In a gentle way,
you can shake the world.
Thoreau did not just have an impact in the United States. Among his widest impacts in the wider world was through Mohandas Gandhi, the non-violent protestor fighting in India for freedom from the British. He read Walden in 1906 while working as a civil rights advocate in South Africa.
He first read Civil Disobedience "while he sat in a South African prison for the crime of nonviolently protesting discrimination against the Indian population in the Transvaal. The essay galvanized Gandhi, who wrote and published a synopsis of Thoreau's argument, calling its 'incisive logic [...] unanswerable' and referring to Thoreau as 'one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced'."Talk about shaking the world! It is also changing the future.
The future depends on what we do in the present.We don’t often give much thought to what influence we can have on the future. Maybe that is the life of “quiet desperation” Thoreau mentioned in his writings. What is the sense of what we do? We live until we die and then we are gone. Very few of us will have the level of influence that a Thoreau or a Gandhi had on the “future.” Perhaps, though, we need to remember that we are still in our own spheres of influence quite significant. Our words and actions go together because they are what we have right here and now to share. Gandhi recognized this in Thoreau. Here is what he said about Thoreau in For Passive Resisters in 1907:
Thoreau was … a most practical man, that is, he taught nothing he was not prepared to practice in himself. He was one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced. … He went to gaol for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity. His essay has, therefore, been sanctified by suffering. Moreover, it is written for all time. Its incisive logic is unanswerable.Words are made real in actions. They speak louder than words. Even though Thoreau’s act of civil disobedience was quite small, even appearing trivial in comparison to what Gandhi was going through, the fact that he was willing to take the action in and of itself gave power to the words. They caught Gandhi’s attention as “sanctified” words, words containing the “holy.” Therefore Gandhi paid attention and the world was changed. I doubt that Thoreau would have ever thought his words would have such power more than 80 years later on the other side of the world.
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.In many ways that is what Lent is about. For me it is a kind of time to take inventory of how my life and my faith, my words and my actions, work together. Each year I discover new things about myself since I am not the same person I was last year let alone 50+ years ago when I became a Christian. The world is also far different. Perhaps it needs the same words but with different actions. Perhaps I need to understand God’s call to me today and not what it was when I started this journey.
So my questions for this week in Lent lead me to thinking about the melding of thoughts, words, and deeds
- Who has had this kind of impact on my beliefs?
- What have I learned from them?
- This Lent, how can I more deeply be a living action of what God wants me to do with my words?
- This Lent, where are my actions not showing the truth of my beliefs and therefore undermining my words?
- This Lent, how can I confess and be transformed from them and be guided into a more holistic life?
- This Lent, how can I be open to the life-giving surrender to the power of God in Jesus to bring me healing?
Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded?
Through this wound a man's real manhood
and immortality flow out,
and he bleeds to an everlasting death.
― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience