other oppressed peoples in global history, had developed a sophisticated practice of adoration that encompassed both transcendence and immanence. As the Negro spiritual continues:

He meets the saints from everywhere,

No man works like him.

He pitched a tent on Canaan’s ground.

No man works like him.

And broke the Roman Kingdom down,

No man works like him.

Indeed, it is clear that the enslaved people’s adoration does not just focus on a God in the sky who is distant from the plight of the oppressed. Rather, it focuses on Jesus’ flesh-and-blood, earthly action against Empire. It is in this context, that I’ve come to understand that adoration is central to my vocational call to justice. Consequently, this understanding has shifted my spiritual practices towards an integration of lament and adoration. 

It’s easy to meditate on how racist or sexist or ignorant or entitled the oppressor is. But while those meditations are often true –they aren’t particularly fortifying. Speaking truth about God fortifies us by expanding our hearts and enabling us to receive the good gifts of God, even in the midst of distress. As Andrew Harvey writes, "Constant adoration is the one force nuclear enough in its intensity to do this great work. Constant adoration, constant opening of the heart, in whatever circumstance, in whatever pain, in whatever difficulty and whatever grief, in whatever bitterness. Constant opening in adoration to divine beauty, the divine magnificence, the divine generosity, of all the different names of God..." (1995, p. 170). 

As I face oppressive forces today, I take time to engage in holy lament, and then I follow Grandmommy’s and my ancestor’s lead by declaring truths about who God is: compassionate, the God of justice, a mother bear who fiercely protects her cubs, a lover who knows our worst pain, the one who came and comes to a world full of strife, oppression, genocide and injustice, the Victorious One, etc.

Rather than escapism, adoration is fortification. It is through the practice of adoration that we are armed with the strength to skillfully and fiercely face what is broken, incomplete or seemingly hopeless.  Through the practice of adoration we are humbled and liberated by the reality that we do not fight alone, that the God of the oppressed is imminent and for us. With renewed mindfulness of this reality, we are empowered to do the work of justice and peacemaking, which in itself is a form of adoration.

*This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Duke Divinity School's Divinity Magazine*