"We Shall Overcome"
In the course of my life I have enjoyed the great blessing of visiting many holy shrines and sacred places. I have stood in Buddhist temples in Asia, visited noble cathedrals and renowned mosques in Europe and the Middle East, and I have been to the places where Jesus preached and stood on the hill where he was crucified.
There is one shrine, however, that holds a special place in my heart - The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis Tennessee. It is located in a building that once was a dingy little traveler’s lodge known as the Lorraine Motel, and it was on the balcony of this motel that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on an April day in 1968.
Several years ago I was in Memphis for a conference that included a trip to The Civil Rights Museum. I expected that, like any ordinary museum, it would be a place filled with artifacts and stories commemorating all the many events of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Little did I know I would actually be going to a sacred shrine, one of the holiest places I would ever visit.
A visit to the Civil Rights Museum follows along a very specific path. You are led through a variety of exhibit halls commemorating key events like the March on Selma. There are pictures and film clips of the “Freedom Riders” and artifacts from the Montgomery Prison where Dr. King wrote his renowned letters. The visit to the “museum” ends on a second floor balcony directly in front of what was once Room 306, the actual spot where Martin Luther King Jr. was so brutally assassinated on that fateful day in April.
I can still vividly remember standing there on that balcony of the “Lorraine Motel,” it was such a “thin space” where a veil was pulled away from my consciousness as I was drawn into an experience of transcendence, a place where the holy and the ordinary almost perfectly coincided. I remember looking around me, noticing how everyone on that balcony with me stood in reverent silence, some people knelt, some sobbed, others wept openly.
Today as we celebrate “Martin Luther King Day,” we are a nation and a world that has been torn apart by our politics, we are a society where racism and disrespect for human dignity seems once again to have raised its ugly head. So for me, this day is far more than a national holiday. I think of today as a national and a world-wide "Holy Day,” a sacred time in which people of goodwill everywhere are invited to remember what Dr. King stood for and what he died for.
On my visit to that Memphis “museum” I picked up a brochure that contains a collection of excerpts from various speeches and sermons Dr. King gave in his lifetime. I have kept that brochure and on a day like today I bring it out and look again at some of these famous quotes. It strikes me that, maybe what Dr. King had to say back then speaks even louder to all of us in our own time. In these chaotic days and challenging times his words ring truer and clearer than ever before.
So on this Martin Luther King Jr. “Holy Day” I once again turn to these profound words of wisdom, and I pray that all people everywhere might take these words to heart:
Hate causes a person to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful.
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
In this generation we will have to repent not merely for the vitriolic words
and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Those who accept evil without protesting against it are cooperating with it.
But even in the midst of all the chaos, I refuse to believe that humankind is
tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war.
I refuse to believe that the bright daybreak of peace can never become a reality
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
Yes, I still have the audacity to believe that
we shall overcome!