Monday, January 24, 2011

Prayer for Our Nation: Be rid of hearts of stone

By Frank Clarkson

When I was a child in North Carolina, segregation was legal and was the norm. That we have come, in a half century, from segregation and oppression to electing an African-American president is real progress.

Progress is often two steps forward, and one step back. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr wrote, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of [people] willing to be coworkers with God.”

If you are discouraged by the news these days, as I often am, then take heart, and take the long view. We, who believe in freedom and justice, have come a long way. Do not let your hearts be discouraged. You need an open heart, a loving heart, for the living of these days. How do you get one? And how does our country trade in its heart of stone for a heart of flesh?

For the answer we need only look at Rev King, a living example of love in action. He shows us the power of nonviolence as a force against evil and for good, a transformative power for the oppressed and for the oppressor.

What do we need in this hard-hearted time in our country? How do we transform our heart of stone into a heart of flesh? It’s simple, and it’s difficult - we need to commit to nonviolence.

Nonviolence means you don’t respond to hatred with hatred. You give up the
desire to get in the last word, or land the last blow, or make the final point. A commitment to nonviolence means giving up the use of power in the conventional sense - the power of intimidation, coercion, and force. You lay those weapons down. But what you gain is soul force, what Gandhi called Satyagraha: satya means ‘truth’ and graha ‘holding to’ or ‘power.’

Our times cry out to us, and ask, “Where are you going to stand?” On the side of distrust, fear and violence, or on the side of love, and faith and hope? Where are our leaders, and our institutions, and our country going to stand?

Will you say no to the violence in our society? Turn off the TV and radio when they spew hatred, and let them know you will no longer patronize them. Call our leaders to account when they malign others, and say “You will not get my vote when you tear down or target another person.”

For those who are privileged, because of skin color or national origin or wealth, these can be scary times. The old world is falling away, and the future is uncertain. What is certain is that violence is not the answer. As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Now is the time to drop our defensive posture, lay down our weapons, and pray to be transformed. To pray for a new heart, a heart open to the beauty and the pain of this life, a heart emboldened with soul force--with the power of truth and love.

Rev King knew this because he lived it. He inspired others to stand up to their oppressors; to say, “I am no longer going to participate in my own oppression.” They put their lives on the line for the cause of freedom and justice. They suffered together, went to jail together, sang and prayed together. And together, they changed our nation.

Now is our time. These days, I’m praying for our country. That we will be transformed. That America will lose her heart of stone, and it will be replaced with a heart of flesh. That we will see what a gift we have been given to live in this country at this time, and we will commit ourselves anew to the work that lies before us. To build the kingdom of heaven right here on earth. To carry on the work of Rev King and all those who have brought us so far along the way.

Will you pray with me?

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Take away this heart of stone, and put in us a heart of flesh,
that peace and justice will reign,
and we will be your people, and you will be our God, Amen

*The prayer is adapted from the hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson.

+ The Reverend Frank Clarkson, MDiv ’05 is the parish minister at Universalist Unitarian Church of Haverhill, Massachusetts.


1 comment:

  1. Powerful words that beautifully reinforce my hope for a world that embraces that the children of today will have strong & kind role models. Thank you Frank :)