Let’s learn from those who went before us
I’ve been spending more time with my grandmother’s childhood prayer books lately. The cover of "Little Folded Hands" is worn. The middle section of the book isn’t even attached anymore, so I turn each page carefully. In paging through the supplications and hymns, I feel connected to Grandma Verona and, more broadly, to a sense of ancestral wisdom.
We’re not the first generation to face significant challenges. For millennia, humans have been working together to adapt, change and heal. Lately, I’m especially drawn to the written words and ideas of those who have gone before us. The internet provides easy access to a treasure trove of old sermons, correspondence and public speeches.
I like to search within particular date parameters that relate to significant world events, such as famines and wars and various other disruptions. What were pastors preaching to the emotionally exhausted congregations of those times? What were people writing about in their letters to one another? What were the focuses of political speeches?
There is deep insight to be gleaned from those who have lived before us.
Mother Alfred Moeswas the founder of the Rochester Franciscans, and she also established Saint Marys Hospital. After the 1883 tornado in Rochester killed 20 people and wounded many others, Mother Alfred Moes had a vision. She wanted to build a hospital that was open to all sick people, regardless of race, sex, economic status or religion.
She wrote, "The cause of suffering humanity knows no religion and no sex; the charity of the Sisters of Saint Francis is as broad as their religion." Mother Alfred fiercely believed that medical care should be accessible to everyone. As we navigate the pandemic happening around us, may her words and witness ground us in the importance of providing support for everyone who needs it, no matter what.
Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkinwas an African-American suffragist and civil rights activist. She was an outstanding orator, encourager and fundraiser. After the right to vote was granted to women in 1919, Lampkin then focused her energies on expanding civil rights.
When she witnessed apathy, she spoke up. She said, "You cannot be neutral. You must either join with us who believe in the bright future or be destroyed by those who would return us to the dark past."
Lampkin’s legacy is a lasting reminder that neutrality doesn’t move us toward a world of justice for all people. In the midst of the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s becoming clear that the virus is having a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Responding to this inequity with both urgency and compassion is our shared work as Americans, and we cannot be neutral.
Dietrich Bonhoefferwas a German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident. He was arrested and imprisoned during World War II. In 1943, he penned a letter to his parents on Good Friday from prison. He could write one letter every 10 days. Bonhoeffer wrote, "The liberating thing about Good Friday and Easter is that one’s thoughts turn far away from one’s personal fate toward the ultimate meaning of life, suffering, and everything that happens, and one clings to a great hope."
We’re now just beginning the 50 days of the season of Easter (which begins on Easter Sunday). I wonder how we might hold onto this great hope that Bonhoeffer describes while also continuing to think beyond ourselves.
People have faced turbulent times all throughout human history. God grant us insight to pay attention to their words and witness.