A famous photograph from 1965 features Martin Luther King Jr at the head of a civil rights march in the streets of Selma, Alabama. He is joined in the front row by a white bearded, yarmulke wearing rabbi named Abraham Heschel, looking like the photofit of a Hebrew prophet. He wrote this about the march that day;
I felt a sense of the Holy in what I was doing…For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.
In recent days, from Kabul to Dublin, city streets are in need of praying legs. Whether it’s to articulate alternatives to the violence of those that terrorise, or the violence of an economic system that marginalizes the poor and weak.
And Lord knows the streets of Belfast need praying legs.
Now I marched to protest the Iraq war so on Sunday I’ll not celebrate the troops coming home, but it’s sad to say that what should have been a thank you for those who fought overseas, is now likely to be yet another illustration of the still-divided nature of our community. Shared space is less about integrated communities and more about shared rights to protest the other. And this means our streets are less likely to be safe for frail and the weak.
Not much sign then that the beautiful words of the prophet Zechariah are going to be true of Belfast any time soon. He wrote poetically of the streets of the heavenly city
“Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”
What a gorgeous vision and to get there we need worshipping, praying legs among those who have a vision of shared streets where children and older people feel safe and secure. Praying legs especially among people of faith who are called to live today in this world as if the world to come was already here.
So until this weekend is over, I’ll be praying with my words and my legs for Sunday. Petitioning God and doing my best to ensure that the events will pass quietly and peacefully. in the hope that a little piece of the kingdom will come soon to the streets of our city.
Till then may God be good to Kabul and Dublin and Belfast
Broadcast on Radio Ulster Thought for the Day slot on Wednesday, 29 October