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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Was it coincidence? | September 19, 2021 by Dr. Dorsey Blake

Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world. – Jane Addams

Was it a coincidence that Labor Day this year also aligned with Rosh Hashanah, that it occurred a few days after the twenty-year occupation of Afghanistan ended, a few days before the twentieth anniversary of the 911 attack on the United States that gave a rationale for invading Afghanistan? Let’s not forget the failed Republican recall of Governor Newsom. Whew! There were/are so many events, experiences, memories coinciding, occupying the same time and presence in my consciousness and daily living. A wonderful container held and still holds them in sacred renewal and journeying – the Peace Garden at Fresno State University.

The website of the Peace Garden gives glimpses into the lives memorialized. It cannot give the emotional sustenance that the actual visit conferred upon me during my visit on Labor Day. Origami cranes on both sides of the sidewalk welcomed me, promising healing, long lasting life of the soul, encouraging the way to surcease of violence, brutality, oppression, and the realization of peace – not merely as the absence of war – but peace predicated upon justice, compassion, equity, bounty, and beloved community among all the inhabitants of our global experiment in coexisting. There was open space with benches, inviting one to sit if needed and to appreciate the majesty of creation, the silence of the inward journey, to breathe into companionship with all creation, relaxing and holding me in a state of unadulterated awe. Grass, so neatly trimmed, softened the spirit and space, like a green pasture where Life, the God of All leads, ever restoring the soul, ever leading into right living. There was a feeling of being anointed with spaciousness of the soul through the fidelity of the ages and the legacies of the memorialized.

Playful squirrels treated human presence as natural as the nutty nourishment that occupied their attention. Messengers they were of additional connection, playfulness and revitalizing energy of life, sacred communion. Nourishment it all was, profound, deep, reassuring.

The natural setting complemented the lives of the four people memorialized: Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jane Addams. Each loved life and engaged it to the fullest, opening possibilities “beyond their wildest dreams.” Each left a relatively privileged position to be a trustworthy presence of the living spirit of life in the lives of disinherited human beings, sisters and brothers of the same creation or creator. Each found sources of renewal, for inviting the spirit of life to come unto them.

What an active legacy they have left that still interrogates and evokes for me gratitude that cannot be repaid but passed on through what I am called, anointed to be, and do. The Peace Garden website gives a brief statement about each life:

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was a pivotal figure in India’s history and its quest for independence from Britain. He preached passive resistance and employed tactics such as marches and hunger strikes as a form of political protest. His non-violent approach to civil disobedience inspired other movements around the world. His memorial was unveiled on October 2, 1990.

César Chávez (1927-1993) founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, an organization that later became the United Farm Workers of America (UFW). During his life, he waged a non-violent battle against social injustice, oppression, and human suffering. Through boycotts, strikes, marches, and other means, Chávez fought for better pay and working conditions for farm workers for more than 30 years. His statue was dedicated on March 31, 1996.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was a leader in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Inspired by Gandhi, Dr. King used powerful speeches and other non-violent tactics in the struggle to achieve equal rights for African-Americans. He is portrayed in his ministerial robes, holding a child to symbolize innocence and concern for future generations. Dr. King’s statue was unveiled on January 18, 1998.

Jane Addams (1860-1935) was a social reformer, writer, and international peace advocate. She was co-founder of the social settlement Hull House in Chicago and was also the first president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1931, she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Her statue was dedicated on April 6, 2006.

Perhaps, the least well known of the four is Jane Addams. Here’s are some insights into her life as listed on the statue:

In 1915, at the Hague, while World War One was raging in Europe, Jane Addams presided over an International Congress of 1336 women from 12 warring and neutral nations who met to protest against the war, to work out a plan to end it, and to lay the basis for a sustainable peace. Much of what the Women’s Congress proposed was later included in President Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points.’

Out of this meeting, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was born, with Jane Addams as its first president. Its aims were and still are “to bring together women of different political beliefs who are united in their determination to study, make known, and help abolish the causes and legitimation of war” and to further by non-violent means equality and economic equity for all . . . without discrimination on religion, or any other grounds whatsoever.

Addams is often considered the founder of social work as a profession. Her founding the Hull Settlement House in Chicago is an inspiring example of her work among the people. The function of the Settlements was to bring into the circle of knowledge and fuller life, men and women who might otherwise be left out. Her philosophy was to bring together those with financial means and those without, the least of these my brothers and sisters. Boldly condemning both the treatment of worker and child labor, she was a progressive in her outlook on life. Believing firmly in democracy and its enormous possibilities and well as its obligations, she proclaimed that the way to protect and grow it was not through war and other ways of oppressing others but through practicing democracy continuously, time after time, in situation after situation, until it became a natural way of living. . . . the cure for the ills of Democracy is more Democracy. She stated that: The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain . . . until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

In this garden of peace shared by activists and the natural world, there was no conflict between the inward and outward journeys. For indeed, they are united in purpose and execution. I felt a sense of wholeness in this special garden of prayer, contemplation, and legacy.

The following is excerpted from a meditation by Dr. Howard Thurman: Work and Rest are one Entity.

RUYSBROECK writes: ‘God comes to us without ceasing . . .and demands of us both action and fruition, in such a way that one never impedes but always strengthens the other. And there the most inward man lives his life in these two ways; namely, in work and in rest. And in each he is whole and undivided; for he is wholly in God because he rests in fruition, and he is wholly in himself because he lives in activity; and he is perpetually called and urged by God to renew both the rest and the work.’ . . . Even casual reflection would lead one to recognize that a very urgent function of the quiet time is to provide a breather for the spirit, opportunity for catching up, reorganizing, and re-evaluating the endless activities in which we are involved daily and hourly. Ruysbroeck very wisely makes of both work and rest one entity, one single unit. Further, he recognizes each as being a part of the demand of God for our lives. How curious it is that we should think of religious life as confined to activity, to getting things done! Of course, this is an important and crucial part of the religious imperative. But there is more. Careful provision must be made for rest, for quiet, for prayer and for renewal. This, not as something other than activity and function, but rather as that which is an integral part of the religious life itself. When we function, we are enjoined to function wholly, bringing into the deeds the wisdom and insight of the quiet and the pause. When we rest, we are enjoined to rest wholly, bringing into the quiet time the sense of doing and participating in the activities that claim our energies. ‘The most inward man lives his life in these two ways: namely, in work and in rest.’

How extraordinary an experience it was for me to be in the presence of four people who worked tirelessly for a better world, one more consistent with the intent of creation, the living spirit, God and simultaneously, rest.

It was in another garden that Jesus juggled in the depth of his soul with the inward and outward journey. It was there in this symbiotic interplay that he dedicated himself to his greatest work.

What an extraordinary gift my Labor Day visit was as the Jewish High Holy Days were approaching pausing my activities for a time of renewal and activating anew the commitment to the search for common ground.

I am reminded that Jesus invited me into this space when he said: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . . . Clarence Jordan translates the passage this way: Come to me, all of you who are frustrated and have had a bellyful, and I will give you zest. Get in the harness with me and let me teach you, for I am trained and have a cooperative spirit, and you will find zest for your lives. For my harness is practical and my assignment is joyful.

The end of all education should surely be service to others. We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about the progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must include the aspirations and needs of others for their sake and for our own.

– Cesar Chavez

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