“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18 KJV)
“He has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!” The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. concluding his final speech, April 3, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee
Visions of a goal ahead guide us when we are lost. They encourage us with the hope we need when we are ready to give up.
Our dreams and visions are not for ourselves alone. King received multiple death threats every day for years. He had been stabbed and his house had been bombed. Yet he kept going because he knew that the Spirit that gave him dreams and visions needed them to be shared.
King explained why when he said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”
Jesus shared the same vision of oneness. He saw that his real enemy was not Caesar or the Pharisees. His enemy was the selfish fear and greed of the individualistic ego that is incapable of seeing our true oneness. It was the life of the ego that Jesus meant when he said we have to lose our life to save our life.
Jesus said that the source of all evil is in our heart, but so is the source of all good. He saw that humanity could grow beyond the ego’s immature level of consciousness to have a heart and mind led by the Spirit within us.
This is the evolution we need to undergo now if we are to survive the crises humanity faces. The Spirit within us sees what the ego cannot—the oneness of all people and all life on earth. The Spirit leads us to have compassion and serve the common good.
Martin Luther King Jr. had an ego, but we revere him because he was willing to lose that life, he was willing to lay it down out of a greater love. Dozens of leaders made the same sacrifice, and hundreds of thousands followed them. The Spirit rose to ascendency over the ego in the 1960s nonviolent Civil Rights Movement. Individual lives were transformed and they transformed the world.
But the ego struck back in the 1970s. It gained supremacy in the form of the Me Generation and has only increased its hold in our culture over the past fifty years. The result has been unethical greed and obscene economic inequity. White supremacist racism has become more militantly entrenched and environmental degradation has increased to the point where we have only a few years to change or the earth will become unlivable.
It is no surprise that democracy is weakening worldwide. As the founders of American knew and John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The rise of the Me Generation began the decline of institutions designed to help us be a moral, ethical and spiritual people. It turned e pluribus unum into QAnon.
Yet we still have the dreams and visions of the prophets of the past to guide and encourage us. They were gifts to all people of all time. Even in this late hour it may not be too late. We may still reach the Promised Land as David Attenborough says so beautifully in his new film.
Now is the decisive moment.
Will we rise to the level of consciousness that the great spiritual traditions have called us to attain? Will we throw off the false self of the ego and allow the true self of the Spirit guide and empower us through this wilderness?
The only way the visions of the past will be fulfilled is if we each seek our own mountaintop, if we each search the golden room of our heart’s core for the dream that the Spirit has put there for us to fulfill.
Just as King’s vision was not for himself alone, neither is ours. We find in our heart a torch that will guide our path. We find gifts that we can contribute. We find creative actions that will give us joy. The Spirit gives all these to us for the sake of the world.
Each leader and participant in the Civil Rights Movement found their own calling and chose to follow where that Spirit led. We have this one last chance to do the same.
We will not be alone. Millions of people took to the streets to confront the climate crisis last fall, and millions more showed up for Black Lives this summer. The Spirit is rising.
Imagine what it will feel like on the day when King’s mountaintop vision is fulfilled and we have done our part, however large or small.
“I’ve been to the mountaintop…. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”