Those of us who grew up in the United States learned about it in school. Those of us who live in the United States sometimes refer to it in conversation and occasionally see and hear snippets of it on television, the radio, newspapers, or the internet. References to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech become increasingly common as the nation approaches the federal holiday commemorating his birthday. Then the holiday passes and King’s speech fades into the background of our lives, waiting like the tide to roll in again next January, catching our attention momentarily before receding from our collective consciousness once again. Each year, as the words and the memories and the sentiments of I Have a Dream wash over us, we may find ourselves thinking “That’s nice / inspiring / wonderful / necessary!, but what can I do to make it happen?”

“Nothing,” the unspoken answer echoes subconsciously in our souls as the words of I Have a Dream recede into the background. “I can do nothing to make this dream a reality.” And so the dream remains distant, an inspiring glimmer of possibility: a possibility to be accomplished by someone stronger, savvier, more successful than I am.

When viewed from a strictly material perspective, King’s dream does seem unachievable. Do we even know how to define what we mean when we talk about equality and justice? What would equality and justice look like in the real world of our everyday lives? Can these ideals be achieved globally, or even locally? What can one person do to bring about such ambitious change? Can one person really do anything to improve the material conditions of individuals and communities living in hunger, homelessness, fear, violence, sorrow, and oppression? “No,” the answer nags, “I can do nothing. Or at least not enough.” 

When viewed from a spiritual perspective, King’s dream seems a little more achievable. Ironically, justice and equality are somewhat easier to define in a spiritual sense than in a  material sense. Material theories of justice and equality find their roots in a wide array of philosophical, political, and economic beliefs, each of which offers complex visions of a world grounded in these ideals and complex options for achieving and sustaining such a world. Yet spiritual theories of justice and equality consistently find their roots in a single concept: respect for the dignity of all Creation. 

Determining what “dignity” and “respect” look like can, admittedly, be just as difficult as determining what “justice” and “equality” look like. But a thoughtful soul can go far in discerning how it looks, feels, sounds, and is to live with respect for the dignity of all Creation. 

A key component of this discernment journey is prayer. Prayers for guidance, prayers of gratitude, and prayers of simple silent being-ness in the presence of the Creator are all appropriate. 

Another key component is observation, both inwards and outwards. Inward observation invites reflection on our beliefs about the interconnectivity of life on and with our Mother Earth. Scientists, mystics, and holy fools have told us that life on earth is bound together by the stardust that resides within all creatures on and of the earth. St. Anthony’s own beloved holy fool – St. Francis of Assisi – named the sun, the moon, and other elements of the natural world as brothers and sisters. Scientists, mystics, and holy fools have likewise posited the existence of or evolution towards a noosphere or form of global consciousness in which human intelligence and terrestrial wisdom work together to ensure the health and vitality of the planet and all life sustained by it. Yet these concepts of connectedness can be difficult to understand, let alone accept. Inward observation offers time, metaphorical space, and silence to revisit and perhaps revise beliefs about our own embeddedness within the cosmic fabric of life. Inward observation moreover offers time, metaphorical space, and silence to reflect on the ways that dignity, respect, or the lack thereof play out in our own lives. 

Meanwhile, outward observation invites reflection on the inherent worth of all the lives – both human and non-human – with which we share our marvelous little planet. Inward and outward observation intersect in that space where we determine how we can best love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It is in this space that we apply our own experience of and desire for dignity and respect to our relationships with all of God’s good Creation. It is in this space that we are empowered to awaken at least a small, but not insignificant, portion of King’s dream.  

Today, how will you show respect for the dignity within you?

How will you show respect for the dignity in all of God’s good Creation?

How and where will you discover dignity in the unnoticed or the unexpected? 

How will you build King’s dream today, tomorrow, and on all the days beyond? 

– Lori Randall

Dignity Song – Global Dignity Day, Helsinki, 2011