At five in the morning one cold August day I found myself boarding a bus with approximately forty people I had never met, aside from a few quick introductions at a cookout the night before. For most of us, it was the first official activity of our seminary career, the others were either faculty or seminarians further along their journey towards ordination. Most people fell asleep shortly after we got underway but the seminarian next to me wanted to say morning prayer and I obliged to the best of my half-conscious ability before falling asleep as well. We drove down the mountain in the dark heading southeast towards a place called Hayneville, Alabama. Being a Yankee I had no idea where that was; I know now that it’s just a little to the southwest of Montgomery. Somewhere during the course of the nearly five-hour drive, we were told the story of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a seminarian who took time away from his studies in Boston to work on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement and was gunned down outside of Varner's Cash Store protecting a young Ruby Sales. Later that day we would walk, alongside people from across the country, the path he walked during his final days to commemorate his death as a martyr of the church.
Despite its sleepy start, it was an eye-opening day for me. To be confronted on my first day of seminary by the witness of a seminarian who had given his life in service to the Gospel was humbling and deeply moving. And to know that it had happened where I was standing, to be able to kneel down and touch the very place where he was martyred, all the more so. Growing up in New York, saints and martyrs were always far away and abstracted concepts. I understood intellectually that people lived lives of heroic virtue and had died because of their commitment to Jesus Christ but it was always something removed from my own life and experience. That all changed that day. And it has changed all the more since coming to Memphis, a place that, between the Martyrs of Memphis during the Yellow Fever outbreak and Martin Luther King Jr., seems to be overflowing with examples of heroic faith and martyrdom. It is hard not to be inspired walking through Martyrs Hall at the Cathedral or around the Lorraine Motel; hard to miss the call to take faith more seriously and ignore that we are called to live out what we profess.
Often it seems that we must travel to Europe or to the Holy Land to be inspired. That we need to get away from the familiar to be confronted by the extraordinary. But if my experience in Hayneville and Memphis have taught me anything it is that the exceptional is hiding in our own backyards in and amongst the ordinary. That all we need to do is open our eyes to see the heroic lives, and yes, the heroic deaths, have taken and are taking place in our midsts. All we have to do is open our eyes, pay attention, and allow ourselves to be transformed by what we see.
No Comments yet!
Please include your contact name!
Please include your contact email address as a valid email address!
Please include your comments!