Thank you to Nic Phillips for the use of his artwork. Please see link below for his new book, Breaking Chains:

By Lisa Steiner, Associate and Social Concerns Liaison

On this International Day of Remembrance of Victims of the Slave Trade, I reflect on the Black Madonna in Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Secret Life of Bees. Every country must confront its sins, and the dehumanizing injustice of slavery is at the top of the list for most, not just as a shameful history but as a current reality. There can be no healing – no freedom to move forward – until we are willing to come together to remember, reconcile and rebuild. The harsh truth of slavery is seen in its victims and survivors, who have suffered for generations and who will continue to suffer if we remain passive and apathetic.

The Black Madonna in The Secret Life of Bees is called Our Lady of Chains. This figure was the masthead of an old ship that was found on the shores of a southern plantation. The slave master wrapped chains around her to entrap her and teach the slaves a lesson, yet the story is that she miraculously escaped.

In the novel, Our Lady of Chains was described as a hopeful icon for the Black slaves. She broke the chains of bondage and was a symbol of freedom. “Our Lady filled their hearts with fearlessness and whispered to them plans of escape,” the author writes. (p. 110) Importantly, they saw themselves in her: “When they looked at her, it occurred them for the first time in their lives that what’s divine could come in dark skin…everybody needs a God who looks like them.” (p.141)

Today I stand in solidarity with people who have been enslaved or are currently enslaved as trafficked persons. Millions of our brothers and sisters wear slavery’s scars, yet often we cannot see their reality – in fact, we cannot see them. How much longer will it take for power to kneel, willingly, and confess the truth?

Prayer to Black Madonna
O Mother of the darkness
Of the deep rich soil
That brings forth new growth:
Bless all your children
Struggling for new ways
Of being community for each other.

O Mother of the darkness
Of the infinite night sky
That graces us with endless stars:
Bless all your children
Looking for hope and light
To pierce the present shadows.

O Mother of the darkness
Of the creative womb
That nurtures brilliant possibilities:

Bless all your children
Seeking wisdom yet to be experienced
On paths still opening before us.

O Mother of the darkness,
Black Madonna, Madre Negra,
Czarna Matka, who calls everyone
In the human community “My child”:
Bless us all and bring us all
Gift and grace as we reach out
For each other’s hands. Amen.

—Jane Deren, Ph.D
Copyright 2018, Education for Justice, a project of Center of Concern