(August 22, 2020)
The 2018 movie The Hate U Give, based on the novel written by Angie Thomas, has as its central focus the tragic event of the murder of an unarmed Black young man by a young White police officer.
The main protagonist of the film, 16-year-old Starr Carter, watches in shock as her friend is suddenly murdered, and spends the rest of the film processing the internal and external pain related to this unnecessary and racially-motivated murder.
While this was a fictional story, this murder felt vividly real to me. In that moment, I better understood the bitter pain and racial injustice that has led Black people and so many others to cry out that Black Lives Matter.
Additionally, while watching the scene in the aftermath of the murder of the young man, I cried profusely with Starr Carter.
Even though this was a movie, what truly is nonfiction is the multitude of murdered Black people.
I cried for Trayvon Martin (murdered in 2012).
I cried for Michael Brown (murdered in 2014).
I cried for Eric Garner (murdered in 2014).
I cried for Freddie Gray (murdered in 2015).
I cried for Tamir Rice (murdered in 2015).
I cried for Philando Castille (murdered in 2016).
I cried for Ahmaud Arbery (murdered in 2020).
I cried for Breonna Taylor (murdered in 2020).
I cried for George Floyd (murdered in 2020).
I cried for the litany of all of the unjustly murdered Black persons throughout history.
I cried because there are so many in our country and our society who are not crying.
I cried because I looked at my God who was crying, too.
Spontaneously and without previous cause, this tragic scene from The Hate U Give led me to prayer, to experience God’s tenderness and nearness.
I experienced God holding Trayvon Martin.
I experienced God holding Michael Brown.
I experienced God holding Eric Garner.
I experienced God holding Freddie Gray.
I experienced God holding Tamir Rice.
I experienced God holding Philando Castille.
I experienced God holding Ahmaud Arbery.
I experienced God holding Breonna Taylor.
I experienced God holding George Floyd.
The manner the Spirit led me to pray was similar to Ignatian Contemplation. This prayer form, originated by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, utilizes a passage from Scripture or one of the points in Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, and in conjunction with mediation and the imagination, one enters into the Scripture scene or the meditation in the Exercises and interacts with the persons in the narrative.
The experience is sensory, as one notices what one is seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, and feeling while in the scene. There is a special focus on the movements within one’s heart while in the midst of the narrative.
For example, if the Scripture passage is Jesus calming the storm at sea (Matthew 8:23-27), you might begin with an offering of prayer, e.g. I ask for the grace to know Jesus and to know that He is with me.
In the contemplation, you might imagine being in the boat with Jesus and the other disciples, thereby being one of the disciples.
When the storm suddenly occurs, what do you see when looking at the other disciples? What do you feel amid the storm?
How does the storm appear – what does the lightning look like and the thunder sound like? What is Jesus doing? How does He appear? How do you feel when you look at Jesus? Is Jesus speaking to you, and if so what is He saying?
Ignatius would invite you to spend a moment in prayer conversing with Jesus about the scene, and allow Jesus to share what is on His Heart with you.
In the example I gave at the beginning of my article, the “text” for my prayer was the scene from The Hate U Give when the unarmed black young man was gunned down by the police officer. The prayer using this scene could transpire as follows:
I seek the grace to know and follow Jesus, and to know His concern for Black people being unjustly murdered.
Using your imagination, you can imagine yourself as sitting in the passenger seat when the police officer pulls the driver over.
What are you feeling? What is going on in your mind? How does the police officer appear?
When your friend, the driver, is asked to step out of the car, what are you feeling? When your friend reaches into the car to pick up his hairbrush, what is going on within you? When the police officer shoots the young man, what do you feel?
Sit with these feelings. As you look at your murdered friend, what are you experiencing?
Take a moment to speak with God or with Jesus about what happened and all the movements experienced in your heart. In silence, hear what God or Jesus might be saying to you.
Do not be afraid to ask, “Where, God, were You when my friend was murdered?” Allow God the opportunity to answer you.
The desire here is to know God and to know God’s pain as Black people are murdered, and thereby reflect the Heart of Christ, a Heart that is with those suffering injustice and experiences the injustices with them.
This prayer can also be done and repeated by placing oneself in the scene as the murdered young Black man or the White police officer.
However, if one is hesitant to place oneself in the position of the Black person (either the passenger or the murdered driver) or the White police officer within the context of this prayer, then that might be a stumbling block that ought to be brought into prayer.
One can discern with God what is the block that prevents one from entering into this scene, and pray for the desire to have this block removed. If one discerns that there is no desire for this impediment to be removed, then one can ask God for this desire.
For someone who wishes to practice Ignatian Contemplation more directly from the Exercises, I offer my adaptation of the Contemplation of the Trinity (SpEx 101-109) that is tailored to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Imagine the Three Persons of the Divine Trinity looking at the Earth. The Trinity is seeing babies born, families eating dinner at home, homeless people asking for food, and essential workers laboring away.
Imagine the Trinity seeing George Floyd being arrested. Imagine the Trinity seeing the police officer placing his knee on George’s neck. What is the Trinity saying and doing?
What do you feel as you look at the Trinity and the dying George Floyd?
Spend a moment conversing with the Trinity about the scene, discussing what movements occurred within your heart, and remain open to the Trinity replying to you.
Ask the Trinity, where were You and what were You doing when George Floyd died?
Convey the various feelings you are experiencing, whether it be anger, grief, discouragement, etc. God may respond with healing love and might ask you to join in God’s sorrow over the tragic death of God’s son George. God may also inspire you to respond to this injustice according to your life circumstance.
Using Ignatian Contemplation, we can experience greater compassion for those who have been murdered unjustly due to the color of their skin as well as greater alignment with those seeking justice.
Additionally, this form of prayer may reveal hidden biases we might have that prevent us from loving all people more and having a Heart like Jesus that is concerned for those suffering injustice.
Thereby we may be given the grace to experience God’s loving invitation to grow in compassion as well as to take our faith into action.
For Ignatius, contemplation was not an end in itself but resulted in encountering God and loving neighbor in the form of action, since “love ought to manifest itself in deeds more than words” (SpEx 230).
Within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, I believe Ignatius would call us to weep with those who weep, march with those who march, and work alongside others to dismantle the structural inequities that result in the unwarranted murdering of Black persons as well as all of the other injustices experienced by the Black community.