First Things: Bless These Words

A Narrative Incantation on the occasion
of the Hillula in Praise
of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

It begins with language:
in the beginning
the Holy One engraved the world
with 32 hidden paths of wisdom,
the 22 holy letters
and ten principles.
The ten fundamentals —
about these, we will disagree
but the 22 creative tools
the building blocks
the essentials
on this we can agree —
The world we create out of language.

Bless these words/ Bless these words
Bless these words/ Bless these words

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
what drew them together: love of justice,
the pursuit of justice.
On King’s grave these words from Micah:
What does God require of you but
to do justice, to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God [Micah 6:8].
These are the texts they cited:
the Prophets,
the source of the doing also the source of the don’t,
even more primary the Exodus story,
the movement given shape in the liberation story of Exodus.

Bless these words/ Bless these words
Bless these words/ Bless these words

We might think it begins with right action
the serious resistance
then the organizing idea.
We might think it begins
with the intentional act of defiance,
it begins with language,
the power of blessing
that integrates the worlds at the heart.
From the lectern of the Ebeneezer church
the beginning is in language,
to bring right text to inspire right action,
to inspire with intention.
Careful words, understood by all masters of Kabbalah
and jazzmen who work the deep with their saxophones
pulling from the pool
spin the sound into ideas,
save lives, save civilizations, save the country.

Bless these words/ Bless these words
Bless these words/ Bless these words

Bless these words/ Bless these words
Bless these words/ Bless these words

They met in January 1963
at a Chicago conference on religion and race.
The Prophets and the Exodus story as text for the struggle
brought them closer.
In 1965, the march on Selma,
Heschel welcomed into the front row with Dr. King,
Ralph Bunche, Ralph Abernathy,

Bless these words/ Bless these words
Bless these words/ Bless these words

Just before the march began
in a small chapel, Heschel reading Psalm 27,
God is my light and my salvation, who shall I fear? [27:1]
Dr. King brought down a teaching in three parts
on the children of Israel in the Wilderness,
the rootedness in the text of the liberation story
as told in the Hebrew Bible,
Exodus and the Prophets
drew them down to conspiratorial sources.

Bless these words/ Bless these words
Bless these words/ Bless these words

About Selma, King wrote to Heschel: I cannot tell you
how much your presence means to us.

About Selma, Dr. King said, this was the greatest day
in my life, the most important [of all]
the civil rights demonstrations.

About Selma, Heschel wrote: I felt as if I was praying
with my feet.

Bless these words/ Bless these words
Bless these words/ Bless these words

Bless us all in our holy places
the meeting of two worlds
like a city joined together.

O holy God of all the worlds,
the spirit of inwardliness that authenticates
all movement all absence of movement,
enter this struggle and all struggles with holy intent,
the blessed, the holy, let it descend here, into this space,
let the occupants carry it like a blessing,
let the blessings we carry be received
with our eyes closed,
dreaming.

Bless these words/ Bless these words
Bless these words/ Bless these words

Let us dream ourselves blessed,
true to the peaks
loyal to the fields
let all valleys be known as high places
concealing the deep story,

Bless these words/ Bless these words
Bless these words/ Bless these words

Bless these words
Bless these people
bless us among the huts
and other holy places.

Bless these words
Bless these words
Bless these words
Bless these words

Bless this street, this city
the moon out the back window,
the dream of peace that is trapped in a small box within.
Bless us in our going out and our coming in,
from this time forth,
and forever,

Amen.

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