Friday, August 14, 2015

Pilgrimage, Day 3 - The Feast of Jonathan Daniels

Mural on one side of the Pettus Bridge
(Jonathan Daniels pictured on the left)
O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and the afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today we traveled from Birmingham to Selma and then on from Selma to Montgomery. Highlights of the day included walking across the Pettus Bridge, and then lunch at St. Paul's Church in Selma. I had the opportunity to sit at lunch with Richard Morrisroe who was shot alongside Jonathan Daniels, but survived. We listened to parishioners at St. Paul's speak about their recollections of Jonathan pushing integration of St. Paul's by bringing black friends there to worship. One of the vestry members who was on the vestry when they voted to "open their doors" was also sitting at my table. Another extraordinary day, truly.

Our pilgrim group from Episcopal Divinity School also includes a number of Jonathan Daniels' classmates who were here fifty years ago. Listening to their memories on the bus, in small groups, and at meals has been a profound part of my experience this week.

There is probably more to say about the day - and surely there will be much tomorrow, as pilgrims from all over converge for the celebration that will include a sermon by our Presiding Bishop-elect, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry.

But today is the actual day when Jonathan is remembered in Holy Women, Holy Men. The words from that book have taken on flesh for me this week - it's truly an amazing thing. For tonight I just want to mention that in the collect above, the story is that Jon was moved to come here to Alabama after praying The Magnificat in the chapel at EDS (technically ETS in those days.) The reference in the collect to the God who "puts down the mighty from their place and lifts up the poor and afflicted" makes that connection explicit. It seems to me that if I were preaching on this day, that is an avenue I'd want to explore further: this focus on Mary, who taught her son to sing this amazing song - not only to feel compassion for the lowly but to work for justice.

One last note: I have been pondering this notion of "outside agitator" this week and then twice today heard it again. First I learned something I'm a bit embarrassed I didn't already know; that there is a biography of Jonathan Daniels entitled Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. I plan to read it soon. And then tonight we had an opportunity to hear Morris Dees, Jr., Founder of The Southern Poverty Law Center. Dees reminded us that Jesus was an outside agitator - but also that for various reasons sometimes insiders will not or cannot see what is broken in a system and how sometimes it takes outsiders to be the catalysts for change. I have to think about that some more.

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