“Holy Family Icon” by Kelly Latimore
On Wednesday, August 28, 1963, 250,000 people from all over the country assembled at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial all the way back to the Washington Monument for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. One of the two main organizers of the march was Bayard Rustin, a gay Black man who was a member of Fifteenth Street Meeting of Friends in New York City.
“Thousands traveled by road, rail, and air. Marchers from Boston traveled overnight and arrived in Washington at 7 am after an eight-hour trip, but others took much longer bus rides from places like Milwaukee, Little Rock, and St. Louis. Organizers persuaded New York's MTA to run extra subway trains after midnight on August 28, and the New York City bus terminal was busy throughout the night with peak crowds. A total of 450 buses left New York City from Harlem. Maryland police reported that "by 8:00 a.m., 100 buses an hour were streaming through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_on_Washington_for_Jobs_and_Freedom#Security_preparations)
I think about our Quaker hero Bayard Rustin, and the incredible work he did to organize what will go down as one of the most important moments in human history. Whenever I see video footage from that day, the images of people pouring off buses is seared into my brain. These people arrived not having been alerted by a Facebook event invite, or a retweet, or an e-mail newsletter campaign. 250,000 people, 75% of them black, felt the power of movement, they heard the spirit say move, and they moved.
We find ourselves in the season of Advent. A time, we are told, of waiting. The natural world around us has gone dormant. Bulbs and seeds are hidden in the dark of the soil under our feet. We have fallen into a rhythm of life that accepts darkness as our new norm. We settle into our homes, and we cuddle up and we wait.
While I certainly welcome the intentionality of hibernation, it also seems a bit odd, if you think about it, to be lifting up waiting and dormancy in this time when the story we remember is full of so much movement.
Mary, days away from giving birth is roused up and along with her partner Joseph to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem. Did you know that when you type into a Google search bar, “miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem” you get driving directions? By car, you can make the trip in two hours and twenty-five minutes. They don’t have a donkey icon on Google to figure out donkey speed, but I clicked on the little person for walking directions, and it would take 33 hours of walking to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Friends. I have witnessed my partner carrying a full-term baby in her body twice now. While carrying our daughter at this point in her pregnancy I witnessed her walk up and down the steps of Mt. Tabor in an attempt to induce labor and I stood at the base of the steps with my son in the stroller in LITERAL shock. I can barely scale those steps on my own, let alone with another 8 POUND HUMAN BEING INSIDE MY BODY!
All this to say. I CANNOT imagine the incredible physical sacrifice Mama Mary made to switch off between walking and riding a donkey while 9 months pregnant for 33 hours. Y’all, we may be enjoying warm blankets and Netflix on the couch in December, but Mary sure as heck wasn’t. She was moving. A likely scared, confused, bewildered teenage girl, told by an angel that she was carrying within her GOD.
And the Shepherds, in the fields, blinded by light and told to get a move on. To come and check out the incredible thing happening. And the Magi, the stargazers who traveled from far off lands to bring gifts to the new King. And then right after Mary and Joseph welcome a baby into the world they are warned that the actual King was pretty upset about this whole new King jam, and so instead of returning home the way they came, they had to take another route, likely to avoid detection. I don’t know what route they took, but I’m assuming it wasn’t the most expedient one. And so now we have Mary and Joseph taking the back way home.
If you haven’t yourself traveled with a newborn, you’ve likely been in proximity to a newborn in transit. I think about Mary and Joseph having to stop alongside the road because Jesus was screaming his head off and Mary having to find a spot to nurse him.
A bit of a rabbit trail, WHOA spend some time pondering that image right there. Jesus, God in human form was a HELPLESS newborn baby, who cried out for his mother, and who found comfort and nourishment in the warm embrace of his mother. Um, if that doesn’t get your poetic, symbolic juices flowing…
ANYWAY. Can you imagine being a new mother, having to walk 35 plus hours back home with a newborn baby, a baby that you just found out the King wants to have murdered?
They arrive home and the scripture says this, “13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod.”
Do y’all have any guess how many miles Egypt is from Nazareth?
The first days, weeks, and months of Jesus’ life were with his teenage mother and father literally moving on long, hard journeys.
And just like all the other circumstances of Jesus’ birth, there is profound foreshadowing of what is to come of this little baby, and the life and teachings he would live and die by. But the one thing I want to emphasize today is that Jesus was about movement from the womb and that we shouldn’t lose this point even in a season of waiting.
Just like the people stirred in their hearts to board busses to Washington D.C. I believe that we, as folks who gather here in this setting as Quakers are a part of a movement. What scares me, is that the way we have chosen to assemble ourselves for the last two thousand years has done us a tremendous disservice to the legacy of a baby whose mission in life was not to create a religious tradition, but to create a MOVEMENT.
I’m worried that our pews, pointing forward towards podium for thousands of years has conditioned us to believe that the primary work of being a Church is to spectate.
I’m worried that our church services have become venues for spiritual TED talks or Christian pep-rallies.
Why did a quarter of a million show up in Washington D.C? It wasn’t to hear Dr. King speak, it was because they were profoundly aware that they were a part of a movement, and at the heart of that movement were people of faith, people living in the legacy of a baby born in Bethlehem who came not just to say nice things, but to heal the sick, the dying, the blind, and flip tables in the temple, to tell those who have been forgotten and forsaken that he was there to build them a new place where they would know what it feels like to be welcomed, to belong, to be loved. He told his followers, time and time and time again that we shouldn’t be waiting for things to change politically, not to wait for a new president, not to wait until after we die to finally live in a place that is just but to do it now. He was the King they were waiting for, and the Kingdom being created was so profoundly absurd to the current Kings and future Presidents that it would seem foolish, and it would be disruptive and it might, as the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee revealed to the world, could get us killed.
Dr. King’s last words were spoken to Ben Branch on that balcony and he said this, “Ben, make sure you play 'Take My Hand, Precious Lord' in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”
Do y’all know the lyrics to that song?
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on through the light
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home
When my way grows dreary
Precious Lord, lead me near
When my life is almost gone
At the river I will stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home
It’s a movement song y’all.
A question that sits at the heart of the future of faith communities, even ours is, “where are the young people at?” And many faith communities are trying all kinds of things to lure them in. But I think so many of those attempts are missing the point entirely, and we only need to look at the sea of people standing in Washington in August of 1963 for the answer. People, regardless of age, want to be a part of a movement. We, as Quakers, live in the legacy of Friend Bayard Rustin, who knew the power of a movement. I feel and sense so much potential for West Hills Friends to be a generative space for building movements, for inspiring, for challenging, for organizing.
In this season of advent, I’m not wanting to wait around for that to be born into the world, because Mary is already on the move, and that baby she carried has already been born. Mary birthed a movement. Let’s keep on moving.
- When you think about being a part of a movement, what grows inside you? What stirs you?
- How might remembering that we are a part of a movement influence the future of our Quaker meeting?
- What might be getting in the way of us moving when the Spirit says move?