Martin was working his sermon when I entered the sacristy. I had come to meet the great and diminutive Rabbi Abraham Heschel. I extended my hand and stuttered, “r-r-r Rabbi Heschel I am honored to meet you.” Martin did not look up from his text.
He died a year later. His sermon that day at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC began, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Those words rang out for me and our generation as surely as the words from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial four years before.
What are the silences we hold? On his birthday it seems appropriate to honor those words. Today Martin invites us to come out of the silence.
In those days we heard Martin and we acted and followed. The war ground on for another six years. And though our voices were denied, a new consciousness grew among us. We loved our country enough to challenge its assumptions about what freedom, democracy and our national interest mean. Freedom and democracy, after all, can be just another word to use.
Maybe it was no accident Martin was killed in Memphis as he threw his energy and support to the plight of garbage collectors. While the efforts to confront racism is still a huge issue in the nation, there was already in his consciousness that unless the whole economic system was made more equitable poor black, white, Latin, Asian African, and Middle Eastern kids would be fighting and killing primarily in the interests of the rich.
Martin broke his silence about the war in Vietnam that day. What silences do we keep in the face and memory of injustice, abuse, brutality?
Some family systems harbored a code of silence. That loyalty to the family perpetuated emotional illness. I believe much of our addictive society is because we have no where to go to talk with some wise other about how this code of secrecy has effected us.
That’s why confession is a healthy ministry of the church. To be able to sit with some wise friend and pour out ones heart is a great gift. A good therapist is also a huge gift. Access to such wise ones are limited. And the long pain of secrecy takes sometimes many years to unravel.
Our secrets are some of those crosses from which we need to get down.
So look at the news, our history, your history. “Sometimes silence is betrayal.” What silences do you keep that prevent your painful and necessary healing? What do you and I have to look in the eye in order to fully live again , sing, and rise on wings?