Martin Luther King Jr Day 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a United States federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 
It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King’s birthday, January 15.

This article from the UK Guardian describes how President Barack Obama's inauguration day today also carries symbolic resonance on Martin Luther King Day.

          "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
"I Have a Dream"
delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.
 My post for Martin Luther King Jr day from 2011 is here.

It is also a good day to remember Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, King's close friend and prophetic partner Heschel was a mystic and a 20th-century religious intellectual, a social change agent who died in 1972.

He was perhaps best immortalized in a famous photograph taken of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march. He's a conspicuous bearded figure, looking every bit the Hebrew patriarch, in the front line of leaders surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. 

Image source

Heschel later said, "I felt like my legs were praying." 

This article in the Huffington post is a timely reminder of what it means to be a prophet in the modern day :

  Rabbi Arthur Waskow: Speak And Act As Prophets Did: The Teachings Of Dr. King And Rabbi Heschel 

Extract below : 

"The two of them were, in their day, an odd couple. King was a product of the black Baptist church, raised in the oppressive confines of the Jim Crow South and the crucible of American racism. Heschel, descended from a long line of Polish Hasidic rabbis, fled Nazi-dominated Europe (where most of his family was killed).

A towering Jewish intellectual, theologian and mystic, Heschel brought ancient Hasidic spirituality into the tumultuous world of social activism in the 1960s. Given his writings on the religious struggle of the modern person in a confusing world, and on the urgent relevance of the ancient Hebrew prophets, it was no surprise that he found a kindred spirit in King.

Today, religion is often divisive (even violently so); in the 1960s, Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel modeled a friendship rooted in deep admiration and mutual affirmation of their respective spiritual traditions. 
Today, we debate the role of religion in the civil arena, usually resulting in rancorous and judgmental culture wars; King and Heschel were public theologians and spiritually grounded activists, witnessing to the power of faith in the service of social transformation.

The iconic photograph of the two of them together at the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery is emblematic of the best possibilities of the vision of the civil rights struggle. (Later, Heschel noted famously of that experience, "I felt my legs were praying.") Heschel and King worked closely together in spiritually rooted prophetic opposition to racism, poverty and militarism in American society. 

Like the biblical prophets, they spoke truth to power -- but also spoke truth to the disempowered, who can only win their fair share of democratic power by learning and acting on the truth. They spoke truth to their own supporters, even when those supporters urged them to hush - as many did when they spoke out against the Vietnam War.
The two of them witnessed to the absolute unity of means and ends, as embodied in nonviolence. The two of them likewise demonstrated a deep unity of prayer and social action.

Heschel's poetic theological writings on God in Search of Man, the Sabbath, and the Prophets are still read and widely studied today. 

As instructive for us now is the way Heschel embodied the passionate social engagement of the Prophets, drawing on wisdom at once provocative and nourishing. The meaning of life is to treat your life as a work of art, he said; and the opposite of good is not evil, but indifference."

He says "I would say about individuals, an individual dies when he ceases to be surprised. I am surprised every morning that I see the sunshine again.

 When I see an act of evil, I'm not accommodated. I don't accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere; I'm still surprised. 

 That's why I'm against it, why I can hope against it. We must learn how to be surprised. Not to adjust ourselves. I am the most maladjusted person in society."

I also find Heschel's words below very powerful and bang up to date !!

 “It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.

 When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.”
― Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

Click here for a fascinating audio mp3 programme and interview broadcast December 6th from On Being 

The complete transcript of the interview is here.

 and click here for more details.

 As it is the Year of Faith it is also worthwhile to mention Heschel's work on inter-faith relations.

Click here for a document describing Heschel's significant role in Vatican II.

Heschel drafted the third official memorandum that American Jewish Committee submitted to the Vatican on the relationship between Christianity and the Jews. Titled On Improving Catholic-Jewish Relations, this paper, instead of dwelling
any longer on the past, presented the basis for a way forward. 

As the work of Vatican II wore on, Rabbi Heschel remained deeply involved in the development of what would eventually become the groundbreaking statement Nostra Aetate.
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