“He said that during his frequent stints in detention, when the police routinely tortured him, he used to think, ‘These are God’s children and yet they are behaving like animals. They need us to help them recover the humanity they have lost’. “
I often run across passages in books or articles that simply take my breath away, either for their beauty or insight. The above passage is from a young apartheid activist, quoted by Desmond Tutu in his book, “God Has a Dream”. It brought me up short by its incredible mercy and compassion, a mercy and compassion that I am certain I do not possess. It is so humane and sacrificial that I am convinced it does not come from the young activist alone, but God’s Own Self.
The young activist has set a standard for me in patience, hope, and peacemaking which I ponder over: how could I possibly manifest in my life the same spiritual depth he does? I admit that I sometimes get angry over how terribly people treat each other, and so many of us seem to ignore this behavior, even tacitly condone it. I can well imagine that I would be reaching for a rifle instead of reconciliation, if I were in the young man’s shoes. He does not. His reaction is a desire to help his torturers recover their humanity. What a soul!
I think about all this not only while pondering over the Black Lives Matter movement, but also about those other pressing issues not leading the evening news and filling up social media, like hunger and poverty. Not only must we help feed the poor as Jesus taught, but we must also help those who ignore the poor recover their humanity, the humanity they have lost in a world that values people for their net worth rather than their human worth as children of God.
Seeing those who ignore the poor as an object of mission instead of an object of anger is the answer to this conundrum. As difficult as it is for those of us who have a short fuse, we must begin to look at people we once raged against as people we now need to convert with “friendly persuasion”, as the Quakers say. God loves them as much as God loves the poor. There are many kinds of poverty, and we need to learn to recognize them all, like their poverty of spirit. We can only do that by first laying aside our anger.
I have learned that this is done by much prayer and rectifying of intentions, always placing ourselves before God and asking for God’s help. If we try to do it alone, we will fail spectacularly, and only get angrier…prayer, rectifying our intention, and keeping in close contact with fellow travelers on this road to Emmaus we call Life. The pilgrims on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus upon the breaking of the bread at their meal; such is the same on a Sunday morning at Eucharist for us.
Perhaps Tutu is right, that God’s dream looks a lot like the young man’s desire to help his torturers regain their humanity; perhaps we can help others regain theirs by reaching deep into ours and sharing it with them, rather than raging against them.