“And the young man walking beside me, who was working with Dr. King, said, ‘Major, give us a moment to kneel and pray.’
And the major said, ‘Troopers advance.’”
~ Congressman John Lewis, remembering Selma
Confronting these waves of intimidation and fear, this young man felt his spine reach up to the heavens, and deep down into the earth.
He knew the time had come to say grace. And perhaps he did, in the seconds before impact. But soon the troopers were upon them, and any muffled words for mercy and strength were lost.
Now, looking back on Selma from a distance of fifty years, I would like us to imagine this young man’s unheard prayer and speak it out loud.
See them now, in your mind’s eye.
Hundreds of marchers, in tidy work clothes, some in their Sunday best, kneel on the bridge in unison. A young man, his name now lost to history, leads them in prayer…
Dear Lord, dear Kind One
whose steady hands we feel
on our bowed backs
like new spring sun –
we ask for nothing but to see,
within this sea of fear that surrounds us,
the unborn souls who hover close
and allow us to glimpse
through a chink in their fingers
the beloved country we are calling up
from the deeps of our blood
and claiming here, on this bridge, this day.
This land, sown with pearls
of stolen sweat, jewels of secret pain
is promised to the meek, the stranger,
I hear you say, O Life,
this means it is promised to us all.
Help us see you, even in the faces
blurred with hate, crashing down upon us
as huge but powerless waves: we know,
O Source, the taste of salt upon our lips
and welcome with gladness
these waves of blue washing us
clean of fear and shadow
and revealing to us the light cast
in broken human form: give praise!
I close my eyes and see a smile wake in the face
of my sleeping child, sleeping in her bed
under the oak branches in Selma.
She is dreaming, O Light, and her smile
is Us. We are the sign, in this world,
of my daughter’s dream – a visible
proof of all the beauty
that brings her
in the darkness of sleep
Dear Friend, I feel your hands
on my back as a burning brand –
a burning brand
turning my shoulders
See how they unfurl
and shelter us all!
My wings stretch and open
in the hot noon sun
and allow me to stand
on this bridge