O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and the afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A couple of years ago, I took my young son Rowan to see the heartwarming movie: The Peanuts Movie. On the way home I asked him what he thought of it, and was totally caught off guard by his response.
“It was pretty good,” he said, “but a little sad.”
“Really? What was sad about it?” I asked.
“Well, I felt sad because no one had any parents.”
A whole world opened up for me through his statement. I was focusing on Charlie Brown and the other children in the story and their actions, but Rowan was looking at them in a deeper light. He didn’t just see them as disconnected actors in an unfolding drama. He saw each of them as someone connected to other people who loved and cared for them.
Today we give thanks for the faithful witness of Jonathan Myrick Daniels. His story is compelling, inspiring, and challenging in profound ways. As I reflect on Jonathan’s life I cannot shake my son’s question and insight. What about Jonathan’s parents and those who loved him, the network of relationships whose love and care shaped his life? What did it mean to love Jonathan Myrick Daniels who “in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another?”
We may very well be aware of how Jonathan, as a young seminarian, responded to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call and went to Selma to help in the cause to secure voting rights for all. We may also know that he was instantly killed as he shielded a 16-year old Ruby Sales from a point-bank shotgun blast. And we surely know the inspiring force of his life and witness that we remember on this day.
But what did it mean to love Jonathan Myrick Daniels?
What was it like to watch your son put his education and career on hold to go into the center of the volatile and pressurized seedbed of the civil rights movement? To find out that your child was crammed along with a couple dozen protestors, baking in the unconditioned August air of a tiny jail cell whose floor was covered with the backed sewage of its broken toilet? To learn that you lost your child?
What did it mean to love Jonathan Myrick Daniels? And what does it mean for each of us and those whom we love?
I look at my son and daughter and I’m reminded of their baptisms. They belong to God and to the community that forms around Jesus known as the Church. I think of some of the vows Lauren and I made on their behalf: to resist evil, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace among all people. What does it mean to love my children when they decide to take these vows as their own?
I need courage. I need a love that does not control. I need to honor my children and their desires about who they are to become, not what I dream or hope for them. I can’t let my fears about the injustice and violence of life stifle my children’s dreams and God’s dream for who they are to be in the world.
I need courage and I find it in this petition from Evening Prayer:
That we may be bound together by your Holy Spirit in the communion of blessed Jonathan and all your saints, entrusting one another and all our life to Christ,
We entreat you, O Lord.
What does it mean to love Jonathan Myrick Daniels and those in our care?
The only way forward is to entrust their lives to Christ. To trust that they have a place in God’s heart and God’s good future that is beyond our very real and natural desires for what we might think is best for them. To not spend our lives trying to protect them from getting hurt by the pain in our world, but to encourage them in the ways they feel called to enter into its struggle.
[Collect for Jonathan Myrick Daniels used with permission by Church Publishing]
When do you find it most difficult to entrust your children’s lives to Christ?