The Power of Poetry, Protest, and Prayer
Here’s my introduction to prophets of the 21st century
I spent the Fourth of July on a Brooklyn terrace barefoot and drinking a lovely pinot while watching the sun break into streaks of gold and pink as it set. In front of me and a small audience, hip-hop artist Mandella Eskia took the microphone while polymath rapper Mike Larry Draw spun a soft orchestra of accompanying sounds that I could not call music because it became more than music.
I only knew this place was flooded with holiness, that the Spirit was here as Eskia rapped about love and resistance, about identity and social justice
I registered it as a choir singing backup to a preacher as Eskia’s words spun around me. “Don’t touch me, your hate too disgusting, we stay on that upswing, you pray I get nothing.” I didn’t understand the tears in my eyes or why my hands were suddenly clenched together as if in prayer. I only knew this place was flooded with holiness, that the Spirit was here as Eskia rapped about love and resistance, about identity and social justice.
Even after I went home, I couldn’t shake the line about prayer.
I was raised in an evangelical house where praying was all about spiritual battle and little else. We prayed against demons and sickness; we prayed for healing and victory against religious persecution. I rarely, if ever, thought about the marginalized or those whom society had deemed invisible. You were either a threat or an ally. Nor did I think God heard my prayers unless I had praised him enough and repented of all my sins. There were so many rules one had to follow in order to be heard.
I never imagined a rapper could help create such a sacred space where I encountered such holy joy. And yet, why, as a Christian, should I have expected anything less? In his essay on poetry and prayer Jericho Brown reminds us that “One does not invite the Holy Spirit into one’s life and expect it to operate on one’s own terms, as a sort of butler to the soul.”
I’ve been struggling with my own doubts about what prayer can accomplish in combatting ongoing school shootings, systemic racism, children in…