Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered for his nonviolent stand for justice. I often wonder where he found the courage to do this not just once, but throughout his life; yet he did. His heart produced love as he prepared that eulogy for the four young Black girls whose lives were taken in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. I am sure as he prepared the eulogy, he cried out to God to help him hold on to what he knew God wanted from him. As Dr. King’s heart cried out for saving, I think of how the most Sacred Heart would have spoken to him in consolation, reassuring him that although this was not the first or last time humanity would fall short of its designed purpose, this was his moment in time to act with great love.
Ignatian spirituality teaches that the discernment of spirits is the awareness of good and evil. Goodness or consolation is experienced when we become aware of the presence of God. Desolation is the evil that is felt when we do not feel God’s presence. Moving from desolation to consolation occurs when we reflect on the presence of good within the stirrings of our heart, feelings, thoughts, desires, experiences occurring both internally and externally. St. Ignatius believed God is present in all things and through the daily practice of prayerful reflection called the Examen, we have access to the Devine. Dr. King’s willingness to seek God’s comfort must have helped him deal with his feelings and thoughts of desolation and guide his actions toward the peace consolation provides.
In my own life, when confronted with grave injustice, I have experienced the visceral agony of desolation. I have cried tears of anger, of sorrow, and of hopelessness, just as I am sure Dr. King must have. Yet, it is in these raw moments with God, that he reveals the opportunities to act in the way of radical love, to live with a light that no darkness can extinguish.
I have a choice, Dr. King had a choice, and you have a choice. We can all choose to act on the call of God to live faithfully and to uphold an ethic of nonviolence in our thoughts, words and deeds. I believe this to be the greatest act of love one can give or experience. But I have not always risen to the moment. Despair often places us on the fulcrum of a lever with love on one side and hate on the other. To choose love over hate is not for the faint-hearted. When I’ve chosen hate, my despair has only magnified. When I’ve chosen radical love, I’ve felt the consolation of following Jesus’ nonviolent call to love. I imagine this is what Dr. King experienced too. He reminded the grief-stricken parents in his eulogy for those four martyred girls that “If one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.”
To me, honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. means not only remembering the icon, but also reflecting on his personal resolve to act with great faith and radical love no matter the cost. I invite us all to examine our hearts and prepare for our opportunities to be model radical love through great acts of faith. As racism again and again placed him on the fulcrum of despair, I can imagine Dr. King whispering an affirmation to himself: “Love starts with me.”