A few months after Reverend Billy Graham passed away, I came across a Netflix documentary about his life and ministry. My grandparents, who played a vital role in the early years of my faith often recounted stories of attending crusades and seeing multitudes accept Christ as their savior. It was at one of these crusades my mother accepted Christ as a little girl. I felt compelled to watch it because though I never met him, something about his passing felt significant to my own faith origins.
The documentary was an inspiring reminder of what God can do with the life of anyone who surrenders fully to loving what he loves and caring about what he cares about. There was a moment in the film when a familiar voice began to speak. It was a strange disorienting feeling where something far away all of the sudden feels like it is sharing the couch with you. I went from learning to knowing in an instant when I saw my friend Bernice King’s face match her voice on the screen. She made a quick appearance to talk about the relationship her Father and Reverend Graham had shared.
It would have been an unfortunate documentary had it not addressed the juxtaposition of the great evangelical movement and the great civil rights movement that both happened throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Yet, the cross over in the story jolted me a bit because they weren’t ever spoken of as the same event growing up. They still are not. The documentary was not actually marrying the two either, but they did set the stage for Bernice to speak about her father’s feelings with regards to the evangelical movement taking place at the same time as the black struggle for justice.
Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reverend Graham did not have a deep relationship, there was an acknowledgement of one another. Reverend Graham refused to host crusades in segregated arenas. I genuinely believe the love he had for
people’s souls allowed him to see the error in denying everyone equal access to the heart of God. Dr. King knew the most difficult mountains black people were continually being forced to climb could have been made flat had the great evangelism movement of that day merged with the great justice movement taking place along its side. He felt that the “shallow understanding from people of goodwill” was worse than the “absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will”.
At a certain point in the documentary they told a story about Reverend Graham visiting a hospital overseas near a combat zone where wounded soldiers were being treated. Many of them were badly wounded and all were far away from family and loved ones. He walked into the room of a soldier who’d been lying face down on a bed for weeks because of severe injuries on the back of his body. Sensing how lonely and isolating that must be, Reverend Graham refused to speak until he could look into the soldier’s eyes. He crawled under the hospital bed on his back so the man's face was above his own and as Reverend Graham spoke to him the man's tears began to fall on his own face. His was the first face he’d seen in weeks.
The significance of this story settled so deeply in my heart that I refer back to it often when doing this work. Awakening doesn’t just call us to seek to understand another person’s situation. In order to awaken to certain realities others face, we must literally set ourselves beneath them, and let them teach us about their burden or pain until their tears become our tears, their burden becomes our burden and their pain becomes our pain. Reverend Graham couldn’t feel the physical pain that man felt, but he let those tears hit his face, acknowledged the pain he couldn’t feel was real and found a way to elevate a man who couldn’t even move.
This is the appropriate position for awakening - positioning ourselves in such a way that the tears of those who experience the most pain are able to hit our face. We must allow the reality of that pain to roll down our own cheeks, even if we don’t fully understand why it exists or feel the pain ourselves. We can honor the suffering simply by acknowledging it, seeing it, and being in the presence of it. It is in this position that we will eventually begin to understand, and by understanding begin to awaken.