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Absalom Jones Center Founder Preaches & Teaches at Washington National Cathedral

Jun 6, 2022

Caroline Meeks

Dr. Catherine Meeks, founder of the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, last month preached at The National Cathedral and took part in the Cathedral’s “Honest to God: spiritual conversations for uncertain times” series with New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks.

Meeks racial healing work has drawn recognitions, including, The President Joseph R. Biden Lifetime Achievement Award and Presidential Volunteer Service Award medal, and invitations to speak before audiences worldwide.

She is the author of six books, co-author of “Passionate for Justice: Ida B. Wells as Prophet for our Times” and editor of the bestselling “Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America.”

Dr. Catherine Meeks told the congregation at The National Cathedral that her  sermon was inspired by the day’s appointed Gospel lesson, John 5:1-9, sometimes called the healing at the pool.

Her remarks focused on Jesus’ life changing question to a paralyzed man unable to get in the pool. “Do you want to be made well?”

Meeks said, Jesus’ straightforward question to the man by the pool is one she has had to answer over and over.

“This was a primary question that I had to answer thirty-seven years ago when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and began a tutorial that has been orchestrated by arthritis and would become one of the most important resource and teacher that I could’ve ever had as I sought the pathway to liberation and freedom as a young woman living in a black body in a country that was not really interested in my wellbeing.”

But saying yes to Jesus’ question was just the beginning.

“I am well because my arthritic tutorial taught me how-to live-in the dissonance that it causes and embrace the rest of my life with courage and faith.”

“I went on a pilgrimage to find a remedy to the debilitating pain and stiffness that wouldn’t cause the rest of my body to break down and die.” Rising at four a.m. Meeks applied herbal rubs to her joints, took hot showers, spent time in silent meditation, journaled and took herbs to treat her illness. “I changed my diet and became a vegetarian. I went to do exercises in the swimming pool almost every day. Each day of my life required me to inquire of myself whether or not I wanted to be well.”

The arthritis has gotten worse, and Meeks recently had to have both hip joints replaced. Despite what some may call a setback, Meeks said.

“I am well because my arthritic tutorial taught me how-to live-in the dissonance that it causes and embrace the rest of my life with courage and faith.

“It taught me that pain and joy can live together. It taught me that asking for help is a good thing. It taught me to love myself more than I had ever done before and it taught me to develop a new way to see and a new way to be.”

Meeks issued a challenge to the large congregation and more that 13,000 viewing the live broadcast.

“[Are] you ready to fling yourself into the pool no matter what it costs. And do you have the courage to say yes.

“Do you have the courage to say yes, ‘I want to be well? I want the church to be well I want the country to be well I want the world to be well. And I will do my part by being well.

“See it sounds so simple. It just takes one lifetime to get it done. One lifetime that is all it takes. And that’s all we’re being asked. It is time for us to make up our minds.” If so, Meeks said.

“Get up. And pick up the mat. Walk, the rabbi says to this man, as he says to all of us who gathered here today. Get up and walk if you have determined that you want to be well.

“Do you want to heal our land of its many isms – violence, greed, racism that’s particularly on our minds as we think about people being murdered because of the color of their skin, and all of those things that separate us. Do you want to be well?”

For more of Meeks’ sermon, watch the entire service. Here is a link to the service leaflet.

Don Plummer is the beat reporter for The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. If you have story ideas, please reach out to Don.

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