Desmond Mpilo Tutu (1931-2021), “Africa’s Peace Bishop,” was a man of God and of letters. A long, eventful life of this Nobel Laureate can best be summarised as an idea whose time was ripe. He was talking “Love” in times of “Apartheid”. When the world was fanning mutual distrust, hate and anger among citizens, causing social disharmony, this ‘apostle of peace’ lived his faith, doing everything within his power to ensure that we create a world that is as close as the one that was ideally created for us, where all God’s children, irrespective of creed, religion, colour or sex get their due. “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”
It will be akin to sacrilege if we deny the fact that when the world was fanning mutual distrust, hate and anger among citizens, causing social disharmony, this ‘apostle of peace’ lived his faith, doing everything within his power to ensure that we create a world that is as close as the one that was ideally created for us, where all God’s children, irrespective of creed, religion, colour or sex get their due.
Prayer was a big part of his life and he often spent an hour in prayer at the start of each day, ensuring that every meeting or interview that he was part of, was preceded by a short prayer. Bishop Tutu’s spirituality was devoid of the rigid dogma that often blinds the overtly faithful.
When Tutu was asked if there was a favourite prayer he returned to, he answered, “One that I say regularly is the prayer of Saint Francis: ‘Make me an instrument of your peace.” Further he says, “When we are really low, feeling awful, we assume our prayer is probably useless. Yet it’s still moving forward, almost like a river. We just have to lie down in the stream and allow the current to carry us.”
Tutu asks us to think of prayer as a relationship. “If you are in a relationship and you don’t have any communication, then that relationship is not going to grow. I think of prayer, clearly, as being in the acknowledged presence of God and in relationship with God.” Prayer is when you and I, and all of us, realize that we are family, and that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion – UBUNTU “I am, because I belong.” I need other human beings in order to be human.
According to Tutu “When you are in the presence of the Holy Spirit, it is like sitting in front of a fire that does not burn you. You are drawn to the qualities of the fire – its warmth, glow, and colour. You also become suffused with the divine attributes of compassion, gentleness and love, without your doing anything about it except just being there. You are loved, and you are held in this love.”
Desmond Tutu adapted a prayer of Sir Francis Drake, for his personal use: “Disturb us, O Lord. Stir us, O Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas where storms show Thy mastery, where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.” Bishop Desmond Tutu walked the talk. It is what made the Archbishop of Canterbury (Justin Welby) say of him, “The world is different because of this man.”
The author is Research Director, Environmental Scientist, and Professor at St. Joseph’s University, Bengaluru.