In honor of Black History Month, and as a way to feed my own soul, I have been reading a collection of the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. [1]

During a disorienting time, King is a voice in the desert, reassuring and full of comfort. His true and tender vision of the beloved community is his genius; his nonviolence is his strength. But like a true prophet, his challenge remains as sharp as ever.

As someone who sees myself as an everyday peacemaker, King’s words on cultivating a nonviolent soul cut the deepest.

For King, the rejection of violence was both a pragmatic and moral matter. Practically, he believed that militant revolt against a well armed wealthy majority would spell doom for the movement. Morally, King believed that the seeds of violence would perpetuate violence and bitterness for future generations.

Against violence, King proposed that the only antidote for hate is love earned through the nonviolent soul.

The goal of the movement is not total victory, but the wholeness of community. The goal of the resister is not the humiliation or suffering of the oppressor, but his friendship.

The choice between violence and non-violence then, was not the choice between active resistance and passivity. Quite the opposite, King believed that the path of nonviolent resistance required a resolute soul, one that was willing to choose the path of suffering rather than to inflict suffering on others, always focused on the goals of wholeness and friendship. [2]

In the way that the words of Martin Luther King Jr. diagnoses the need for our world, they also diagnose the deep spiritual illness that persists within me.

In my angst and unrest, I do not want holistic community; I want a community made in my own image. I do not want friendship with those I disagree; I want my enemy destroyed.

This is the violence within my own soul from which I must be set free.

While the concept of love is often relegated to the small space of sentimentality, it takes on a new dimension when we apply it to winning the friendship of our enemies.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Love is, as King put it, the most durable power in the world.

Our world, and our souls, put this truth to the test. Even in my best moments, my resolve gives way. But as I continue to hope for the end of the violence of the world, I pray for that Peace in me.

[1] A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. ed. James M. Washington

[2] “There is no easy way to create a world where men and women can live together, where each has his own job and house and where all children receive as much education as their minds can absorb. But if such a world is created in our lifetime, it will be done in the United States by Negroes and white people of good will. It will be accomplished by persons who have the courage to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than inflict suffering upon others. It will be done by rejecting the racism, materialism and violence that has characterized Western civilization and especially by working toward a world of brotherhood, cooperation, and peace.” Martin Luther King Jr., “Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom,” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. ed. James M. Washington, 61