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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Letting Our Light Shine... Reflection Inspired By Nelson Mandela

Tuesday I shall be leading a group of high school students in prayer. One of the readings for that day is taken from the Book of Job, the third chapter, the first through the twenty third verse. I love the Book of Job. The question it proposes is basic... how does one respond to the loss of everything.

Job loses his property, his children, his health, the emotional and spiritual support of his wife, and the respect of his friends. Here a few citations for that reading.
Job opened his mouth and cursed his day. Job spoke out and said:..."Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Or why was I not buried away like an untimely birth, like babes that have never seen the light? Wherefore did the knees receive me? or why did I suck at the breasts? For then I should have lain down and been tranquil; had I slept, I should then have been at rest with kings and counselors of the earth who built where now there are ruins or with princes who had gold and filled their houses with silver. There the wicked cease from troubling, there the weary are at rest. There the captives are at ease together, and hear not the voice of the slave driver. Small and great are there the same, and the servant is free from his master. Why is light given to the toilers, and life to the bitter in spirit? They wait for death and it comes not; they search for it rather than for hidden treasures, rejoice in it exultingly, and are glad when they reach the grave: men whose path is hidden from them, and whom God has hemmed in!"

At first I shook my head. "Nothing there to laugh about," I thought. The senior citizen part of me interiorly mumbled on: "Isn't that the truth. War and economic challenge everywhere. Ignorance, fear, and division are tearing us apart. But I shall be talking to teenagers," I continued. "Surely they are not ready for my moody meditations."
Then, looking back at my own teenage years, I recalled so many times when I just wanted to crawl into some deep, dark hole and never come out again... deaths in the family, sudden separations where people I cared about disappeared without one word of explanation, without any goodbyes. And I had to admit that many young people were probably going through very hard times and really would appreciate some words of comfort and encouragement.
So I started thinking about the people who had helped me to not only survive but also to grow during those tough teenage years: the quiet love of my mother and grandmother, the caring challenge of my teachers and mentors, the emotional support of my friends, the loving presence of God.For some reason beyond my understanding I remember the hard road Nelson Mandella had traveled... imprisoned for twenty-seven years, not able to see his wife or family for more than a few minutes every three months, the death of his son, the imprisonment of his wife...
He never became a hater... rather his love for all people grew and, when he became president of South Africa, he chose to forgive others and to provide food, safety, and care for all the people of his country.

So I decided that I would share a few thoughts from his first presidential speech. Here is the speech, in writing and video (9 minutes) in its entirety. STATEMENT OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA AT HIS INAUGURATION AS PRESIDENT OF THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA UNION BUILDINGS
Pretoria, 10 May 1994
Your Majesties,
Your Highnesses,
Distinguished Guests,
Comrades and Friends.
Today, all of us do, by our presence here, and by our celebrations in other parts of our country and the world, confer glory and hope to newborn liberty. Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.
Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all. All this we owe both to ourselves and to the peoples of the world who are so well represented here today.
To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld. Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change. We are moved by a sense of joy and exhilaration when the grass turns green and the flowers bloom.
That spiritual and physical oneness we all share with this common homeland explains the depth of the pain we all carried in our hearts as we saw our country tear itself apart in a terrible conflict, and as we saw it spurned, outlawed and isolated by the peoples of the world, precisely because it has become the universal base of the pernicious ideology and practice of racism and racial oppression. We, the people of South Africa, feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom, that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil.
We thank all our distinguished international guests for having come to take possession with the people of our country of what is, after all, a common victory for justice, for peace, for human dignity. We trust that you will continue to stand by us as we tackle the challenges of building peace, prosperity, non-sexism, non-racialism and democracy.
We deeply appreciate the role that the masses of our people and their political mass democratic, religious, women, youth, business, traditional and other leaders have played to bring about this conclusion. Not least among them is my Second Deputy President, the Honourable F.W. de Klerk. We would also like to pay tribute to our security forces, in all their ranks, for the distinguished role they have played in securing our first democratic elections and the transition to democracy, from blood-thirsty forces which still refuse to see the light.
The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us. We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination. We succeeded to take our last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace. We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.
As a token of its commitment to the renewal of our country, the new Interim Government of National Unity will, as a matter of urgency, address the issue of amnesty for various categories of our people who are currently serving terms of imprisonment. We dedicate this day to all the heroes and heroines in this country and the rest of the world who sacrificed in many ways and surrendered their lives so that we could be free.
Their dreams have become reality. Freedom is their reward. We are both humbled and elevated by the honour and privilege that you, the people of South Africa, have bestowed on us, as the first President of a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist government. We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom.
We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.
Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.
Let freedom reign. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!
God bless Africa! Thank you.


Lorraine Hart said...

Oh how I love, honour, and respect this beautiful man of our times. His words, his story, reach me more than the story of Job, as told in the Bible.

Have you ever read Leonard Peltier's book "Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sundance" Joseph? I think there's a lot in there that would speak to you as well.

As Nelson Mandela was giving this speech, a friend of mine (a security guard with the United Nations) was standing close by. He later gave me the beautiful gift of a first-hand account of this day and its magnitude.

By the way, if you google NOW National Organization of Women) on PBS, you will find a brilliant video that I watched the other night, about women, power and politics. In it they spoke of Rwanda. After the awful massacres, there were mostly women left, to carry on. Half the reps in government there are now women and forty-one percent of the country's businesses are owned and operated by women.

One very eloquent woman from their parliament spoke about their focus of service to rebuilding their country. It made me cry when I compared her substance and nurturing spirit to a certain woman political candidate in America. This Rwandan woman found the same freedom of spirit and responsibility of service as Mr. Mandela through her own struggle...for life, for self-worth.

Now is the time to reset our inner compass. The world depends on it. Our spirits depend on it.

JosephMcG said...

I have not read Peltier's book... great suggestiong... I shall look up the PBS program from Now...
and I celebrate with you, Lorraine, the wonderful womn of Rwanda and of so many towns and cities throughout our world who are seeking to make our world the world of blessings for all that it is meant to be...