In India the Dalit caste is considered of less worth than the dogs that roam the streets. A person labeled as a Dalit is met with disgust and disdain, unworthy to be looked in the eye or treated with dignity. This system has been in place for centuries and is deeply rooted in the cultural narrative of the Indian people.
A man in Bangalore, India is treated with brutality because of his Dalit ancestry. He is forced to carry the weight of these socially constructed shackles. Nothing he does, no act of valor or sacrifice or kindness can loose him from these bonds, and he bears this burden with him everywhere. He is responsible for cleaning the public toilets.
There is an orphanage of little girls located mere feet from the affliction and brutality of Mumbai’s red light district, where most of their mothers are hourly exploited for their bodies. The girls wear vibrant dresses and colorful handmade jewelry and are eager to sing songs and play game after game of Duck-Duck-Goose. Each tiny soul is relegated to the Dalit caste. Statistically the majority will enter the same bondage as their mothers.
During the first moments you spend with the young man from Bangalore or the girls in Mumbai despair feels thick, constricting your lungs. But as minutes pass there is a shift in the air that is difficult for a privileged outsider to understand. Somehow the initial sense of despair is no longer present. Instead, an overwhelming feeling of longing saturates each soul: longing for acceptance, longing for freedom and dignity, longing to be held with tender love. The difference between these two feelings, despair and longing, is monumental. The difference is the bold, unashamed, and unwavering presence of hope.
There is something deeply satiating about the structure of blues music. It is literally a groaning too deep for words. The blues evolved from work songs of enslaved African Americans in 19th century southern plantations. At its inception the blues was an avenue to proclaim the deep yearnings for liberation. Blues contains a repetitive cycle of tension and resolve, tension and resolve, which promulgates a state of injustice and unrest. Yet the melodic resolution expresses surety that there will come a day when the enslaved will be set free. The presence of this musical resolve means longing, not despair, defines blues. Longing recognizes hope; without hope longing is merely despair.
Perhaps this is the meaning of the wisdom in Ecclesiastes, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecc. 3:11). In time the fullness of beauty and redemption will be known. We can be sure. For now, we express a longing for that age.
In light of recent events your state of longing may seem intensified. In light of recent events your impatience is justified. You don’t have to look far to find cries for love to overcome discrimination, cries for justice to grant redemption, cries for peaceful mediation to overthrow violence. When hopes like these don’t match up with the harsh dealings of time, longing is born in our souls.
Longing does not make wrongs and injustices any more acceptable. It does mean we are not stagnant in the midst of evil. It means that we can make strides toward hope. Because longing holds hope in its sights, longing is a vital part of the beating heart of our cultural narrative. It propels and urges us to fight for change to the best of our abilities now. Longing recognizes that these efforts are not in vain. They are bringing glimpses of true freedom now. These hopeful visions carry us through to the resolution of all things, much like the original purpose of a blues song to carry weary, sun-weathered workers onward. We have eternity in our hearts so that while we may not know yet, we can know in time everything will be made beautiful.
For now, we haven’t mastered manipulating time to deliver what we hope for when we hope for it. So, for now, longing is a part of our humanity. One day the deepest longings, the ones that probably seem furthest away—for justice, kindness, and goodness to cover all things—will match up with a point in time. They will become realities.
Hold fast, the weighty gloom does lift. It has to. There surely is a sun behind the low-lying clouds. And one day the young man in Bangalore and the young girls in Mumbai will trade in their Dalit labels for crowns of glory. Let the urgency of want and a groaning too deep for words propel you toward deeper faith in a sovereign Creator who is faithful to restore.
Photo by Janssen Powers