The thought that I think: A farewell to Aunt Ida

As I was completing this benedictory, I received the phone call that I had dreaded for several days. Aunt Ida, who had been in hospice for the past week, had received her wings.  She was 96. 

Aunt Ida was the last of my mother’s sisters.  She was a mother, a sister, an aunt and a pastor. She was a leader and a pioneer in the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God.

One of my favorite stories is of how a desperate mother brought Aunt Ida her 16-month-old son; the baby had been unable to sleep for two days due to an unrelenting cough.  The doctors were baffled. Aunt Ida took the baby into her arms, rocked him and prayed until he fell asleep.  When the baby awoke several hours later, the cough was gone. I was that baby. 

She was a healer, a prophet and a peacemaker. She told me that I would be a minister at a time in my life when I was as far from ministry as one might ever be. As a budding theologian, I shared my belief that God created both good and evil. However, Aunt Ida deeply believed that God’s presence was only of peace. Peace could not exist where any of Aunt Ida’s children, the children of her community or children of God were hurting or being harmed. So, she was quick to initiate and moderate negotiations to return the peace of God.  Though our theological starting points differed, we shared an endpoint of “protection of the least of these.”

She was fundamentalist and apostolic in her faith. Yet, because I openly respected her wisdom, she made space that I might share my thoughts on African-centered spirituality and cosmology.  I especially remember one of our last conversations about justice and the children of God.

I shared my belief that, at the level of the spirit, newborns and those who were close to death bore a closer connection to God than the rest of us. We referenced Jeremiah 29:11. Aunt Ida preferred the King James Version; she often called it “the original Bible.”  Coincidentally, the KJV provides the better translation: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”  Not the “plans that I have,” but the thoughts that I think.  

The writer harkens individuals in the Jeremiah community back to a time before they understood time as time, before they ever felt the wind blow and before they ever watched the trees bow in reverence.  Back to a time before they heard the lightning clap her hands in 2/4 time and before thunder beat the drums of the ngoma lugundu.  There, in the heavenly realm, was a conversation between each of them and their Creator.  

In this Afro-Asiatic cosmology, children abide with God in the heavens and select the parents to whom they would like to be born.  Consequentially, they select the communities and the countries with whom they will be united.  After sharing some “thoughts and thinkings” with the Creator, they are delivered to their selected families.  

God knew there would be conflict with our government for the past few years. God knew about COVID-19.  God knew about the rise in racial unrest.  God knew how it would affect your church and your family and your neighborhood. Yet, rather than argue with you, God sent you, empowered to lift your voice and move your feet for such a time as this!

Aunt Ida reminded me often that my personal peace would be regularly disrupted in the pursuit of God’s peace for the world. So might yours.  As the seasons change, and the pandemic flares again, and as the administration in the White House changes and the country is filled with uncertainty, you should be filled with joy and resilience.  You were created and sent to us, filled with power, for such a time as this.

I am grateful for the peace spread by my aunt during her chosen time. Rest in power, Aunt Ida. I’ll see you again soon.


Carlton Johnson

CARLTON JOHNSON is the operations officer for Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta and associate minister at the First Afrikan Presbyterian Church in Lithonia, Georgia.