Fear’s Antidote- Martin Luther King Jr.’s Message

“Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that.  Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.  Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”  

– “Antidotes for Fear” by Martin Luther King Jr. from Strength to Love 

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This sermon by Dr. King was one of my assigned readings for class this week.  It’s message is one that takes courage to live.  His life and death are both powerful testaments to this fact.

An anecdote from the sermon that was most profound in illustrating this was concerning a conversation he had with Mother Pollard, an elderly woman who participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.

On a particular Monday evening, following a tension-packed week that included being arrested and receiving numerous threatening phone calls, I spoke at a mass meeting… In my address I tried desperately to give an overt impression of strength and courage, although I was inwardly depressed and fear-stricken. At the end of the meeting, Mother Pollard came to the front of the church and said, “Come here son.” I immediately walked over and gave her a big hug. Then she said, “Something is wrong with you. You didn’t talk strong tonight.” Seeking further  to disguise my fears I retorted, “Oh, no, Mother Pollard, nothing is wrong I am feeling as fine as ever.”

“Now you can’t fool me,” she said, “I knows something is wrong. Is it that we ain’t doing things to please you, or is it that the white folks is bothering you?” Before I could answer she looked directly into my eyes and said, “I don told you we is we is with you all the way.” And then wth a countenance beaming with quiet certainty she concluded, “But even if we aint with you, God’s gonna take care of you.” Everything in me quivered wth the pulsing tremor of raw energy when she uttered these consoling words.  

As I read this passage- King’s call from the past drenched in my knowledge from the present, knowledge of his life and death interwoven with history- I, too, felt a shiver of energy run through me.  I couldn’t help but wonder, what did he know in this moment that only visceral feeling could express?  What was love telling him?

I can’t know for sure, but his personal risks and sacrifices were made in love, not only for himself and for the civil rights movement, but for all people- even his enemies.

We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…  Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.

While not every person is called to encompass and express love in the same way, I believe we are each called in our unique ways to do so.  The language used to express this matters little.  Wherever and however one feels love, that is a calling toward rightness.  In the words of Mary Oliver,

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves  

My wish and hope for this Friday is that all of us may find more and deeper ways to feel and express the love within and to share this gift with others.  Have a love-filled Friday, all.

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