In 1951, here in Dublin, it could be argued that there was as much hostility between blacks and whites as there was in ancient Sychar between Jews and Samaritans. A very pregnant nineteen-year-old white girl was walking in a fallow field several miles from her house. You can easily picture her: she was off the beaten path and all alone. Until she happened to run into a middle-aged black man. The black man invited the white girl to a revival just on the other side of the hill. Imaginations may run wild at this point . . .
She went with him anyway, through the woods into a clearing, where a tent had been set up in the ever-darkening evening with lights shining brightly underneath. Even more energy, however, was coming from the worshippers, who sang with mouths wide and heads thrown back, swaying back and forth in time with the hymns. It was, she later reflected, the most beautiful sound she had ever heard.
So enchanted, she sat down, as if in a dream, and soon found herself listening to the words of the black preacher, which was not a speech really but a kind of song, steadily gathering strength like a coming storm:
One day, all shall be well. Yessir, all shall be well; one day O Lord, all shall be well. When, you ask? O when, you say? When we come to a door; when we come to that door, to a mansion door, and guess what? We don’t have to knock. No, we don’t have to knock, O no, O no! Fo’ we have heard that voice, that voice, O yes; the voice of the Lord! Thy voice, O Lord, thy voice, O Lord, sayin’: “Brother, come in. Sister, come on in. Come right on in. Come in, come in!” Thy voice, O Lord, thy voice! Sayin’, “Well done! Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Yes, well done, well done! O Lord, all is well; yes, all is well. This day, my Lord, may all be well.[i]
And she’d just sat there speechless, barely aware of the baby dancing a joyful jig inside of her. She was that utterly transfixed, almost carried out of her own body. For in that moment, there was no black and white, no young and old, no woman and man. As Jesus had promised, the hour had come, and was now here, when the true worshippers of God worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23). You see, while only an act of God can bring down such divisions, it was necessary for her to walk through that field, necessary for her to sit down under that tent, necessary for her to open her heart and mind.
So the necessary task for us, my friends, is really a question for our imaginations: Where do we need to go? Who do we need to talk to? Where do seemingly insurmountable divisions exist between people today? What places, marked by separation and hostility, do we need to be?
[i] This text is indebted to Wendell Berry in “Not a Tear” (A Place in Time) and a line from Julian of Norwich, “And all shall be well.”