On this national holiday when we remember and honor Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded once again how much we yearn for light.
When we’re children we wake our parents in the night to say, “I had a bad dream,” and they respond, lovingly, “go back to sleep, it was just a dream.” My parents would leave the hallway light on, and for some reason that little crack of light underneath the door gave me sufficient assurance to fall back asleep. That might be a great technique for children, but I’m not sure it works for adolescents or adults.
In fact, there’s a psychic and social cost to going back to sleep because when we avoid grappling with darkness our moral conscience doesn’t get strengthened, and before long, our ethics devolve into rules instead of cultivated wisdom and compassion.
Today Dr. King’s “I have a dream speech” will reverberate in our ears. I love that speech, and like many of you, I can quote entire lines. Yet, I must confess that I’ve relegated it to a precious shelf on the archives of my heart and mind, unintentionally giving it due reverence without incorporating it. I feel a renewed call to make those words and the sentiment with which Dr. King said them, the inspiration I need to change the way I think, act, and feel. I yearn for the light, and I yearn to be the light.
On Christmas Eve afternoon I was walking from church to home and was joined by Nina Cronan, a twenty-something Parishioner who lives in Boston (and who grew up across the street from Epiphany). Nina is the principal of a school in East Boston, where more than 70% of her students are people of color. While most of her students are American citizens, most of the student body’s parents are not. From my comfortable perch of privilege it’s hard to imagine what life at home is like for these families, and, when I asked about that Nina said, “it’s really hard to learn when you’re constantly afraid.”
But there was a beam of light in Nina’s story. A really, really big beam of light. In addition to a large Spanish speaking community who find safety and solace at school, a growing number of Moroccans, most of whom are Muslim, do too. Guess what part of the school building the Muslim kids use to say their prayers? The principal’s office! Just before Christmas Nina received lovely notes from the Moroccan community thanking her for opening her office to be a place of prayer. In my mind’s eye I can see Nina and her students singing today, “this little light of mine.”
Maybe the invitation for today is to ask God to use us, so that something of Dr. King’s witness and words will so fill our minds and hearts that we will be a beam of light. Here’s a prayer for today:
Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Faithfully in Christ,