Stories That Shaped My Faith
by Cheryl Lynn Cain | October 6, 2020
When I asked the students inside Stateville Correctional Center what one book from North Park Theological Seminary’s School of Restorative Arts curriculum they would recommend to a family member, I was surprised when two-thirds of the group said the same title: My Grandmother’s Hands, by Resmaa Menakem. As someone who had taken many of the same classes as these students, I knew firsthand that the reading catalog was quite extensive. How had this one book generated such consensus? In all my reading and book lists on the topic of race, I had not even heard of this title before.
I continued to be part of the program even after I completed my degree, because I knew that the work God was doing in me and in Stateville was far from done. Perhaps it was the way the men in the program were doing the hard work of understanding their own stories. Perhaps it was the way the Spirit moved in our gatherings and discussions, or the way we entered the space together, knowing there was no room for pretense.
I also knew that my brothers inside Stateville wanted to connect their families with the greater Covenant and North Park body. It was hard to imagine what that might look like until I met Melissa Rios at a gathering our church had for families of men who were incarcerated at Stateville. As the spouse of one of our students, she wondered why the families of the incarcerated couldn’t also read some of the books their loved ones were reading. “I see these men, our loved ones, experiencing real transformation, growing deeply in their faith, and dealing with their trauma,” she said. “As their support system, we want to be on that journey too!”
We started making room to listen to our bodies and the Holy Spirit.
And so at the start of this year, a book club began with local Covenanters who wanted to be part of the transformative work God was doing inside Stateville and family members of incarcerated men who wanted the same.
Soon into reading My Grandmother’s Hands, we realized why the SRA students recommended it so highly. Unlike other books on the topic of race that may provide historical and theological underpinnings for what we are experiencing in our culture at this moment, this book helped us see how we each carry the realities of our country’s racialized divide in our own bodies.
Each chapter provides somatic practices to help readers become aware of how racial trauma manifests differently in the bodies of the Black community, white community, law enforcement, and other communities of color. The author is a therapist specializing in trauma, and throughout the book he offers language and liturgy for listening to our bodies.
The second time we met as a group, we started making room to listen to our bodies and the Holy Spirit, and the tears began to flow. We knew together we were moving into sacred space. That afternoon, I witnessed the sort of healing outside the walls of Stateville that I typically only see inside—healing that comes from letting go of pride and pretense. Healing that comes from understanding how intergenerational trauma resides in us. Healing that comes from listening for where that still sits in our bodies.
It has been encouraging to see in these last few months the move by many in our nation and in our congregations toward conversations on race and how this construct has affected us as a country, the church notwithstanding. I am learning from My Grandmother’s Hands that the true possibility of healing lies in listening to the body. And if we profess to be members of the body of Christ, that seems like a lesson worth remembering.