Hearts of darkness haunt the recently released movie “Race” about Jesse Owens’ athletic career in track and field. At the beginning of the movie, Jesse and a friend board a bus in Cleveland, OH, to go to Ohio State University in Columbus. A sign at the front of the bus announces that “colored patrons” must sit in the back compartment. And that’s where Jesse and his friend went, with no questions, no protest, no resistance. And, of course, Jesse experienced the 1936 Berlin Olympics amidst one of the darkest hearts of darkness known in human history — Germany’s Nazism.
Jesus, too, knew what it was like to live and breathe enveloped, as it seemed, in the very heart of darkness. We experience our own hearts of darkness, too. Incessant warfare, disregard for the health of the planet, support of systems and institutions that promote and sustain the suffering of innocents through racism, sexism and economic injustice. And in our own lives: jealousies and envy, putting others down so that we can feel better about ourselves, gossip, erecting power and control over others.
If God were like us, how do we think God would react to all of this – all of these hearts of darkness? If I were God, I would have been fed up long ago; I would have been very tempted to leave us to our own undoing. But thanks be to God – literally – God is not like us. God is God. And standing in the darkest heart of the darkest heart of darkness, knowing his crucifixion is imminent, Jesus still says: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings …!” Jesus still wants to gather us up and hold us in his arms. Jesus still wants to embrace us, shelter us, flood us with his love. And letting us know that, he continues to reveal his nature, the very nature of God.
In the 1936 Olympics, Nazis of course tried to ban black and Jewish athletes from participating. But the United States said no to that and Jesse Owens said no to that and a flash of black whizzed by the thousands upon thousands of white faces in the stands and four gold medals hung from Jesse Owens’ neck, suspended by majestic Olympian ribbons.
And in those world record-breaking minutes, God revealed God’s nature again. That no matter what heart of darkness we create or manufacture, God will stand right in the middle of it with us, shining with love and holding us close, gathering us together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.