Take My Hand
One of the smartest people I have ever known, someone who has seen more, weathered more, suffered more, than I might ever see, ever whether, or ever suffer, often listens thoughtfully and quietly to what is going on in my head. A lot of what I have to say to him comes from my frustrations with a world that is not moving in the way I want it to move. I talk about the ways that oppression and supremacy are functioning in the world. I talk about the effects of oppression and supremacy on the people of this earth. And he listens. He usually just listens.
Today, this day fifty years after a gunman shot and killed Martin Luther King, the weight of the ways a culture might try to silence those voices who call for radical change is heavy upon me. It should be heavy upon all of us. The life of faith Dr. King lived called him to action in spite of the fear and the challenges he faced daily, hourly, moment-to-moment. Into the fray of a battle of ideals, he launched his hope that “an unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” And much of the world listened.
I will not pretend to know intimately the ways a culture was divided at the time that Dr. King was carrying his message to all who would listen. But I also will not pretend that divisions in our culture now are not tearing at the fabric of communities, families, even our own individual souls. The sides we are taking, how we are arming ourselves with “truth” or “facts,” is causing trauma on a scale many of us have not known in our lives. And, frankly, at times, it’s hard to listen.
At the funeral service for Dr. King, it was well agreed that there would be a performance of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” Dr. King’s most beloved hymn. But the legend goes that not a person there could fathom getting through the song without breaking down. And so it was that a voice that defied for so long what so many believed was possible for a voice to do stepped up to do what no other voice could do. It was Mahalia Jackson who delivered up what can hardly be called anything but a divine cry. The entire performance is lost to time. Only a short clip remains. But listen.
I will not forget the evening when my friend who listens so well and so often to so much of the division that I talk about in the world said something like this, “Man, I just feel like if we don’t start looking for the things that bring us together, that unite us, we’re nowhere.” And I listened to him. And I pray on this day that it will not be too long before the singular voices that proclaimed unconditional love, voices lost to hate, lost to time, lost to fear, will have the final word in reality. I pray that the world itself will listen. I pray that truth unarmed, unconcerned with overpowering, and guided instead by loving will let us listen to the heart of the person sitting right next to us. Whether they proclaim the truth from a mountain top, whether they cry from the depths of their soul, or whether they offer a simple hope for the way through this world from the passenger seat of a Malibu, there will come a day when it is only there, only in the deep listening, when we might know unasked-for, unearned, unconditional love. And may it ever be so.
May the blessing of listening be with you all.
Rev. T. J.
 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Address, Stockholm, Sweden, 1964.