I came to Stone Mountain with a chest full of wanting. I wanted something dramatic to happen. I wanted something special. I wanted to tell you stories about conversations I had with the ancestors. I wanted to offer you a path. I wanted. I wanted. I wanted.
But nothing happened.
I sat all day and didn’t see anything but my wanting.
By midday the voice in my head had become quite loud.
“Why did I come here?”
“This was a mistake.”
“I don’t even know what I’m doing”
“Why do you think there is a way out of this?”
“What’s done is done. There is no going back.”
“This is too big.”
“This is stupid.”
The overlook where I first sat had become popular with happy hikers, joyful kids, and cautious parents, so after lunch I moved to the backside of the summit where no one seemed to visit. It was quieter but I could still hear the faint sounds of laughter and friendship washing over me. I could hear mothers and fathers warning their children about the dangers of running around the mountain. I wondered how many later warned them about the dangers that lingered in the echoes of the men who climbed this mountain long ago to reform the KKK.
As I sat, I imagined those 16 men on top of this bald peak. I listened for the enthusiasm in their voices as they took those ominous oaths pledging themselves to the invisible empire. I tried walking up the path alongside them searching for that excited anticipation, the fraternity of brothers, both solemn and purposeful, convinced that they were about to change history, which they did.
These men did not create white supremacy or even the KKK, but this small act of rebirthing the Klan opened Pandora’s box and an evil flew out into the world that we are still living with today. The myth of Pandora tells us that only hope remained in the bottom of that vessel, but as I looked out over the beautiful Georgia countryside, leaves changing from green to crimson, I wondered where that hope was.
The sun started to set and I packed up my cushion for the hike down. What, if anything, had happened? The path of hope felt so opaque. The ancestors so fixed in their course. It wasn’t frustration as much as emptiness. I came wanting but left lacking.
That night a friend asked me about the retreat and I felt like I was letting her down when I said, “Nothing happened. I saw nothing. I felt nothing.” But oddly there was no regret.
A day later I remembered the famous verse from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2 Verse 47).
We only have a right to our work
We do not have a right to the fruits
The fruits should not be the motivation for your actions
And do not shirk your work
This gave me comfort.
I do not have a right to any particular outcome. All I can do is offer my work to the best of my ability. It is the work that is valuable, not the special feelings or the dramatic spiritual encounters I desired so much.
No ancestor spoke to me. No epiphany occurred. There are no great stories to share with you about my trip to Stone Mountain. Nothing sexy. But neither do I have regrets. My life is my work and I am blessed by that simple truth. Next year, I will return to pray for the ancestors again, not for any prize but because that is what I am called to do. Maybe some of you will come with me. We may never see the end of white supremacy in our lifetimes, but we do our work anyway. For the work gives the world hope, and in the hope lies the holy.
Photo by Andy Montgomery