[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]
This is the second poem I am posting in honor of Rep. John Lewis and the Rev. C. T. Vivian who both died in Atlanta on July 17, 2020. The other was “In the Shadow of Absence” and by clicking there you can read an introduction relating to this poem as well. I talk there about Lewis, Vivian and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement . I talk especially about Grace Paley whose death moved me to write that poem.
I wrote this sonnet after the death of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin. It is a cliché to call a prophet a lion. The late Donald Hall would probably have called it a Dead Metaphor, but the metaphor was alive and well as long as Bill was, and from what I have read and seen on film it lived in John Lewis and C. T. Vivian. If you want to see a living lion, watch this short video of the Rev. Vivian confronting Sheriff Bull Clark in Selma, Alabama:
Or you can see a living lion here in the Rev. William Sloane Coffin even after he had a stroke:
This poem, “They Shall Run and Not be Weary, They Shall Walk and Not Faint,” connects Coffin (and Lewis and Vivian and all lions) to the Hebrew prophets. The title is a quote from the prophet Isaiah. The poem uses a Hebrew word, ruach, which has three meanings, the same as the Greek word pneuma. It means breath, wind and spirit. Here are two passages that show how it is used in the Hebrew scriptures:
“The Ruach of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
“Behold, my Servant whom I uphold…I have put my Ruach upon him.”
There is no question that Lewis and Vivian, and Paley and Coffin, were extraordinary people, but what made them extraordinary was the ruach that filled them and flowed through them, and they would insist that it can fill us each.
The hope of the world that Bill talks about in the video above is that the same spirit will fill Jews and Muslims and Christians and people of all faiths and no faith—the hope of the world rests in humans who are filled with the spirit of love and compassion, justice and peace, the spirit of nonviolence that forms beloved community out of conflict and chaos.
The power that formed the earth and informed the prophets wants to work through us to save the earth and save democracy, equity and freedom, values and ideals based on the Golden Rule that ruach has been causing to evolve in humanity for millennia because they are necessary for life to flourish on earth.
Please rise to this moment. Please be as much of a lion as you can in the place and with the life given you. Trust in the spirit to carry you in your weariness. Trust that if you let it flow through you, you will not faint or fall, you will fly. Trust that we can do far more than we can even imagine with this power in us. So say all the lions before us, and they prove it so.
They Shall Run and Not be Weary, They Shall Walk and Not Faint
(after hearing that the Rev. William Sloane Coffin had died)
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Adonai is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth….giving power to the faint, and strength to the powerless…. those who wait for Adonai shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:28-31
What happens to old lions when they die?
This morning I looked up above the hill
behind my house and learned. The lions fly.
I saw a golden eagle spread and fill
his wings with ruach—spirit, wind and breath.
I watched him circling up and up to soar
above the shadowed valley of his death,
echoing still with his last ringing roar.
Nothing is lost in God. Have you not known?
Have you not heard? God gives the weak great power
when strong ones fall exhausted to the bone.
Our old guard lion dies. Let us not cower.
Those trusting God mount up on eagle wings.
Old spirit fills new prophets. On it rings.
copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder