“You look sad.”
“I am,” I tell the sheep. “A great man died this week. And I miss him.”
“What made him great?” a little one asked.
“He made us better people.”
I like Andrew Young’s take. John Lewis “didn’t convince you by his arguments. He convinced you by his life… He believed what we talk about, and he lived it every day of his life. And he didn’t have a violent streak in his body. And he was always forgiving, always loving, always understanding. And he never made you feel guilty. But he made you feel responsible.”
Growing up, we loved to talk about conversion in our church. Mostly it meant punching my ticket for eternity (staying out of hell). And adherence to a belief system (even if I couldn’t explain it). Here’s what’s interesting. I was never asked how conversion made a difference to my everyday life. I was never asked to be converted (through humility, vulnerability and an open heart) to a more profound humanity. To “place love at the center, the center that holds solid as all around it breaks, the solid place that becomes the fort of what is unbreakable in us and the fulcrum of change.” (Maria Popova)
I like that. Sign me up.
On March 3, 2013, I witnessed such a conversion, to place love at the center. And the motivation was John Lewis.
I was honored to participate in a Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage (to Selma and Montgomery and Birmingham to commemorate Bloody Sunday and crossing the Selma Bridge). A pilgrimage led by John Lewis.
We sat in the First Baptist Church of Montgomery (in the 60s led by Ralph Abernathy and significant in the Montgomery Bus Boycott).
John reminded us of the story, when in 1965, as he led 600 peaceful protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, white state troopers attacked the marchers, turning Bloody Sunday into an emblem of segregation’s senselessness. “We were beaten, we were tear-gassed. I thought I was going to die on this bridge. But somehow and some way, God almighty helped me here. We cannot give up now. We cannot give in. We must keep the faith, keep our eyes on the prize.”
In church that morning, Police Chief Kevin Murphy was not initially invited to the event, but was asked to speak only after Montgomery’s mayor and director of public safety were unable to attend. And Chief Murphy went off script. He was supposed to say, “Welcome to Montgomery.” Instead, he said he wanted the Montgomery Police Department to be “heard in a different light than what history has recorded in years past. There’s still a lot of work to do; we know that. We, the police department, need to make the first move to build that trust back in our community that was once lost because we enforced unjust laws. Those unjust laws were immoral and wrong. But you know what? It’s a new day. And there’s a new police department and a new Montgomery here and now and on the horizon.”
Captain Murphy asked Rep. John Lewis (our pilgrimage leader) to stand, and come forward. Rep. Lewis–a Civil Rights worker, a Congressman–was on the Selma Bridge that original Bloody Sunday, and was beaten.
Captain Murphy said simply, “We owe you an apology.”
“When you got off the bus in 1961, you didn’t have a friend in the police department.” (At the time, the Police department stood to the side as protestors were beaten and killed.) “I want you to know that you have friends in the Montgomery Police Department–that we’re for you, we’re with you, we want to respect the law and adhere to the law, which is what you were trying to do all along.” Chief Murphy removed his badge, handing it to John Lewis, “This symbol of authority, which used to be a symbol of oppression, needs to be a symbol of reconciliation.”
“It means a great deal,” Lewis said later. (Lewis had been arrested during civil rights protests in cities across the south, saying it was the first time a police chief had ever apologized to him.) “I teared up. I tried to keep from crying.”
When asked after, Murphy told reporters, “I did it because it was the right thing to do.”
Is there still more to heal? Absolutely. However, I want to start here and take this conversion to heart: That which can be used for hurt and pain, can be redeemed and used for reconciliation.
On bridges that have seen pain and hatred, new bridges can be built.
Here’s the deal: Each and every one of us can be bridges builders.
We can build bridges for reconciliation and second chances and peace making.
We can build roads for mercy and generosity and justice.
We can build floors for dancing and music and celebration.
We create bandages for wounds and fractured spirits and broken hearts.
We create sanctuaries for safety and prayer and hope, to replenish us and invite us to wholeness.
When kindheartedness spills, I live with my heart unclenched and expanded. And I am no longer a walking resentment in search of a cause.
In that Montgomery church I realized that it doesn’t matter what we expect from life, but what life expects from us. As a result, we can choose to unleash the heart, in order to be our better selves.
John Lewis left some awfully big shoes to fill. But a word of encouragement. And some advice about filling them; “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.”
Today, we’re invited to a paradigm shift. We often hear people say, ‘I know my rights,’ but seldom hear, ‘I know my responsibilities and obligations.
With no ego to protect, I can give my heart to create sanctuaries of kindness. To place love at the center.
And no one can take that away. They can demean us, belittle us, criticize us and silence us. But no one can take that away.
So. Today. I choose to speak the language of the heart. To give and to build. One choice at a time.
What about tomorrow? We can’t control that.
What about reaction or public opinion? We can’t control that.
What about acceptance? We can’t control that.
There is no technique here. Chief Murphy chose to “lean toward the whispers” of his heart.
Because he was made of stronger stuff? No. Because ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
On our 2103 pilgrimage, John Lewis would tell stories of his life, including how as a boy, he liked to preach to the chickens at his parents’ farm in southern Alabama. I smile remembering that story. And want to make sure to tell it to the sheep.
It is officially summer here now. With sun and warmth (well, in the Pacific Northwest warmth is relative).
Were you fortunate enough to see the Neowise comet? It’ll still be visible into early August. And it will return in 6800 years. Just so you know.
Our actions entrench the power of the light on this planet. Every positive thought we pass between us makes room for more light. And if we do more than think, then our actions clear the path for even more light. That is why forgiveness and compassion must become more important principles in public life. John Lewis, (Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change)
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Thank you for another beautiful gift today Terry. Your reflections and conversations with your dear sheep are a soothing balm for my soul. In peace and light, Janine
–ubi caritas clip… stunning. Connie
–I have enjoyed your sabbath moment for many years and would enjoy your retreat guidelines. I am an avid gardener and actively try to make the world a more beautiful place. I too look for daily miracles and they are many. My garden is filled with Lobelia that I did not plant. After a car accident that prevented me from gardening I planted one Lobelia to entice hummingbirds into my garden. I made sure they had a small cup of water to drink from, a hummingbird feeder, and my Lobelia. A mama hummingbird came about 6-8 times a day to my small space. She would pause about 12″ from my face and if I was not in my chair outside she would tap on my window asking me to come outside. On hot days when I hid inside she would tap several taps to get me to go out and turn on my mister setting on my hose. She dips her head to let water run down her back and raises her head to cool her chest. Her daily visits brought hundreds off Lobelia to my garden in shades of blue purple and red creating her own Monet painting. Now during Covid she provides frequent company. I have greeted her babies towards the end of summer and look forward to her new hatchlings. Marilyn
–Greetings Terry. I just felt I had to send you a message to say a big thank you to you for feeding me with your Sabbath Moments. Especially today. Its just confirming all I’ve been studying recently. You are a wonderful person with the Blessing of getting the message across. Keep up the good work. I hope we can still met in Dublin for a coffee later in the year, if the fates permit us to. Wishing you a relaxed body, A spacious mind, A joyous heart. Margaret.
–Listening to Uni Cartes immediately transported me back in time to 1957 (I was 21) when I had the privilege to travel outside of Rochester,NY and visit a monastery, to hear evening vespers. This experience was priceless— I went with the idea of “something to do” and came home knowing I had an encounter with “something beyond my comprehension at the time.” I believe it was my awaking to the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life.
Mondays aren’t the same without reading Sabbath Moment! Sally (P.S. extra prayers needed Covid surge here)
–Following your reference to Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty, I am happy to share that while care taking my dying father, I am able, randomly, after finding myself getting bitchy, to stop and be where my feet stand and a smile comes to my face. Aaahhh, now I am present with pops. It stops my head from racing to where I imagine I’d prefer to be other than here, right now. You’re sharing today reminds me of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist…. Blessings for yours, and all ours, inspirations, when our eyes and hearts are open!
POEMS AND PRAYERS
“Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with goodness. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.” John Lewis
Help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being
so utterly that my life may only be a radiance of yours.
John Henry Newman (1801-1890)
The Light We Leave Behind
A star chart tells me
that the star I am seeing tonight
is 500 light years away.
It may have died 499 years ago,
and I am still seeing its last light.
Stars are born, they live, and they die.
What is the light that remains when we leave?
If I die after writing this poem, is this my light,
and how long might that light remain and be seen?
I wondered last night and still this morning
about these questions, and still now,
standing again outside
under a mackerel sky dappled, rippled with clouds
and the sun, our family star,
which will also die.
Then, there will be no light remaining.
Perhaps, this is not what you believed.
When it dies, the Earth dies with it.
No last light to come after it.
In its end, the sun will expand
into a red giant
and will vaporize the Earth.
My son rises
and joins me outside
his coffee steaming a small cloud
into the December air.
In this enormous moment,
we look into the sky and universe.
We are a fortnight from the year ending
and hopeful for many more circles
around the sun. We are expanding,
gathering our light, and sharing it
while we can still see it reflected
in those constellating nearby.