Hilltop HaintsPosted March 21st, 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf
I just returned from the national gathering of Coming to the Table. This is the group that brought Tom and I together in 2008 and led to our collaboration in writing Gather at the Table. The group has grown a lot since then.
Sixty-five inquisitive, motivated souls gathered at Richmond Hill, a location of enormous historical importance. We spent a weekend engaging in dialogue about history, slavery, racism, and healing. As the birthplace of both America and American slavery, Virginia (not to mention Richmond) held deep meaning for us all.
Over the course of the weekend, Tom and I made a presentation about our book to an enthusiastic audience. The many compliments we received for our reading inspired hope that our book can become a best seller. I also led a genealogy workshop to teach people how to do both forward and reverse research to discover linked descendants. During my personal time, I spent several hours at the Library of Virginia, a leading research center for genealogists and historians.
The great irony for me was finding out that the man who gave the city of Richmond its name in 1737 is connected to the family I am researching in Mississippi. William Byrd gazed out over the horizon at what is now Richmond Hill in 1737 and named the town for his birthplace at Richmond-on-Thames, England. One of Byrd’s descendants, Bathia Byrd, married Charles Gavin — the great grandfather of Robert Gavin — the man who fathered 17 children with my GGGrandmother, Bettie Warfe.
It is a small world indeed when one can time travel through centuries and find such profound connections. That idea is even more poignant when considering that Richmond Hill is so near to St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry delivered his speech that extolled: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” Richmond went on to become the capitol of the Confederate states. Richmond Hill is today an ecumenical retreat center focused on prayer, healing, hospitality and reconciliation.
This experience reminded me once again how powerful ancestral spirits can be. The bright ones stand with us as we attempt to heal from the traumas of slavery and racism. There was a great deal of talk about that over the weekend — along with a heap of praying and reconciling.
My takeaway from all this is the satisfaction of knowing that many people see things the way I do. Our “hidden wound” longs to be healed and there are at least 65 people on planet Earth who are committed to transformation. It was powerful indeed to sit atop Richmond Hill in unity, gazing out at a future we will help unfurl.
After processing my feelings on the long drive back home, I arrived to updated news about the Obama family being eviscerated yet again; women under assault over reproductive rights; growing outrage over the murder of a boy named Trayvon Martin and the impending trial of a soldier who massacred 16 people in Afghanistan.
When Gather at the Table goes on sale on October 9, our greatest hope is to be a beacon of light in a dark and scary world.
Ashay… ashay… to the ancestors who brought us this far.
Eastern Mennonite University
Harlem Book Fair
Phillis Wheatley Book Award
Post Racial Society
Summer Peacebuilding Institute
Tulsa race riot
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