It’s as if the folks at the On Being project were listening in a corner to what we have been doing these past five weeks and so took up our language and intent for this larger work. That they chose the image of the potter teaching a student the centering and shaping of the clay on the wheel cannot be coincidental (in the world of grace). The cover letter that just arrived in my email is offered below, along with an invitation to 30 days of prayer for Minneapolis. After exposure to a very small dose of last night’s event on the stolen land of the indigenous Lakota peoples of South Dakota, the prayer and lament of our hearts might well widened. May we as a nation come to be truly independent of all that holds us in bondage. That will be the stuff of tears, repentance, conversion, and hard work, not simply declaring it so.
“Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— / Let it be that great strong land of love / Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme / That any man be crushed by one above.” — Langston Hughes
This Fourth of July offers an invitation to ask a question that’s just below the surface of the reckonings Americans are facing lately: Is America possible? The late civil rights leader Vincent Harding — whose conversation we’re revisiting this week — first came across the question in the title of a book. “I was struck by the playful seriousness of the inquiry, the invitation to imagine and explore the shape and meaning of a ‘possible’ America, an America still coming into existence,” he reflected in a 2007 essay.
Even those unfamiliar with Harding might know his words. He was a leader in the Black freedom struggle and drafted Martin Luther King’s famous Riverside Church speech opposing the Vietnam War. He was also an incredibly generous mentor who spent his later years creating wells of wisdom for younger generations to draw on in their organizing and movement work. His educational initiative, Veterans of Hope, collects interviews with civil rights elders and is led today by his daughter and niece.
If you’re looking for space to reflect this Fourth of July, I offer up some of the powerful questions Harding raises in his essay as a guide:
- “What is the America that we dream, that we hope for, that we vow to help bring into being?”
- “To whom do we think America belongs, and who has the essential responsibility for its future? Are we prepared to abandon the cynically-safe responses to these questions, responses like, ‘It belongs to the people with the most money, the best lawyers, and the greatest access to the levers of political power’?”
- “What shall [our students] do with the idea of an America in process, an America that is not a finished, sharp-edged block of white granite but is instead a malleable, multicolored gift of clay; still seeking, taking, giving shape, purpose, and direction?”
I appreciate the way these questions allow us to revisit and broaden the boundaries of our imagination for the future. “Indeed, it is precisely in a period of great spiritual and societal hunger like our own that we most need to open minds, hearts, and memories to those times when women and men actually dreamed of new possibilities for our nation, for our world, and for their own lives,” Harding writes. “It is now that we may be able to convey the stunning idea that dreams, imagination, vision, and hope are actually powerful mechanisms in the creation of new realities — especially when the dreams go beyond speeches and songs to become embodied; to take on flesh, in real, hard places.”
Though Harding, who died in 2014, wrote these words more than a decade ago, time has only revealed their truth. Perhaps to hope in America today is to believe, as Rainer Maria Rilke once advised, that if we begin today to live these questions, we will be able to gradually “live [our] way into the answer.”
Editor, The On Being Project
On Being with Krista Tippett
“Is America Possible?”
The late civil rights leader and cross-generational visionary on the spiritual heart of racial reckoning.
Invitation to 30 Days of Prayer for Minneapolis
One of the ways we’re attending to this moment is by deepening our sense of place and being present in our city of Minneapolis, where the killing of George Floyd became a catalyst for a global moment of racial awakening. Every day of this month, the Healing the Heart of our City initiative is holding a space for silence, grieving, the opening of hearts, and the offering of prayers for a healed future. Each day is being hosted by an African American congregation in this city. If you’re a Pause reader who also lives in Minneapolis, you can sign up to take part with your physical presence in North Minneapolis — perhaps together with other members of your community. But wherever you are in the world, you can join your form of grieving, openness, and prayer — an intersection of our interior lives with presence to the world’s pain and promise. Learn more and follow them on Facebook.