Meisha Barnes

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land, 

Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:

Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,

“Their colour is a diabolic die.”

Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,

May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.

~ Phillis Wheatley, 1753-1784, 

“On Being Brought from Africa to America”

Phillis Wheatley was an African slave who gained notoriety through her poems and her firm belief that black people could be artistic and intellectual. She was one of the pioneers who served as a catalyst for the growing antislavery movement. 

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land…

While reading this specific poem, I was reminded of my own life. More specifically, I was reminded of my life in the church. Singing praises to God was something I was very familiar with, and I had grown comfortable in my position. As a result of this, my spiritual walk plateaued, and my desire to seek God waned greatly. This was the comfort of my Pagan land. It took my life falling completely apart for me to see God’s mercy bring me from that land. 

Some view our sable race with scornful eye…

As a black woman, Living Hope was very unfamiliar and uncomfortable initially. I was taught to be cautious and apprehensive, expecting the worst, so nothing could take me by surprise. I realize now that this was a shallow form of racism, and it’s often used against my race as well. I never took the time to consider that I was being taught to fight fire with fire, which is the exact opposite of what Christ teaches. Blatant racism still runs rampant today, arising from our deeply rooted sin of pride and fear. How can we truly love one another if we are looking at each other through these eyes?

Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.

Wheatley speaks of the bible character Cain, who some say was cursed with black skin, using this to justify their racism. The imagery also brings to mind the sugar trade, in which “cane” was burned black as it was refined. My previous church culture was much different than the culture of Living Hope. Church often included loud wails of worship, and dancing of praise. This is common in a lot of black churches and has been viewed as uncivilized or unrefined, even. It is not my culture or my race that cause me to be unrefined, however, it is my sin. We are all in need of a savior. Wheatley reminds us that we all, black and white alike, can be refined through Christ. Who the Son sets free, is free indeed! I’m a child of God, YES I AM!!

Living Hope