The Amen Corner
“A fierceness of one independent woman? There is no fierceness. You are confusing women with men.”
Barren. Drought. Willing to be enslaved to survive. For a while. Over and over, the waiting in the story. About leaving and coming back. The tension when you moved outside the tribe. In leaving. In coming back.
The tension when you moved inside the tribe. Parents who are fooled, blinded by their own kids. Eloping in the night, like Jacob.
The tension when you moved outside the tribe. Contrast the tensions. Between mothers and sons. Between fathers and daughters. Between newlyweds, during the early barren period. Contrast the independence in the stories of nomads to that of people enslaved.
Living outside the garden. Banished. The anger over who left whom. Learning to live with things that hurt. As you own children became outsiders, living life in so many prophylactic ways. And all of the waiting in the story. How men, how women, dealt with the waiting. Contemplating the deepest things about you. When women discovered how to push men along. So gently.
The barren period. The never ending barren period, when fertility comes in conflict with spirituality? When one thing led to another. In looking for love.
I have not read James Baldwin since reading The Invisible Man in the fall of 1973. I did not recognize then that it was a story of spirituality and the African-American experience. Did a twenty-year old kid know enough to really be in college? And last month I somehow missed the Guthrie Theater’s production of “The Amen Corner,” a story about the what happened to the shared belief of the descendants of share-croppers. I want to read the play after hearing some dialogue.
When fertility comes in conflict with spirituality? The juxtaposition of the outside church with the inside preacher. Feel the barren periods. When the setting conceptualized by the producer involved having the actors go through something to get to the church on stage. And did you ever note the chronology how Chosen People had to go through slavery to reach the Promise Land?
To go through something …. like slavery. Enslaved to your fertility. With a conflict between the sacred and the profane, between a young man’s inner longing to work in the world of music, in the plot. A young man in the 1950s involved with a music that “belongs to us.” In one perspective of the African-American community that never had anything that ever belonged to them.
The tension when you never knew whether you had much of a relationship or not. The tension that came down from slavery. When one thing led to another.
Listen to the Negro spirituals, which came out of slavery as a way of life in the quite personal inner battle between the sacred and the profane, when every moment of your life involved being a slave to someone or something. It is written that Baldwin wrestled in his quite personal inner battle with his own sexuality in a time when the outside world was hostile to homosexuality. In story after personal story, God went about meeting His people usually in socially and spiritually awkward settings. Baldwin grew up in a place and time when it was felt his sexuality did not belong in the world. So how in the world could his sexuality ever be sacred?
In “The Amen Corner,” this character grew up living with a mother who had become a preacher. A divorced preacher. In essentially a love story between a mother and her son. The power in relationship, with manipulation of religion. With characters doing things, even against their own will, in what it was that they listened to. And an anger over who left whom.
There is the alienation theme, when the mother tells her divorced husband, “I did not know if I had a husband or not.”
There is dialogue in the play between the mother with his father who returns. When the past threatens the present and your future. In a ‘when he was never there for me” moment. In one scene with his son, the dialogue is:
“I heard about you. All along I have heard about you.” With the alienation theme.
Learning to live with things that hurt. In the spectacle of the church service, when you own children became outsiders. When people are afraid to talk, about the deepest things within. And from a note I jotted in listening to the producer, with a preacher without answers. When a child so much was a reclamation process of your own past.
When you are born into something. When you had no choice. When you had to live with it. The alienation between believers and non-believers, in the outside world. The producer’s daughter is involved in the marketing of this play at the Guthrie, too much with the air of a preacher, only on issues of politics. I am not sure she gets yet the subtle nature of Baldwin.
Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church
Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name Bell Hooks