As we look at Baltimore on fire, a record of more than 43,000 oil spills over the last 20 years, according to the EPA1, the loss of bio-diversity at a rate 100 X faster than ever before, the ticking nuclear time-bomb clock, the western drought unbroken, and the increasing use of drones to gather information and deliver death, we are concerned about the future of our beloved planet . Some even feel hopeless. But I came across this meditation last week and must share it:
“Not only do we grow old as individuals, but humanity is also aging as a species—and evolving. Though because our individual lives are so short, it is hard to see. Imagine staring at a 100-year-old oak tree for one solid week, trying to see it grow. Won’t happen. To actually see the transformation from seedling acorn to sapling to mature tree, we need “deep time” eyesight. And so it is with the human race. We need perspective. The long perspective eyeglasses.
Theodore Parker was a Unitarian Minister, a Ttrancendentalist, like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. He was also a social reformer, speaking shortly before the civil war, in the Boston area. In the 18 60’s he gave a series of sermons condemning slavery. He said,
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one and my eye reaches but a little ways. I can divine it only by conscience. And from what I see now I am sure it bends toward justice.” Theodore Parker knew the present struggle was part of the healing of our country---and that it would take time. Probably a long time.
So it was that one hundred years LATER, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used that very quote to remind us not to lose heart in our work toward equality. He said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
As we heal our own hearts and reveal our own Light, we help humanity to do the same. As we see our world today, our work is to know the truth of us all. We are learning. We are growing. We are seedlings of great change.
When I entered a Catholic teaching order of sisters in 1962, our nation was in turmoil. The Viet Nam war was raging, and students could not understand why we were there. As it dragged on, the number of African American victims increased, and their communities could not understand what they had died FOR. By the 1960s, decades of racial, economic, and political forces had also generated inner city poverty, resulting in "race riots" within minority areas in cities across the United States. The beating and rumored death of cab driver John Smith by police, sparked the 1967 Newark riots. This event became, per capita, one of the deadliest civil disturbances of the 1960s.. Five days of rioting left hundreds injured, 26 dead, a lot of looting and property damage. The assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee and later of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1968 also led to rioting, looting and burning. Long repressed anger WILL eventually burst out, upon further provocation.
The 1980s and '90s saw a number of riots tied to longstanding racial tensions between police and minority communities. The 1980 Miami riots occurred following the death of an African-American motorist at the hands of four whiteMiami-Dade Police officers who were subsequently acquitted on charges of manslaughter and evidence tampering. Similarly, the six-day 1992 Los Angeles riots erupted after the acquittal of four white LAPD officers who had been filmed beating Rodney King, an African-American motorist. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has identified over 100 instances of mass racial violence in the United States since 1935 and has noted that almost every instance was precipitated by a police incident.2
So here we sit in the 21st century, watching rioting again. Tearing up department stores, gas stations, old age centers. Elsewhere we are tearing up the soil and the trees and the wild and beautiful diversity of creation. Economic inequity has become staggering in its contrast between the very few very wealthy and the masses and masses of impoverished, war-torn, economically deprived immigrants. They will risk death in the desert, drowning at sea, suffocating in rail cars, just to find a way to live. On June 20, 2014, World Refugee Day, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry re-affirmed our nation’s commitment to helping refugees and our leading role in providing safe haven, reflecting a harsh reality. There are currently more refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons on earth than at any time since World War II.3
My husband is very distressed by all of this, and can feel worried about our future.
After all, he was a foot soldier in the battle for fair housing and civil rights for people of color during the late 20th century. Sometimes he asks sadly, “what has changed?”
But that takes us back to our opening thoughts. Those thoughts about standing around watching a giant Sequoia tree grow. We can’t see it. But I promise you this: without the blessed seeds, without OUR love to water the earth, there will never be any change. There will never be any giants of grace. And shade. And hope. And justice. So we must be confident in the belief that WE are the change we want to see, as Gandhi said—and as Gandhi lived. Let us take up our courage, gather our will power, and