When times are toughest, says Cornel West, that is the moment to turn away from fear
We travel through life with two inescapable companions-change and choice.
When an aggressive cancer nearly became a death sentence, I was told that I
might have only a few months to live. My first thought? Deep and overwhelming gratitude for being allowed to sit at the banquet of life for nearly 50 years, enfolded by the indescribable love of family and friends that sustained me on each step of my journey. I didn't know whether or not I was going to die then. But I refused to let death come in like a thief in the night and steal the joy I had already given and received. I was so grateful that God had allowed me to pursue my spiritual vocation of promoting unarmed truth and unconditional love. To be human means choosing the courage to think, love, hope and fight for justice and freedom in the face of catastrophe. Death could come, because I had made my choice.
Deep and mature spirituality is rooted in a wrestling with catastrophe. Black spirituality has been the antidote to the vicious attempts to render us so intimidated and hapless that we give up, cave in, or sell out to an unjust status quo. Our unimagined victories in the face of catastrophic conditions are majestic evidence of a rich spiritual tradition. The question is never whether catastrophes will come but rather, when they come, what choices will we make?
Spirituality gives us armor to cope with disaster. The three pillars of deep spirituality are faith, hope and love-yet it is courage that enables all three. Faith enables us to face the future-including inescapable catastrophes-with humility and generosity. Yet there is no faith without the courage to be humble. Hope empowers us to stay on the tightrope despite the winds and storms of catastrophes. Yet there is no hope without the courage to fight despair. Love ennobles us to maintain a steadfast commitment to the well-being of someone or some cause greater than our own petty ego. Yet there is no love without the courage to surrender to something more priceless than yourself.
The profoundly spiritual dimension that we all face in this historic election season is whether we will choose to counter excessive greed, hatred and fear with courageous fairness, compassion and hope. Let us pray, push and pull for this election to transform decaying school systems, dilapidated housing, unavailable health care and child care, the many jobs without a living wage, gun violence run amok and mean-spirited policies here and abroad.
Brother Barack Obama's trek to the White House represents a democratic awakening of the American people. But we know that a mere Black face in a high place does not by itself yield humane results-each of us must be accountable for those who suffer. Let us hope on our tightropes that we will have the vision, courage and determination to keep our spiritual focus on the catastrophic circumstances of our society and world. Together with faith, hope and love, we can choose to plant the indestructible seeds of change.