Throughout my life, I have been confronted with issues and disappointments that crushed my spirit and dashed my hopes.
As I reflect now on the last year in the life of Thomas Merton, I recall the events that occurred then. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was felled by an assassin’s bullet in April 1968 as he stood on the porch of a Memphis hotel. That evening, Robert Kennedy gave the most moving eulogy I’ve ever heard as he announced to the people the news of Martin’s death.
As Kennedy spoke, an unforeseen tragic irony was about to take place. He himself was killed two months later, in a hotel in Los Angeles, as he campaigned for the nomination of the Democratic Party.
Now we reflect on the challenges of our day, as we move forward from election day November 8, 2016. At this defining moment for the world, we ponder the results of the vote. We watch as the echoes reverberate around the country, and indeed around the world. It seems that the mood of the people has changed—in one way or the other.
As I and many others feel betrayed by the very systems we counted on to protect and uphold our values, I ponder the words of Saul David Alinsky, who stated in his book Rules for Radicals, “Irrationality clings to man like his shadow so that the right things are done for the wrong reasons.” He called on us to “begin to shed fallacy after fallacy” so that we could abandon “the conventional view in which things are seen separate from their inevitable counterparts” and instead see everything “as the indivisible partner of its converse, light and darkness, good and evil, life and death.”
I ponder, too, the words of medieval mystic Meister Eckhart, who proclaims, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘thank you,’ that will suffice.” And I remember the work of Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB, whose book is entitled Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer. Steindl-Rast challenges us to live with a grateful heart, whether we are confronted by good news or the opposite.
Drawing on the wisdom of Eckhart, Steindl-Rast, Merton, Kennedy, Alinsky, and other men, I renew my sense of hope for the days ahead. I believe our future can avoid the kind of disappointment of 1968, which set the tone for a generation at that time. Through gestures of gratitude we can lift ourselves out of the turbulence of this moment and create instead a new, transformational time not yet anticipated or understood.
We pray that our country rise to a better day, infused with the hope and trust of those who join us on the way. Each time a person stands up for an ideal or seeks to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And that ripple, combined with a myriad others, can sweep down even the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice.
(originally published November 17, 2016)