V’ani tefilati l’cha Adonai eit ratzon
“And I stand before you, O Lord, at this chosen moment.”
- Psalms 69:14
Less than twenty-four hours before he would be killed by an assassin’s bullet, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr
took the podium at Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis and delivered a stirring speech to a packed
audience made up mostly of striking sanitation workers. The address is primarily remembered today for his
eerily prophetic final lines: “God has brought me to the mountaintop, and I have 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 there … Mine eyes
have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
However, in re-reading the great man’s words, I was struck by a lesser-known section at the very beginning
of the speech. In it, King muses on the question of what he would say were God to offer him the
extraordinary opportunity to live in any moment in history. He says that he would have liked to witness the
Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, to have spoken with philosophers in Greece, and to have seen the glory
of Rome. He would have wished to briefly visit the Renaissance for the art, and to have met Lincoln and
Roosevelt in our country’s darkest hours. But he concludes: “Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty
and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy."
King lived in a time and place that, on its surface, was hardly the best of all possible worlds. He was
confronted every day by the ugliness of racial hatred and a brutal level of violence that claimed many lives,
including, eventually, his own. There were police dogs and fire hoses and the Klan and the FBI and his own
long days in a Birmingham prison cell. Every day was a struggle and the outcome of the fight for true
equality was (and remains) perilously uncertain. If given the choice, why of all moments would King have
chosen to accept the difficult destiny that fate had assigned him?
To this question, he said: “I know that it's only when it is dark enough that one can see the stars. And, I see
God working in this period of history and human beings are, in some strange way, responding… [and] I am
happy that God allowed me to live right now, so I can see what is unfolding.”
My challenge, as we mark what would have been Dr. King’s 91st birthday, is whether I can look at the world
in which we live with the same degree of gratitude and moral resolve. We too live in hard times – an era of
political division, of mass shootings, of profound distrust, of the looming, existential threat of climate change.
Yet, King challenges us to recognize that even in such times, especially in such times, it is a privilege to be
part of the struggle for goodness to prevail. To see the present darkness, as Valerie Kaur, the Sikh activist,
documentarian, and faith leader teaches, as the darkness of the womb, not the darkness of the tomb. To
recognize that this moment is our eit ratzon, our Divinely sanctioned moment, to muster all our spiritual,
moral, individual, and communal resources to drive out the darkness and let shine the stars.