March for Change

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way . . . . (Ps. 37:23)

The energy stored in an object is called potential energy. This is the concept in physics that something might happen to or with that object. Like a spring compressed, the energy used to compress it—once the spring has been fully squeezed—is transferred to the spring and stored inside the spring waiting to be released. The release of that stored energy is called kinetic energy. When the compressed spring is loosed, the energy is restored from a passive to an active state. Several interesting theological observations lie imbedded in my rather rudimentary recollection of high school physics.

First, the Latin root for “potential” is potentia, meaning “power.” Second, the Greek root for “kinetic” is kinesis, meaning “motion.” In other words, in both instances action, change is assumed. In the first instance, change is coiled in the spring. The law of conservation of energy does not allow the energy used to compress the spring to dissipate. Rather, that energy is transferred to the spring itself and stored throughout the object, awaiting liberation. Similarly, the reality of change is static awaiting its opportunity to erupt. Potential has a real, tangible power. In the second, change is realized; motion is actual. Our spring bursts to life, racing from compression to extension, from what might be to what is. The change that was thought lost was only dormant, awakened to life. That is the third observation. The conversion of energy from potential to kinetic, the transformation of change from stored to sprung requires some catalyst.

Catalysts come in many forms and at many times, but in the case of our spring, they result in the same effect, i.e., the energy of change—often thought absent or destroyed—is made manifest, is incarnated in the objects now in motion.
Metaphorical springs are coiled all around us, awaiting release, longing for their catalyst to come.

Prophets often provoke change; their words recorded in both the Old and New Testaments echo this potential for change, often acting as the catalyst itself. Their words take dormant ideas and “enflesh” those ideas in the fervor and gesticulations of faithful servants of God, actively speaking latent truths before recalcitrant Powers. Their bodies become the incarnation of God’s liberating ideas for change as the prophet places himself or herself between the Powers and the people. This “enfleshing” of God’s words of liberation and change in our lives is the proper outcome for a life of faith.

Remember the words from the prophet Micah. He said:

‘With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8)

Here, Micah is not dismissing worship. Rather, the prophet is reminding us that true worship begins in God’s presence at prayer but is realized in our active concern for those who are equally connected to God and us, i.e., our neighbors. We cannot have true worship if we neglect to live and enact, embody justice and kindness, particularly for those disempowered to do so on their own.

It is this active incarnation of God’s energy for change that imbues Abraham Heschel’s memory of his time with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965. He recalled, “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was both 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.” Certain of the connection between faith and faithful living, between the potential energy of prayer and the kinetic energy of protest, Rabbi Heschel found a natural ally in King. Their common conviction that a faith embodied and lived is primary and the most authentic expression of faith united their mutual efforts and motivated their actions. That common action found particular expression when hands were clasped and feet hit the pavement. As an exercise in interfaith activism and the manifestation of a firm belief that the God of scripture was the same God opting for the disenfranchised, Heschel and King joined in a series of marches from Selma to Montgomery to promote equal access to the voting booth as a way of affirming the more general principle of the equality of all who are created in God’s image.

For King and others who marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, the catalyst that sprung them to life was the hope for equality, for liberation, for recognition of their common creation in the image of God and their common destiny in the Beloved Community, i.e., the Kingdom of God. Such marching is the very essence of the incarnation because the incarnation was God’s effort to take the potential of communion stored in creation and convert that potentiality into actuality in the lives of men and women. The incarnation is a reminder that our God is an interventionist, agitating, active, kinetic God. And, as God’s people, so, too, are we. That means our faith must be a faith of transformative movement from what might be one day to what must be today. Such a journey of incarnated, kinetic faith requires taking sometimes small and other times grand steps.

Taking steps implies traveling, moving somewhere. Sometimes that movement is carefree and aimless. Sometimes it is misdirected. Sometimes it is imbued with such purpose its impulse can only have originated out of a Divine will straining toward something greater, more significant than we might ever have imagined when first begun. This kind of journey of Divine, transformative movement is captured in the above passage from Psalm 37.

There, the Psalmist assumes a Divine “establishment,” a potential for how things might be. Moreover, the Psalmist crafts a litany of complaints and affirmations, complaining of injustices that seem to dominate the world and affirming certitude in God’s inexorable will toward fairness and righteousness. By placing these two notions side-by-side, the writer both vents and hopes, venting against the obvious and hoping in what will, must certainly replace what is daily known. The catch for us is discovering what our catalyst might be. What will spring us from inaction to action, from sedation to consciousness, from potential to kinetic? What will our march of faith be? Where will we convert our stored energy for change and “enflesh” it with our lives of faith, representing God and the masses before the Powers that be?

May we keep our eyes open and our legs ready. Legs that can pray are still needed, today.


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