Jan. 21, 2019.
I will never forget the moment I was first asked, “What does liberation feel like?”
It was a soggy, humid morning following a long night of dancing and laughing around a bonfire at the Highlander Center with other black and brown organizers from across the South. As many of us awoke late, missing breakfast, we slowly shuffled our way into the main hall with mugs of coffee and tea in hand to join others already assembled for the opening session. Like previous mornings we began with singing “I woke up this morning with my mind/Stayed on freedom,” followed by a few announcements and housekeeping items.
And then it came: “What does liberation feel like?”
As those around me entered into a moment of deep reflection I found myself completely stumped. I sat there, nervously fidgeting in one of the center’s rocking chairs as my eyes darted back and forth across the room in hopes of locating an answer. As I gazed over the faces of those who sat across from me, my eyes settled on a black and white image of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and others as they took part in a weekend training at the very same center where I found myself. In that moment, all the things I had read about King’s envisioning of the Beloved Community came rushing to my attention.
In “Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom,” King wrote, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require qualitative change in our souls as well as quantitative change in our lives.” In other words, if we want to get real about justice-making or cultivating the Beloved Community in the here and now, we must each make an external and internal change to do so. This not only requires us to identify the systemic and interpersonal things that prevent us from being free – and going about doing something different – it also invites us to dream into existence what it will be like to be free. And just not in some theoretical sense but in one that is fully embodied in a touch, taste, see, hear and smell kind of way.
In the urgency of the now, this embodied sense of freedom serves as both a balm to our weary spirits and as a guide for our collective journey onward. An embodied sense of freedom, one in which we know the feeling of a welcomed embrace and the taste of sweet water, supports us along the collective journey when the going gets tough. In describing this aspect of King’s legacy and justice-making, Grace Lee Boggs wrote in “The Beloved Community of Martin Luther King,” “This is what true revolutions are about. They are about redefining our relationships with one another, to the Earth and to the world; about creating a new society in the places and spaces left vacant by the disintegration of the old; about hope, not despair; about saying yes to life and no to war; about finding the courage to love and care for the peoples of the world as we love and care for our own families. King’s revolutionary vision is about each of us becoming the change we want to see in the world.” Ultimately, this embodied sense of freedom, in its fleshy ways, reminds us that the Beloved Community is both already at hand in what we are doing and soon to come in what we are collectively working toward.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, I invite you to join me in this prayer:
Spirit of Life, God of the In-breaking,
Empower us to respond to the beckoning call of freedom in the here and now.
May this freedom stir within us so we might know it in the fleshy ways of
dancing around a bonfire,
in the taste of sweet water,
in the hearing of a beautiful song,
and in feeling the welcomed embrace of a beloved.
And in so doing, may we know this is the work we have been called to cultivate,
because feeling free is a part of getting free.
Ase, So Be It and Amen.