The Bible Verse Bell Hooks Shared With My Children

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When I first met Bell Hooks three years ago, I was with my four children and I didn’t quite know what to say. A mutual friend arranged a short visit to her home. My heart was overflowing with gratitude for all the ways the hooks weaved race, gender, class, faith, place, and love into her work. My mind raced with ways to express a fraction of my appreciation and awe.

Being at a loss for words was a gift, since I had come there to listen. She was thrilled with my children, and we laugh when we remember that day. They especially liked that she likes junk food, swears and lets them touch her things. We all felt safe, seen and loved on this short visit.

On Wednesday, I told my kids that Bell Hooks was dead. They knew she was sick, but we still hoped to see her again. My 13 year old daughter, wearing a T-shirt with an Audre Lorde quote on the back, was especially keen to come back. At 10, she didn’t know what a gift it was to sit in the living room of a woman who points so many of us to paths of healing and liberation.

“We will continue to meet her through her writings,” I assured my children.

When she met Malachi, my oldest, she told us that her favorite Bible verse was Malachi 3:10. Last night I re-read the verse in his honor: “Bring the full tithe into the barn, that there may be food in my house, and thus prove me, saith the Lord of armies; see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven for you and pour out an abundant blessing for you.

In his memoirs, Bone Black: Childhood Memories, Hooks remembers how she read aloud the scriptures for the church offering. It is quite possible that the scripture is Malachi 3:10, a common verse to read for tithes and offerings. Miss Erma, a woman from her church, was moved.

“She wanted to give me something,” Hooks wrote, “a gesture of her confidence that the divine voice that came out of me and touched her beating heart would continue to speak and name itself in this world.”

Reading this scripture again, through the lens of Hooks’ life and work, I see the verse extend far beyond monetary gifts. When we are tempted to erect walls of self-preservation and fear, this passage reminds us not to hold back the fullness of our love. Miss Erma helped young Gloria Watkins feel seen and loved, as if there was something sacred in her voice, a voice worth sharing with the world. This voice has become the legendary voice of bells.

I am not the only one to mourn the bells; she wouldn’t want us to mourn her alone. She has invested herself in her work as a writer and believes deeply in a love that heals. She proved to me – as she did to so many of us – that you can be whole and at home in your body, mind and soul, that vulnerability is a courageous practice, that love is something you can give generously without losing yourself.

You can read more about visiting Josina Guess with bell hooks here.

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