Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An Evening with Desmond Tutu

(Photo to the left courtesy of the SABC website, which ran a story about tonight's event.)

In a single word -- amazing.

In a long string of words -- amazing, inspiring, moving, breathtaking, loving, forgiving, accepting, believing, praying.

This is about the best way I can come up with to describe what it was like to be at Washington National Cathedral tonight to listen to a talk delivered by Desmond Tutu entitled "The Spirituality of Reconciliation." In the many years that I have been going to events at the cathedral, it was the first time that I saw every seat in building filled -- thousands of people had come out to listen to him.

I had seen Archbishop Tutu before; his daughter was one of the clergy residents at our church in Northern Virginia, and he attended services often whenever he was in the area. At those points, though, he was just another member of the congregation, and people treated him as such -- no gawking, no pointing, no gasps. He was simply another welcomed member of our church family who was helping to fill the room.

On this night, however, he filled the room all by himself -- and I don't mean that in terms of the size of the crowd he drew. When he walked up to the podium to speak, he filled the room in a different way -- with his warmth, his humor, and his love. He spoke often during the course of the evening about a God who opens up his arms to embrace everyone, and that's exactly what the Archbishop did tonight.

It was an incredible 45 minutes, and one which A. and I will never forget. Even in a room that large with thousands of people in attendance, there was complete and utter silence as he spoke. There was no way that I could write my thoughts and impressions throughout the speech, but I was able to jot down some of what he said (and I hope you'll forgive me for just jotting down these quick snatches of his talk):

- We are like God, and we are meant to imitate God.

- God would much rather we go freely to hell than compel us to go to heaven.

- Part of the glory of being us is to have a God who allows us to have autonomy.

- We are in the forgiveness business because this God and this Christ are in the forgiving business.

- Forgiving refuses to give up on anyone; the God in whose image we are created never gives up on us.

- God picks us up, God dusts off, and God says, "Try again."

- An enemy is a friend waiting to be made.

- To forgive is not altruistic, it is the best form of self-interest.

At the very end of his remarks, he told a story (that he said he has told often, but wanted to repeat again) about a chicken farmer who one day goes out to his chicken run and sees a chicken that looks strange, but he knows it is a chicken. One day, a traveler comes and says, "That's no chicken; that's an eagle." The stranger asks the farmer to give him the chicken.

The visitor takes the eagle out of the pen, walks up to the top of a high mountain nearby, turns to face the rising sun, and says, "Fly, eagle, fly." The eagle takes off, circles for a few moments, and then flies off in the distance and vanishes from sight.

And then in almost a whisper, Archbishop Tutu said, "God says to us, 'Hey, you are no chicken; you are an eagle. Fly, eagle, fly.' God wants us to shake ourselves, put out our pinions, and take off and soar. And we fly; we fly. We fly towards goodness. We fly toward transcendence. We fly; we fly. We fly towards compassion and laughter and caring. We fly. Fly, eagle, fly."

I can't speak for A., but for me this evening was one of the greatest blessings I have ever received.

(Note: The cathedral has posted the video of the Archbishop's appearance on their website; you can click here to watch it.)


ipanema said...

I like those notes you jot down. Aren't they all true?

There are a few people who can really capture the audience just by simple words. The more he says, the more important it is to listen. Perhaps these are people who are pure in heart that any utterance comes from within and his wealth of experience.

A beautiful moral story. I guess we have to remind ourselves with that from time to time.

A great night it seems. Lucky for you to attend such a gathering.

karen said...

Lucky YouYou!
(Sorry, couldn't resist!)