Friday, August 14, 2009

Jon Myrick Daniels: A Life Worth Noting

My soul doth magnify the Lord, * and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded * the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth * all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, * and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him * throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; * he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, * and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, * and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, * as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: * as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
The Song of Mary (Magnificat)

This was apparently one of Jonathan Myrick Daniels favorite parts of Evening Prayer and it became the foundation of his faith that led him to follow a path to seminary, Selma, and a sacrificial death.

Daniels' story struck me for several reasons. He is kinfolk in that he was born and raised in New Hampshire... and eventually ended up being a Yankee in the south. He came to Selma after a transformational experience in March, 1965, during Evening Prayer services at the Episcopal Theological Seminary, where while singing the Magnificat he found the language stirring in him a desire to follow the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to students to join the march from Selma to Montgomery. He went, along with a friend, but missed the bus to come home. Upon further thought, Daniels and his seminary buddy decided that they should actually stay in Selma rather than be seen as outside agitators. They requested leave for the rest of the semester with promises that they would return for their exams.

During that time of the mid-60s, there were numerous marches in and around Selma always met with police and protesters. As I read Daniels account of one such demonstration, I was moved by the softening of the heart in a heated moment:

After a week-long, rain-soaked vigil, we still stood face to face with the
Selma police. I stood, for a change, in the front rank, ankle-deep in an
enormous puddle. To my immediate right were high school students, for the most
part, and further to the right were a swarm of clergymen. My end of the line
surged forward at one point, led by a militant Episcopal priest whose temper (as
usual) was at combustion-point. Thus I found myself only inches from a young
policeman. The air crackled with tension and open hostility. Emma Jean, a
sophomore in the Negro high school, called my name from behind. I reached back
for her hand to bring her up to the front rank, but she did not see. Again she
asked me to come back. My determination had become infectiously savage, and I
insisted that she come forward--I would not retreat! Again I reached for her
hand and pulled her forward. The young policeman spoke: "You're dragging her
through the puddle. You ought to be ashamed for treating a girl like that."
Flushing--I had forgotten the puddle--I snarled something at him about
whose-fault-it-really-was, that managed to be both defensive and self-righteous.
We matched baleful glances and then both looked away. And then came a moment of
shattering internal quiet, in which I felt shame, indeed, and a kind of
reluctant love for the young policeman. I apologized to Emma Jean. And then it
occurred to me to apologize to him and to thank him. Though he looked away in
contempt--I was not altogether sure I blamed him--I had received a blessing I
would not forget. Before long the kids were singing, "I love ---." One of my
friends asked [the young policeman] for his name. His name was Charlie. When we
sang for him, he blushed and then smiled in a truly sacramental mixture of
embarrassment and pleasure and shyness. Soon the young policeman looked relaxed, we all lit cigarettes (in a couple of instances, from a common match, and small
groups of kids and policemen clustered to joke or talk cautiously about the
situation. It was thus a shock later to look across the rank at the clergymen
and their opposites, who glared across a still unbroken "Wall" in what appeared
to be silent hatred. Had I been freely arranging the order for Evening Prayer
that night, I think I might have followed the General Confession directly with
the General Thanksgiving--or perhaps the Te Deum.

As Daniels spent more time in Selma, he could see Christ in those who he did not like... but was nonetheless commanded to love. He made efforts to bring African-American teenagers with him to the Episcopal Church as part of his desire to see the church integrated. After returning to Boston to take his exams, Daniels came back to Selma for the summer and to join in protests of businesses in Fort Deposit, AL, where blacks were not welcomed. Daniels was arrested, and released about a week later... and returned to Ft. Deposit to continue the protest. Four of his group entered a shop where the store owner met them with a shotgun and ordered them to leave. When they didn't, the shopkeeper aimed the gun at the head of a young girl in the group. That's when Daniels interceded and took the bullet for her. He was killed instantly.

The Episcopal Church commemorates this martyred seminarian on the day of his initial arrest.

Daniels moved beyond a place of self-aggrandizement and recognized a deeper reality. Shortly before his death, he wrote:

I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. I began to lose
self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was
motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee
deliverance! The point is simply, of course, that one's motives are usually
mixed, and one had better know it. As Judy and I said the daily offices day by
day, we became more and more aware of the living reality of the invisible
"communion of saints"--of the beloved community in Cambridge who were saying the offices too, of the ones gathered around a near-distant throne in heaven--who
blend with theirs our faltering songs of prayer and praise. With them, with
black men and white men, with all of life, in Him Whose Name is above all the
names that the races and nations shout, whose Name is Itself the Song Which
fulfils and "ends" all songs, we are indelibly, unspeakably ONE.

Here's hoping that I and all others in this soup called humanity can come to this same recognition.

(Information from

For more information on Jonathan Myrick Daniels:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe somewhere in Christ Church Exeter we have a special thing that honors Jonathon Daniels. He is someone we always felt very close to as I remember. I was so unhappy to hear of his death but he was a Saint.