The Pastor Confesses to the Atheist

Emmanuel AME Church, on the Sunday following the murder of 9 people in that building.

Once before a crowd
of mourners, I said
a foolish thing:
I told them that the
God in whom they sought
comfort was simply

“For you know,” I told
them, “It was simply
vagueness that they
followed in the desert”

A cloud by day,
floating fire by night.

so the story goes.

“And even the name they would
use would be purposefully
forgotten, fade into the
background to preserve
the mystery: a word
that is no word but
beyond all words.”

For years I have tried to remember
why I would even consider saying such
a thing. Perhaps they were more
confused than comforted. Perhaps it
was enough that I was simply there.

But I confess
no folly to you on this day.
I have been silent, yes, but
not because of some sacred
vagueness. I confess that
I only have mangled
words for these mangled bodies.

Drafts crumpled on my floor:
Perhaps an ironic pastoral
in the tradition of “Strange Fruit”?

“What is the sound of that sad city?
I have never even been.”

I have not known what to say, as if
I ever do.

But I know that just as that name is kept
sacred because it was long ago disappeared
from memory–
there are names, once we stop speaking them,
that disappear from memory,
then disappear from history.

so I pass them on to you,
knowing you will remember.
you will hear, you will mourn
every syllable, every day
and I thank the unspeakable vagueness
that leads us both to this place:

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
Tywanza Sanders
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Daniel Simmons
Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson


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