Remembering Frederick Douglass: Daily Office Reflection

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February 20, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 106:1-18; Ruth 1:1-14; 2 Corinthian 1:1-11; Matthew 5:1-12)
Alternative Readings (Psalm 85:7-13; Isaiah 32:11-18; Hebrews 2:10-18; John 8:30-32)

Many of the readings today seem to fit so well with the life an legacy of Frederick Douglass, whom the Episcopal Church commemorates toda. If you don’t know about his life, a quick Google search will do the trick. He is an inspiration and a figure that continues to speak to us today as a prophetic witness.

I have been reading through Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and I was struck by this quote from Douglass:

In the darkest hours of this era, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass saw his health fade just as everything he spent his life fighting for was falling apart. He said, in his last great public lecture, delivered in Baltimore in January 1894, a year before his death, “I hope and trust all will come out right in the end, but the immediate future looks dark and troubled. I cannot shut my eyes to the ugly facts before me.”

-Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 791-795). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This quote has been haunting me over the past weeks, and I think it is because it embodies so much about what Christian hope is about. Douglass did not ever shy away from the stark realities of his day. Nor did he simply have a “sweet by and by” hope which would allow him to ignore such facts for the sake of focusing on heaven. He named reality as he saw it and proclaimed reality as he saw it could yet be. This, it seems to be, is the essence of the prophetic task. His words remind of St. Paul’s to the church in Corinth as he suffers. He is able to name what their sufferings are while also naming his hope for their to be fruit and rescue.

Over the past weeks, I have seen more darkness and trouble than I can remember being aware of in the past. And I have felt the impulse to want to shut my eyes to the brokenness and evil around me. Sometimes it just feels easier to ignore it, to self-medicate with television, or to lose myself in books. But I cannot. And, if I want to maintain truly Christian hope; I dare not close my eyes to the suffering of this world. To hope all will be made right in the end is to also come to terms with all that is not right, both within me and in the wider world.

What evils do you tend to ignore or explain away in yourself or around you? What wrongs in the world feel overwhelming and insurmountable? How can our God bring comfort to you here? How could you proclaim a good message of true Christian hope to yourself or those around you?

 

Collect for Commemoration of Frederick Douglass

Almighty God, we bless your Name for the witness of Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of people to a deeper obedience to Christ: Strengthen us also to speak on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation, continuing in the Word of Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit dwells in glory everlasting. Amen.

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