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“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.... We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality....
“If there is to be peace on earth and good will toward men, we must finally believe in the ultimate morality of the universe, and believe that all reality hinges on moral foundations.”
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Looking for nature-related inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr., the "interrelated" quotation seems to be one of the most often cited online by nature folks. I was interested to see how close his thinking was to one of John Muir's most famous lines: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
King and Muir shared that insight about interrelatedness, but of course King's inspiration came out of work toward social justice. When the challenge to white privilege via bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama, was met with diabolical hatred, King did not seek inspiration in the mountains or anywhere else in nature, but in the kitchen of his own home, in the middle of the night, while his wife and daughter slept. He had just received yet another terrorizing phone call from a man who threatened to kill him, and it pushed him to the edge of endurance. "I am at the end of my powers," he wrote. "I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone."
But even in that moment of extremity he sought a way forward, and a veil was pierced: "I tell you I've seen the lightning flash," he wrote. "I've heard the thunder roar.... At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything."
Intellectually, it may be hard to conceive a moral universe, the fundamental belief of King's philosophy. The evidence of our own eyes would seem to go against it. Water falls from the sky and seeks repose, making beautiful waterfalls: a play of physical forces, neither right nor wrong. But in such moments of grace as related by Dr. King, perhaps reached only when we refuse to stop or retreat in our march toward whatever truth beckons to us, but instead to venture forward, might we experience the flashing lightning, the roaring thunder, the evidence of things not seen.
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