Reclaiming Shattered Dreams Sun, 27th April, 2018
This day, a dreamy beautiful spring day in St. Louis, I’m nevertheless thinking of shattered dreams. My reading this week took me in a few directions but with a common thread that leads to renewed understanding of the effort for equality and wholeness for people of color and others who suffer oppression.
I began with one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermons, called “Shattered Dreams.” In it, he recounts the struggle of St. Paul who had planned to go to Spain on his quest to spread the gospel, but instead wound up in a Roman prison. He then draws a parallel between Paul’s experience and the plight of those who are the victims of oppression—the keepers of shattered dreams and disappointment. The three typical responses, he preaches, are bitterness and resentment, withdrawal and a living death, or a fatalism that leads one to give up all control and float adrift.
As you might imagine, none of these is satisfactory for King. He advocates that we instead must strive to create within ourselves a transformed perspective. “Place your failure at the forefront of your mind and stare daringly at it. Ask yourself, ‘How may I transform this liability into an asset? How may I, confined in some narrow Roman cell and unable to reach life’s Spain, transmute this dungeon of shame into a haven of redemptive suffering?’”
In other words, King is inviting us to ask, “How can I use this?” He cites the cross in the Christian tradition as an example of something that was wicked and broken but was repurposed for redemptive good and a symbol of liberation.
This connects powerfully to the secular writing of Audre Lorde. In her essay, “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred and Anger,” she writes powerfully of the broken places that dwell within many Black women due to the hate they have grown up with and internalized.
How can we, likewise, take what is broken and hate-filled and turn it into a force for liberation of the oppressed? Similar to King, Lorde writes, “To search for power within myself means I must be willing to move through being afraid to whatever lies beyond. If I look at my most vulnerable places and acknowledge the pain I have felt, I can remove the source of that pain from my enemies’ arsenals. My history cannot be used to feather my enemies’ arrows then, and that lessens their power over me.”