As a young African American child, Anthony Harris, PhD, had few educational opportunities. This was by design. The Jim Crow laws of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, kept his elementary school underfunded and poorly supplied. Then came the summer of 1964. At a Freedom School set up by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Harris and friends read books and staged plays. Suddenly blessed with enrichment activities, Harris took guitar lessons from Pete Seeger, the renowned folk singer, who had come to Mississippi to volunteer.
Photos of young Anthony with Seeger show a dynamic that arises when humans engage in creativity and uplift. They show hope.
Freedom School “planted a seed in my mind that things are going to change, things are going to be different,” said Harris in a 2014 documentary. “And Freedom Summer helped to give us that courage; it helped to give us that hope.”*
Harris sounded like the writer of Psalm 42. Exiled far from Jerusalem and unable to worship in the Temple, the psalmist had moaned in lament, “Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, ‘Where is this God of yours?’”
Recalling God’s goodness, however, the psalmist realizes: “Why am I discouraged? . . . I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my savior and my God!” (NLT). The sons of Korah, a Levite killed while rebelling against Moses, surrendered their sorrow in songs of hope—a seed of emotion watered by praise. Seeger offered a young man the same. Then God, in his mercy, made hope grow.
In my distress, O Lord, plant in my heart a seed of hope. Then water it. Amen.
The fact that we trust in God does not guarantee that life will be easy. Believers suffer discouragement as well. Elijah is a powerful prophet of God who faces profound discouragement. He looks around and sees faithlessness and desolation, as does the psalmist wrestling with his own sense of despair. In both cases the person’s spirit is revived—by divine visitation to Elijah and by the psalmist’s self-talk about the truth of God’s faithfulness. The New Testament readings take us in a different direction. Paul speaks of the freedom we have when we are in Christ, heirs to all of God’s promises. The Gospel writer tells of another kind of freedom, the freedom experienced by a man delivered from demon possession.
Read 1 Kings 19:1-15a. Recall a time you ran to a silent place. How did God send you back into the world?
Read Psalm 42. The author asks us to imagine the words of this psalm coming from the mouth of Elijah and the Gerasene man. Consider how these words might be yours as well.
Read Galatians 3:23-29. How does your faith in Christ help you to realize that there is freedom in unity rather than to flee in fear?
Read Luke 8:26-39. What true story do you have to tell to the world of what Jesus has done for you?
Respond by posting a prayer.
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.