Chances are good that you recognized the two men joined arm in arm in the photo above without needing any caption or explanation. Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr. were fast friends by the time this photo was snapped at Arlington cemetery in 1968. They had walked across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma three years before, arm in arm. One had been rescued from the rising tide of state-sponsored murder in Poland during the early Holocaust years. The other had headlined a movement to and through the passage of the monumental civil rights victories, and tragedies, of the 1960s. Together they stood for unity and against war.
In honor of both, here’s an excerpt from Rabbi Heschel’s meditation “No Religion is an Island,” a midrash on the much earlier elegy of a similar title by the Anglican poet John Donne:
What is the purpose of interreligious cooperation? It is neither to flatter nor to refute one another, but to help one another to share insight and learning, to cooperate in academic ventures on the highest scholarly level and, what is even more important, to search in the wilderness for wellsprings of devotion, for treasures of stillness, for the power of love and care for man. What is urgently needed are ways of helping one another in the terrible predicament of here and now by the courage to believe that the word of the Lord endures forever as well as here and now; to cooperate in trying to bring about a resurrection of sensitivity, a revival of conscience; to keep alive the divine sparks in our souls, to nurture openness to the spirit of the Psalms, reverence for the words of the prophets, and faithfulness to the Living God.
In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and even beyond that to the ampler goal of the unity of all God’s children, we here at St. Matthew’s/San Mateo stand forth in the presence of that Living God who calls us to no less: to a manifestation of word and sign and action in solidarity with all; to a rejection of false narratives and imaginary walls which separate us one from another; and to effective embodiment of that love of God and love of neighbor which is the fulfillment of the Law.