“With this faith, we will be able to hew out
of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
(Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream speech)
As one approaches the Jefferson Memorial, you can see the towering marble figure from almost any angle. The intentionality of the visibility – reminding us of the impact this founding father had on our nation. Once there, you are compelled to look up as you read many of his values chiseled into words on the domed ceiling above. Since working in D.C. in the eighties, this has always been one of my favorite places for meditation and reflection. From this space by the Tidal Basin, you see the Washington Monument as well as much of the city. I am mindful that about 2 miles away, a towering marble portrayal of another president can be found in the Lincoln Memorial. In the midst of all that divides us, I was grateful for reminders of courage and conviction that frame a part of our history.
My husband and I went to DC this past weekend to meet up with our son on his birthday and to see our two little grand-girls. The touring of a few monuments became a late-night or early morning excursion bookending lunches, dinners, parks, and conversations. But they became pivotal as we went to see the 9-11 Memorial by the Pentagon – admiring the moving architectural design that from a distance looked like wings of each of those killed in the terrorist attack. But up close they looked like branches coming out of the ground continuing to burst with new life as a stream of water visibly ran beneath them. I was deeply moved by the power of its simplicity.
There was one more monument we went to see – and this one – stood not far from the places of Jefferson and Lincoln – intentionally acknowledging their connection to the struggle for equality across the centuries. This one was made of granite – its design raw, simple, and contemporary. The towering figure of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emerged out of the stone with words inscribed – “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” These words do not include the first part of the sentence from his “I Have a Dream” speech that read – “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
In many ways we have sanitized the memory of Rev. Dr. King’s life – often reducing his memory and life to hallmark sounds. We forget that it was his real and present faith in Christ that allowed him to not be overcome or entombed by the ‘mountain of despair.’ We forget that his life brought together the depth of his Christian faith with the witness that faith required of him. It was not a romantic journey – it was one that emerged ultimately with the sacrificing of his life.
In this season of Eastertide, I am mindful that the one we claim to follow – the one Jesus – was able to emerge from the confines of a stone tomb, defying death and stepping into the light of the resurrection. His spirit continues to be poured out upon us inspiring and equipping us for a vision not visible with our eyes. I am reminded that it takes really hard work to ‘hew’ – shape and form – our witness in the midst of all that would cause despair and hopelessness. I am reminded that it is our faith that compels us to keep on pressing forward.
May we remember and emerge together out of the mountains of despair – whatever and wherever they are – as stones and voices of hope because of our faith.