by Carlton Johnson
“Ready For Love” is a beautiful melody from India.Arie’s 2001 debut album “Acoustic Soul.” Her lyrics counter the popular expectations of love filled with extraordinary joy and blissful freedom. India.Arie proclaims that she is ready for real love that includes real pain.
It has been my experience that the deeper one loves, the more exposed one becomes to unthinkable disappointment. Though a guarded heart may never suffer the lows of unrequited love, it may also never experience the extraordinary highs of uninhibited love.
Then there is the pain of loved ones whose earthly departure seems to us too soon. As a chaplain intern in Atlanta’s busiest trauma center, I saw families brought back together under the worst possible circumstances to deal with relationships. Night after night, spouses kissed their mate goodnight for the last time. Some had been married for decades; one had only been married a month. I journeyed with an estranged father who had to say goodbye to his whole family (a wife and two children) after a violent auto accident. I stayed at the bedside of single mother as she kissed her stillborn baby girl for the first and last time, both abandoned on the very night of her delivery.
Over and over, I have reflected on how India.Arie might have prepared for such pain. How did she find space that allowed her to ponder so deeply? Did she create the space and, if so, how? Such space is sacred.
Matthew 6 urges us to speak with God privately: “Go into your room and shut the door.” In “Postcolonializing God,” Emmanuel Lartey explains, “to enter one’s closet is to shut the doors of our outer senses and to withdraw to inner observation. We are essentially spirit beings and within our spirit is contained all the wisdom and intelligence of infinite possibilities.”
Sacred space is often not private space. It is important to determine if the community with whom you share space is able to support and care for you, especially at critical times. Two of the most important tenets of my home church, the First African Presbyterian Church in Lithonia, Georgia, are that we are a community committed to authenticity and to being strong enough to “hold your truth.”
In 2013, my wife, Cara, and I saw India.Arie live in New Orleans. In her introduction of “Ready for Love,” she explained that the song wasn’t written to an individual, but directly to God. It was a personal invitation to send love in whatever form and with whatever required instructions God saw fit. As followers of Christ, we vow to follow God’s instructions to love, no matter how difficult or painful. But are we truly prepared? Have we found the secret closet or the supportive community that allows us the necessary space for preparation?
Was the prophet Isaiah prepared when he responded “Here am I; send me!” – or was he just compelled to speak after having his lips touched by the live coal of the seraph? Was Israel ready for Micah’s uber-simplified instructions: to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God? In Luke 9, had those approaching Jerusalem-bound Jesus fully prepared themselves for the rejection and ostracization of becoming a follower of Christ? Jesus discerned that they had not.
Are you? Are you prepared to lose friends and perhaps your privilege in the name of justice and righteousness? Are you prepared to see your church emptied for the sake of receiving and loving those not like you? Are you ready for love?
CARLTON JOHNSON is the operations officer for Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta and associate minister at the First African Presbyterian Church in Lithonia, Georgia. He also serves as president of the Atlanta chapter of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.