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Living A Future of Faith in The Present | August 1, 2021 by Dr. Dorsey Blake


Though mountains be removed,

and hills be shaken,

never shall my love leave you,

my compact for your welfare

shall stand firm:

so promises the Eternal in his

pity. —Isaiah 54:10





From Deep is the Hunger by Howard Thurman


I watched him for a long time. He was so busily engaged in his task that he did not notice my approach until he heard my voice. Then he raised himself erect with all the slow dignity of a man who had exhausted the cup of haste to the very dregs. He was an old man – as I discovered before our conversation was over, a full eighty-one years. Further talk between us revealed that he was planting a small grove of pecan trees. The little treelets were not more than two and a half or three feet in height. My curiosity was unbounded.


“Why did you not select larger trees so as to increase the possibility of your living to see them bear at least one cup of nuts?” I asked.


He fixed his eyes directly on my face, with no particular point of focus, but with a gaze that took in the totality of my features. Finally, he said, “These small trees are cheaper and I have very little money.”


“So, you do not expect to live to see the trees reach sufficient maturity to bear fruit?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “But is that important? All my life I have eaten fruit from trees that I did not plant, why should I not plant trees to bear fruit for those who may enjoy them long after I am gone? Besides, the man who plants because he will reap the harvest has no faith in life.”


Years have passed since that sunny afternoon in LaGrange, Georgia, when those words were said. Again and again, the thought has come back to me, “Besides, the man who plants because he will reap the harvest has no faith in life.” The fact is that much of life is made up of reaping where we have not sown and planting where we shall never reap…All of life is a planting and a harvesting. No [one] gathers merely the crop that they themselves have planted. [We eat the fruit from trees planted by others. We must plant trees for others to enjoy the fruit.]


The opening words


Isaiah 54:10

Though mountains be removed,

and hills be shaken,

never shall my love leave you,

my compact for your welfare

shall stand firm:

so promises the Eternal in his

pity.



were addressed to a people and nation in exile. It is a promise of leaving their quarantined existence in exile to return home. The words are an amazing assurance from the Eternal. It is more than a promise. It is a compact that their welfare will not be abandoned. What good news! What new thing is to happen in their socially, economically, politically, and religiously distanced lives! How extraordinary the commitment of the Eternal! For the people who believed so wholeheartedly in the unchangeability of creation, who “knew’ that the mountains were immovable, and the hills were unshakable, this was unimaginable support. Even though creation itself may leave you, the Eternal would not. This was a marriage beyond all marriages, a love even more than a Love Supreme.

Often it takes a powerful intrusion, an exile, a pandemic, a drought, flood, earthquake, to shake the foundations of what has been or” what is” for us to see what could be. Sometimes we need to be stripped of all pretenses, hypocrisy, superficiality, arrogance causing us to see through a glass darkly for us to take the dimness of our souls away. Cataracts of the soul must be removed.


Prior to the scripture above, there was Isaiah 43:19: “Behold, I’m about to do a new thing... Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” It too was about deliverance, deliverance from exile. We know about exile whether somewhere else, or in our own nation and own lives.


There has been much propaganda about returning to normal. This is an anti-spiritual concept. We are not called to be normal, unless normality is to be the incarnation of the hopes of the Eternal for a world of justice, compassion, and ever walking with the Eternal. It is difficult to see in the normal – although it is there – the luminosity and awe of the Eternal leading us to places we need to go, to become people we need to become, to do what needs to be done so that we do not frustrate the continuing evolution of creation and ourselves. Yes, we and creation are still evolving. What exists is not the end reality. The Realm or kin-dom of the Eternal is at hand, not present yet in large measure, appearing here and there in numerous ways.




Thank you, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach for your simple, profound song:


Return again, return again

Return to the land of your soul

Return to who you are

Return to what you are

Return to where you are

Born and reborn again


That’s a call well worth hearing. Return to your authentic selves, knowing that it is the eternal leading and guiding you along the way.


The Black Death/Plague, (Bubonic Plague of the 14th Century), claimed 100 million lives. Many died, some physicians and clergy would not attend the sick. People that had not received adequate education became clergy. Some used their position to charge for their services (indulgences). Many people lost faith in the church and its priests. Yet, some scholar credit that period with the dismantling of serfdom, the development of medicine as a science, and the beginning of revolts for workers’ rights. Seeds were planted that two centuries later blossomed into the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance (rebirth of arts), another new beginning. New things came into being.


Occurrences like the Black Plague, the events of 9-1-1, and the current pandemic shake the foundations of society, resulting in great uncertainty, and lack of direction. Too often the response is to cling to the very foundations that have been shaken, the foundations not built on solid principles, such as disenfranchisement of all except for landed white males enshrined in our Constitution, rather than to plant seeds for a new flowering. Uncertainty becomes paramount rather than knowing:


Though mountains be removed,

and hills be shaken,

never shall my love leave you,

my compact for your welfare

shall stand firm:

so promises the Eternal in his

pity.


That assurance should be all we need to “keep on keeping on.” Life itself is uncertain, a great mystery that cannot be solved but can be accepted as the “normal.” If we can accept that a return to normal is a return to mystery, then clues are available regarding paths beckoning to us. Dr. Thurman shares a story: My train coach stopped across a highway; I looked out of the window and saw a huge sign. It must have been twenty feet high and about twenty feet square. It read: ‘FIVE HIGHWAYS MEET HERE. FOUR CHANGES TO GO WRONG. ASK US.’. . . The only “us” we can ask is the hunger of our individual souls as they stretch into communal and cosmic territory.


Bob Moses passed last Sunday, July 25, the day that would have been the 80th birthday of Emmett Till, the Black young man who was lynched in Mississippi and whose mother had the casket open during his funeral for the world to see what had happened to her son, the embodiment of Jim Crow justice.


A reporter described Moses as “the most important civil rights activist most people have never heard of.”


Moses left a stable teaching position in New York to participate the Southern Movement for freedom. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) had a slogan "Come, let us build a new world together." Moses embodied the slogan as the architect of Freedom Summer. Critical to his successful organizing style was his respect for Black people in Mississippi. He never presumed to speak for them and organized in ways that allowed them to speak for themselves. He recruited over a thousand whites to volunteer their time and give of their talents in working with poor, rural Black people on the issue of voting rights. He was able to understand the unspoken but real hunger of all lives for freedom. One of the seeds he nurtured was that of courage that had long been entombed although still alive. We hear this courage as students added to the Movement’s anthem We Shall Overcome words of fortitude, conviction, and courage. “We are not afraid. We are not afraid today”.


Moses was among those who organized the meeting in Sunflower County that changed the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, that helped her to uncover the light within that would not be extinguished. A tiny mustard seed became to mighty bush, burning bush, that characterized the life of Hamer. He influenced many including Mario Savio leader of the Free Speech Movement on college campuses.


Janice Mirikitani also passed this past week. As a child of Japanese heritage, she spent time in a concentration camp during World War II. She became active in social transformation campaigns in the 1960’s. A poet, activist, she along with her husband, Rev. Cecil Williams, transformed Glide Memorial Church into a community church and sanctuary to those in need of a friend. Her life was filled with compassion and radical inclusivity. Her smile reflected her joy in life. Being in her presence was always an uplifting experience. Fortunately, she was able to see the fruition of some of the works of her hand and heart. She challenged tradition for the sake of life.


Do you not hear and see that a change is coming? Our media focus on the activities of the former president and his followers ad nauseum. Yet there are voices and actions that are preparing the soil for something knew with the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right, that the long arc of the universe points toward justice. They reflect that we are not dinosaurs without the sense to evolve to meet the challenges of a new environment. Social movements are testament against returning to the normal, empowered by that which is larger than we. They are calling us to join them, to be planters, knowing that the God of Life has our backs.


Olive Schreiner writes:

And he said, “Have you seen the locusts how they cross a stream? First one comes down to the water-edge, and it is swept away, and then another comes, and then another, and then another; and at last with their bodies piled up a bridge is built, and the rest pass over.”


She said, “And of those that come first, some are swept away, and are heard of no more; their bodies do not even build the bridge?”


“And are swept away and are heard of no more—and what of that?” he said.


“And what of that—” she said.


“They make a track to the water’s edge.”


“They make a track to the water’s edge—” And she said, “Over that bridge which shall be built with our bodies, who will pass?”


He said, “The entire human race.”


And the woman grasped her staff. And I saw her turn down that dark path to the river.


Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.

– Henry David Thoreau







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