I wanted to call this post “A Comedy of Errors” but, on second thought, changed it to Maya Angelou. I will explain why – later. Dr. Maya Angelou went to be with her Lord on 28 May 2014. Front line news honored her life time achievement as an activist, writer, poet, teacher, singer and dancer, etc. Oprah called her “mother, mentor and sister”. Time Magazine named her book “I know why the caged bird sings” as one of the 100 best non-fiction books of all times. Many dignitaries, including the current First Lady Michelle Obama, and former President Bill Clinton, spoke at her memorial service. President Clinton said: “God loaned his voice and decided he wanted it back for a while”.
Her name was Marguerite Annie Johnson (1928-2014). As a black girl, born in poverty and segregation, growing up in difficult American towns, she was raped when she was just seven. Her traumatic experience and circumstances turned her virtually mute and unable to speak for some time. Only those who lived in such circumstances can begin to understand.
Two questions come to my mind. Despite all those accolades, how and why did such a great heart not occupy a larger portion in my radar? I heard her only once on an Oprah TV show. I am now making amends reading about her. Second, how did this lady with that background become such a universal voice?
Here are my thoughts. No one can be up to date on all events and every outstanding person. We can at least get into the habit of grabbing unusual or exciting events or writings etc., noting it down and doing some research. Be like Moses – go back to the burning bush. My curiosity started with her name Maya. It is a Hindu/Sanskrit word meaning illusion, not in the bad sense.
I would love to believe that some pastor, congregation or community took interest in her well being, although I do not know for sure. There is a tendency in us to look for some benevolent personality or books of enlightenment. Often the simple sling shot and stones, instead of the sword and armour of Saul to David, is more effective. It may not be a university or even a seminary, as much as I respect these institutions. They may be just around the corner, and not in a journey to Mecca, Medina, Benares, Bodh Gaya or Jerusalem.
For Maya, it was t was neither a heavy quote from scripture nor a prophetic utterance from a pulpit, or lines from a philosopher, but the grace of God. The good Lord used her mother’s advice: “You know the difference between right and wrong. Do right. And remember, you can always come home”. For a girl of seventeen, those words were uplifting. I liked her line: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song”.
My mother (thank God for Christian mothers) often told me as a young boy, why she named me Daniel, and the challenge to dare to be a Danieland – dare to stand alone. Now, I tell this to my grandson Daniel Boy. There was more to it, when Hannah brought Samuel to Shiloh and said to Ely: “For this child I prayed”.
Why not search for men or women, boys or girls, and incorporate some of their thinking or writing in our blog, lectures or sermons? I wonder if Maya ever got her poems recited in her church long before she became famous. Let us not lose touch of common people. They are the Church.
Now to my first inkling to call this post a Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare). Soon after Maya’s memorial service, I read an inspirational poem called “I am a Christian” by Maya Angelou. It was simply beautiful. A few days later, my son-in-law Jeremy (Daniel Boy’s dad) prompted me to go to a website called snopes.com regarding this poem. To my surprise, I found that it was not written by Maya at all, but by one named Carol Wimmer, published in 1988 in a church magazine called Hi-Call. The error was the authorship and the comedy was the opportunity to read and enjoy a magnificent poem against the self righteous distortion of Christianity. Go to the web, you will like it.
God bless, Danny Paul