I have just finished reading Dr. Martin Luther King’s Strength to Love, in which one can find endless pithy statements that feed one’s soul or stymy one’s mind with endless questions. He begins with the demanding words of Jesus as he sends his disciples out into a world not unlike our own: “Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). I ask myself: “How can one have a tough mind—wise and persistent—at the same time as a tender heart—soft as a dove?”
Or consider King’s statement: “Hatred and fear do not make for a peaceful society.” How did he maintain his teaching on love, on the surrender of hatred and fear, and a steady, persistent demand to be nonviolent when there were so many manifestations that spoke of violence and injustice toward the blacks in our country?
Today we experience international relationships that are so taut with greed “to take” rather than respect the rights and possessions of others. How do we justify the continuous manufacturing of weapons of war that augment hatred and fear rather than squelch them? Who believed or followed Oppenheimer’s demand that his perfection of nuclear power could only be used for peaceful action and advancements?
Dr. Martin Luther King was deeply moved and formed by Mahatma Gandhi’s choice of nonviolence as the method to be used between nations in conflict and Oppenheimer’s demand that nuclear advancement not be used to advance death but only life. King was not blind to the complexities. His own life was a daily experience of unmerited suffering, threats to himself and to his family, but he remained hopeful for the future. The last words of his book, Strength to Love, express his living with a tough mind and tender heart:
“The past decade has been a most exciting one. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of this period something profoundly meaningful is taking place. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away; new systems of justice and equality are being born. In a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that we face a world crisis that leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark, confused world the Kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.”
Strength to Love was published in 2010. Dr. King, please pray for us into our future.
Renée Domeier, OSB