On this week’s Interfaith Voices, we deal with a number of topics: the religious dimensions of the Arizona shooting tragedy (a wonderful conversation with EJ Dionne), a rundown of the religious composition of the new Congress, and a special look at Eric Cantor, the new House Majority Leader, who is –- religiously speaking -– a rare species: a Jewish Republican. We probe why most Jews are democrats.
But our final interview is with Lewis V. Baldwin, author of a new book: Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Baldwin is a Professor of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University, and this is the third book he has written on King.
King is someone who inspired me as a young person to become involved in social justice and peace. Since his assassination in 1968, we have heard a great deal about King’s activism, his speeches and sermons. But this is the first work published on his prayer life. And it probably reveals the source of his inner strength.
According to Baldwin, King -– not surprisingly -– drew a great deal from the black prayer tradition, including the prayers of slaves who constantly appealed to God for freedom from bondage. In public, when King turned his speeches into prayer, the prayer was participatory “call and response” –- in the finest tradition of the black church.
But I discovered something I had never heard before: King took complete days off for prayer, meditation and thought. He called them his “Days of Silence.”
King relished this quiet time as nourishment for his public ministry, a time to gain perspective for the struggle. Still, most of his prayer was inseparable from the civil rights struggle: it blended seamlessly with mass meetings and marches, church services, and jail time.
King would have loved Noisy Contemplation, the spiritual classic by my friend Bill Callahan who died in July of this year. Most of King’s prayer was indeed “noisy.”
And in many ways, the struggle for justice and peace was a prayer for him, just as it was for Bill.
To hear this week’s show, here’s the link.