Joseph, the father, the Disenfranchised, the Refugee, the Dreamer
by Sister Melinda Pellerin ssj
In my living room, above my flat screen television is the artist Lara James’s beautiful picture of St. Joseph dreaming. Dreaming is a lot like entering into a prayer, a reflection, and the heart of God’s communication with each of us. Dreams are ways in which God enters our thoughts and into our hearts. When I look at the picture of Joseph, I am often drawn to the message in the beautiful picture: dreams are important, dreams are soulful, and dreams can change everything.
Dreams, though, are sometimes deferred. What is accepted, planned, or hoped for must be altered. When a dream is deferred, expectations are altered by moments, by situations, and by circumstance. The unknown becomes our reality for the moment, for many moments, or for the rest of our lives.
How do we navigate through a dream deferred? Perhaps, we should look to Saint Joseph. Joseph and his family were persecuted, displaced, and made strangers in new lands, so has the dreamers I know and have known.
Joseph remained a man of character, a man of faith, a man who would wake up from his dream ready to nurture the light that would change the world. In Joseph’s imperfection, in his fear and his trepidation, he had the fortitude to carry on, to wake up and act in love. Joseph decided, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I have decided to stick with love.” Even when Joseph’s dreams were deferred, Joseph found “a way from no way!” The disenfranchised, the refugee, the immigrant, the slave often had to do the same when their own dreams were deferred.
In his poem, “What Happens to A Dream Deferred?” Langston Hughes offers several questions: Does a dream dry up, does it fester? Does it stink? Is it a heavy load? Dreams can seem like the adjectives Hughes uses in his poem. Deferred dreams can be difficult to reconcile with, a burden too heavy to bare. Our deferred dream experiences have become our reality in our COVID-19 world. This has been our Lenten Season of fear and uncertainty.
What do we do in this time of pandemic? What do we do with our doubt? What is God’s message to each of us? Do the dreams we have just “sag like a heavy load” as Langston Hughes writes? Like Saint Joseph, African Americans have had many dreams deferred. My people, like Joseph moved on and made a way out of the darkness into the light.
What happens to a dream deferred? It is up to each of us. “It can crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet.” African Americans did not give up. African Americans are still not giving up. A dream deferred challenges each of us to move toward perfect love, the syrupy sweet balm of love.
God’s love shows us the way. Our deferred dreams may show us the movements of love and grace that may transform into union with God and with our neighbor. In this Year of Joseph, we need to reflect on Saint Joseph’s story. We need to find the Gospel music and lyrics of slaves who sang their songs in the mist of hopelessness and deferred dreams. We need to see that even when we are the disenfranchised, the other, the slave, the immigrant, the refugee, dreams deferred make a way, trust in God, listen to God’s message and sing: “Deep Down in my heart, Jesus leads the way, come by here, faith will set your course. They call us to be like Saint Joseph.
Sister Melinda Pellerin ssj is a Board Member of the National Black Sisters Conference and a soul friend of Agape.