In a recent issue of Give Us This Day, Robert Ellsberg tells the story of Harriet Tubman. She was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820. A woman of deep spiritual experiences, she endured for years until, at the age of 29, she was inspired to act on her enduring inner conviction that God wanted her to be free. From her home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, she made her way by night to Pennsylvania and ultimately to Philadelphia, traveling at night with no map, no compass, no guide except the North Star, always in peril of her life. Long after Appomattox, for the rest of her very long life, she went on working for the liberation of those still bound in one way or another.
Her story inspires the imagination. We can easily daydream about the heroism of reaching the land of freedom and then going back for those still enslaved in the place we came from. It’s a pleasant thought, one that allows us to fantasize about dangerous deeds but excuses us from doing them because, of course, we are still on the road to the land of freedom a long way ahead of us—beyond Lent, beyond next year, beyond death. Time enough to go back for the others when we get there.
The gospel doesn’t much hold with daydreaming instead of doing. For us, the real lesson of Harriet Tubman is that wherever we are on the road to freedom, we must keep going back for those behind us. Where would we be, after all, if others hadn’t come back for us?
Note: Give Us This Day is published by The Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org
©2014, Abbey of St. Walburga