Does your love make any difference in a graveyard? – from Psalm 88

Love, Healing in the Slave Cemetery

© 2012 Jeffrey Kontur, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I let out one of those soul-emptying sighs when I read this line in the dawn light today.  Of course, the Psalmist is implying that God’s love does not make a difference when we are dead, but I’m not sure he’s right there.  As someone who has spent a lot of time in cemeteries filled with people I love, filled with people whose names I cannot and will not know, I have to believe that God’s love does make a difference even there.

In fact, I know it does.  I’ve seen it in my own scarred-up heart, and I’ve seen it on tear-soaked cheeks of people who held the hand of the person in the grave just yesterday and heard it in the sobs of people who never knew that they’d ever find their ancestors’ resting places.

Love is not only now. It is a retro-active healer. A profound one.

Almost weekly, I hear or read someone who believes that we should leave “the past in the past.” In my world, these words are usually said about slavery, but I imagine people say them about divorces and the Holocaust and childhood trauma and Japanese internment camps all the same.  Many of us have come to believe that ignoring history is the best way to heal from it.

Many of us are wrong.  If we will not look back, we cannot see the way forward.

Today, I am returning to the special collections room at the University of Virginia.  There, I will settle down with an army-green box, a sharp pencil, and journals that are over 150 years old.  With those tools, I will carve open the festering scar tissue that we’ve allowed to grow over the unhealed wound of slavery and let my heart be scarred again by people owned like animals, treated like furniture, and spoken of like tiny, misguided children.  I will let myself feel deeply – and take tissues – because I am trying to bear some of this burden forward for all of us. It’s precious, hard work, and I deeply honored to have been chosen to do it.

Love can make a difference in a graveyard. It can make a difference on a Alabama bridge. It can make a difference on a minstrel stage and at a “for coloreds only” water fountain. It can make a difference on a Baltimore street for a young man who is thrown into the back of a van.

Love really is the only thing that can make a difference, and praise the Almighty that love is timeless and not bounded as we are by the walls of chronology.

Praise God for that.


If you are looking for an excellent resource on slave cemeteries, please see Lynn Rainville’s powerful, rich book Hidden History: African American Cemeteries in Central Virginia.