January 17, 2010
We Are Marching in the Light of God
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
The Doctrine of Charity (1766) Passage 210
Translated By John Whitehead in 1914
210. (I.) To will not to do evil to the neighbor is to love him. For he who loves another
does not do evil to him. …This is evident, that he who loves the neighbor does not
commit these evils.
From Martin Luther King, Jr:
Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls
as well as a quantitative change in our lives.
I lived in New Hampshire for many years, and it became part of my yearly ritual to go to the State House every 3rd Monday in January to join hundreds of others in protesting that New Hampshire would not designate a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
In 1983, the month of January also was marked by a stunning event in my life: I started seminary studies. I had felt a strong call to ministry, but couldn't discern what denomination God was calling me to. I hadn't been to church in years, and at that time had not heard of Swedenborg.
I took the radical step of applying for seminary study at Boston University. I was accepted, and started with that January term. The trip from rural NH to the heart of Boston was quite unsettling. I didn't know that people could drive with such abandon for the laws of the road as I experienced in Boston!
However, I did find my way through the city to the university, and managed to get my car parked in a school lot. Then I followed
the map on foot to get myself to the School of Theology. As I came to the plaza in front of the building, I saw a large statue. I wondered who it was a statue of -- one of the apostles, perhaps? I walked up to it, and was startled to see that it was a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.! I was even more amazed to learn that King had studied at the B.U. School of theology, and had obtained a doctorate there.
I instantly felt a bond with King that I hadn't experienced before. Every day of classes that semester, I walked by the King statue, and felt a kinship of studying where he had once studied.
A few years later, I learned about Swedenborg, and about the New Jerusalem. It seemed to me that Swedenborg had a theology quite similar to King's. I wondered if King could have been influenced by Swedenborg. Here are several ways that could have happened:
KING READ THOREAU
King entered Morehouse College in 1944 at the age of 15. He read Henry David Thoreau's essay "On Civil Disobedience" for the first time.
Here, in this courageous New Englander's refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather
than support a war that would spread slavery's …I made my first contact with the theory of
nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was
so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.
He later wrote:
The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever
before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest
…, these are outgrowths of Thoreau's insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can
patiently adjust to injustice.
Swedenborg had had a big impact on Emerson and the other Transcendentalists. Thoreau seems to have read Swedenborg, and may have absorbed some of his concept of “evil” and of “neighbor.” Swedenborg said:
As much as we avoid evils as sins, so much do we love truth, because that is just how much we are we
involved in what is good. On the other hand, as much as we do not avoid evils as sins, so much do we not
love truth, because that is just how much we are not involved in good things. (The Doctrine of Life #21, 34)
King graduated from Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology in 1948.
KING IN SEMINARY
King knew God’s love in nature. He wrote about his time in seminary:
On the side of the campus ran a little tributary from the Delaware river. Every day I would sit on
the edge of the campus by the side of the river and watch the beauties of nature. My friend, in this
experience, I saw God. I saw him in birds of the air, the leaves of the tree, the movement of the
rippling waves.... Sometimes I go out at night and look up at the stars … There is God.
Sometimes I watch the sun as it gets up in the morning and paints its technicolor across the
eastern horizon. There is God. Sometimes I watch the moon as it walks across the sky as a
queen walks across her masterly mansion. There is God. Henry Ward Beecher was right: "Nature
is God's tongue."
KING READ SWEDENBORG
Only in the past couple of years have we learned that King had read Swedenborg. Morehouse College had a donation of King material that included many books King had read; with his notes in the margins. There were some Swedenborg books there. This statement of Martin Luther King, Jr. was found in the margin of one of his books
Swedenborg enables us to understand why we were created, why we are alive and what happens to us after our bodies die. Swedenborg enables us to have the best possible understanding of God’s message as it exists in those Bible Books which constitute God’s Word
King's theology was about the Beloved Community, but not as a future event; rather as a way of living life today.
Martin Luther King said this in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “
It’s alright to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee.
King's concept of the New Jerusalem is similar to Swedenborg's New Jerusalem. It is not something for us to dream about for the future; it is something for us to create now in this world.
The same is true for natural disasters, such as the one that occured in Haiti this week. We create the New Jerusalem each time we reach out to help others in need; through our prayers and our action. Every prayer and every deed in this disaster helps us create a Beloved Community today.
Let us pray:
Haiti Cries ... and we Cry with Them
[a prayer as we search through the rubble]
by Safiyah Fosua
And we cry with them.
Our hearts are aching as we try to imagine what the daylight brought
To our brothers and sisters in Haiti.
Heal the young eyes that have seen far too much on this day.
Heal the hearts of many who have lost friends, family and a way of life on this day.
Be with those who are missing
And those who are dying outside of the grasp of
Loving hands to hold them
Loving voices to soothe them.
Move us over here from empathy to action
From sympathy to substance
As we contemplate what can be done to help
And many days
Into a forever-changed future.
Go in peace; knowing that every action we take helps us create the Beloved Community.