How restrained, how meager our experience of life often is. We settle in to comfortable limits and hold on to what we've always thought and believed and done. We walk the old territory up and down the mundane spaces of our days and miss so much.
I’m guilty. Most of us are.
Huge swaths of our modern society seem locked in some circumscribed routine of thought and action. Where are the social revolutionaries of the past? Where are the political and religious trouble makers, the heroes and heroines who stir up the status quo and arouse change that improves life for all of us? I want to be one of them.
Robert Kennedy convinced his president brother that school segregation was intolerable. He fought union corruption and the mafia influence. “We will not stand by or be aloof,” he said in a speech to the University of Georgia Law School, “we will move.” He did move. And so did society under his influence for the good of many. A politician with a conscience and compassion. Unheard of today. I admire his solidarity with humanity in spite of his family wealth and position.
Mother Teresa, uninterested in money or power or fame, was restless in the safety of her convent. On a personal retreat away from others she felt moved to do something for the poor and the sick. She received medical missions training so she could be helpful. Then one day, dressed for the first time in a white blue bordered sari, she walked out of the convent into the dirty streets of Calcutta to, as she later said, find and serve Jesus “in the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” She was eventually followed by some of her female students. And in time, with them by her side, she started the Charity of Sisters Order. She went into the shacks of the poor and washed the sores of children. She lifted old men out of their filth and fed them and nursed them to health. She held women dying with tuberculosis and leprosy and defied disease to stop her efforts to care. “As to my calling,” she said, “I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” Bold. Unafraid. Selfless. I envy that spirit. I am embarrassed by my own reluctance to be so giving; to do something brave and loving without regard to my own ego.
Martin Luther King, Jr. endured the mocking violent bigoted crowds of the 60s and fought for Civil Rights. An ordained educated minister he did not sit in some lavish television studio manipulating the gullible for money to finance summer homes and luxury cars for himself. He did not court politicians for power and greed. Instead, he walked the streets of the dangerous South in protest of black poverty and cheap wages and segregated communities. He was jailed. He was vilified. He was threatened. And finally he was murdered. But what extraordinary changes he prompted. He gave dignity to his race and raised a whole generation of Americans to see the evil and inhumanity of racial hatred and prejudice. I want his vision, his abundant courage, his love of people, his hope for social progress.
These and others not as well known are those who stopped pacing up and down the banks and forged the deep waters, ignoring the clear dangers, contending with hidden obstacles, and, following a higher purpose of life than just existence, monotony, security and triviality, made a difference where they were. Flawed. Human. Mortal. Still, they were not dissuaded from their cause.
I want to walk out into those deep places that carry one over to the further shore. I want to know what it is to live expansively, to see needs and meet them, whatever the effort or the cost or the trouble.
We don’t any of us have to have illusions of grandeur to do this. Just a willingness to cross the river and see what we’re willing to learn and become in our journey to be a fully loving growing person.
© 2014 Timothy Moody