On this, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, I want to reflect on his ability to understand the power of walking non-violently, en masse, on a land that is besotted with trails blazed by generations of people of the land: black and white, native to this land, rich and poor. I was struck last year, with both presidential candidates walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. They were remembering the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, march, re-creating what-was-then a dangerous pilgrimage in a land, and among a people, who did not embrace equality for all among the races, let alone on issues of gender, sexual orientation, abilities, or economic class.
Click to this link for more about this incredible journey.
In the "Education as Pilgrimage" class that I taught (or should I say convened) at Duke Divinity School in my latter years, along with other pilgrimage groups I have led, I have asked people to read Letters from a Birmingham Jail. Besides being a great example of personal essay, this letter is King's "postcard" to the world from his pilgrimage.
What is powerful about pilgrimages like Kings, and others in civil rights marches, whether it is on the issue of disability rights, gender equality, immigration rights, or LGBT rights, is this: there is power when people gather together and put one foot before the other and walk together for a common cause. This simple act is saying that "we"--whoever we might be--are moving together in common cause, and are going so far as to move with our very body, as well as mind and spirit.
In all that I have written and spoken about in regards to all-life-is-a-pilgrimage, I have never said that pilgrimage isn't dangerous. After all, it can change your very life...and the lives we live in community.
Pilgrim peace, Brett