Monday, June 8, 2015

"And Then All"

Asked by Judge David Dreyer to share the closing prayer during the Robert F. Kennedy Remembrance at the Kennedy King Memorial in King Park this past Saturday (June 6th, the 47th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination), I happened onto this poem by artist Judy Chicago and it captured my sense of what should be shared on this occasion.

I had been thinking of the one phrase in the Lord's Prayer which consistently moves me: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Behind this petition or longing is a deep-down ache that things "on earth" are not "as they are in heaven," connecting to the deep-down conviction that they should and can be. The work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the labor of Bobby Kennedy for equality, justice, reconciliation, and an evasive community of hope are reflected in this prayer.

When I found Judy Chicago's poem in Prayers for the Common Good compiled by Jean Lescher, the words seemed to reflect the heart of the prayer "Thy kingdom come." I incorporated the poem into my brief reflections that I shared as I stood in the shadow of the unique and compelling Kennedy King Memorial.

With gratitude to Chicago for her way of contemporizing an ancient longing and prophecy, I put myself once again into these words and pray with a breaking, hoping heart: 

And then all that has divided us will merge.
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind.
And then both men and women will be gentle.
And then both women and men will be strong.
And then no person will be subject to another’s will.
And then all will be rich and free and varied.
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many.
And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance.
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old.
And then all will nourish the young.
And then all will cherish life’s creatures.
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth.
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Activism and Grace

Excerpts from Thomas Merton’s letter to peace activist Jim Forest

Thomas Merton at the Gethsemane
Trappist monastery in Kentucky
This is an excerpt of a letter read to me by a group of fellow urban pastors about 15 years ago. I hadn't heard of it before then. It is correspondence from Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton to a young peace activist named Jim Forest during the struggles to end the Vietnam War. The stories of both Merton and Forest are compelling and worth exploring.

The occasion on which this letter was read to me marked a moment in which my confidence in the "cause" of the institutional church was at a low ebb. I will forever be grateful to my friends for sharing it with me at that crossroads. Since then, I've read the letter from different perspectives at different times. It expresses enduring and principled insights worth passing along.  I've bolded phrases that strike me as particularly poignant and worthy of contemplation.

Jim Forest today. His work as an advocate for international
peace has continued throughout his life.
Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.

"As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that save everything. 
"You are fed up with words, and I don’t blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there gin by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right. 
"The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important. 
"The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. 
"All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more, and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it. 
"The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration and confusion… 
"The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand.”

More about Jim Forest and Thomas Merton

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA