Bless the Black Turtleneck

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

I notice the black turtleneck as we meet. As we sit down, I hear her sigh deeply. She looks at me, eyes searching. Neither of us has words for what lies between us. Her eyes fill with pools so deep and dark it feels I will drown in them if I continue to hold her gaze. She must know it too, because she drops her face as her tears begin to spill, while the Spirit goes to the depth of her pain to intercede for her need.

Her shoulders slump then, her lips quiver, and as I grab her hands, her deep sigh turns into a quiet sob, catching in the space between breaths. Her hands clench mine. She holds her breath—we both do. As if stopping there, before the next inhale, will somehow ward off the moment of when what-has-happened turns into what-will-be.

My throat aches at the memory, and with the decades and centuries of women’s tears before it. I ache for women who have worn black to a child’s funeral, a partner’s funeral, a mother’s funeral, a father’s funeral, or that of another well-loved one.

I ache for the burials of dreams, of marriages, and of all the plans that have died along with a relationship that was lost or undiscovered. I ache for the diagnoses, both hers and those of her loved ones. I ache for the violence that has been endured. I ache for the silence, the void of her gifts, the dismissal of her imago dei.

I ache for women who sigh as they pull the black turtleneck and slacks onto their exhausted bodies for the journey into the dark unknown of what-will-be.

I know the deep sigh, and the way the Spirit intercedes and wills her forward. I know why she goes. Like the aching women before her, she must, because so many depend on her—children, spouses, parents, siblings, colleagues, masters, lords. The luxury of stopping is not hers.

So, tucking her heartache away for a bit, she pulls the black turtleneck over her head. She pauses as the fabric encases her face, lets a quiet sob escape into a tear—a tribute to the thousand that threaten. Raising her head, she pulls the fabric down to the space where it hugs her aching throat. She looks into the mirror at eyes she does not recognize, and wills the lips to smile ever so slightly. She shakes her head as if to cast off the deep, as the Spirit turns her toward the world. She inhales and says, “Okay, then.”

And the Spirit intercedes, giving words to that which she cannot express, giving will to that which she cannot do, making a space to tuck her despair long enough to go into her world. “Okay, then.”

“Okay, then,” are words that emerge from the deep. Affirming with us that the world is not as it should be. The Spirit tills the soil of our heartache and plants a seed of hope, willing us the courage to step into what-will-be. With that seed of hope planted within us, we still grieve. We ache for the generations that were and for what is. Yet by the Spirit, we will take a tearful, sighing, hope-tinged step. This is the power of the woman in black.

Bless the deep sighs. Bless the Spirit who goes to the deep place. Bless the intercession. Bless the black turtleneck. Bless the ever-loving ache at the back of our throats. Bless the ones we love and have loved. And bless the will to step into what-will-be.

Bless the women in black.

And even more, bless the black women. They ache in spaces I will never know.

Today, as I reach for the ever-present black turtleneck, I hear my own spirit say, “Okay, then.”

Bless God for the Spirit who intercedes in the depths.

Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of everyday life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.