A friend of mine, also an Episcopal priest, Father Peter Carey of New York City, forwarded me this story about the origin of Bishop Tutu’s priestly vocation that deserves telling, I believe.
When Desmond Tutu was a child he would go after school to the kitchen of a small hospital where his mother worked as a cook. He would remain there, helping his mother and doing his homework until they both went home at the end of the day.
Several times a week, a young white Anglican priest named Trevor Huddleston would leave his bicycle behind the hospital and would then walk through the kitchen on his way to visit the sick, and when he did he always raised his hat to Desmond’s mother and said, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Tutu.”
This simple act of courtesy and respect toward his mother so impressed the little boy half hidden behind his mother that it profoundly influenced his entire future as well as the future of his native land.
He knew he lived in a world where virtually all white people didn’t even bother to speak to blacks, much less show them respect. He lived in a world where a black person had to step off the sidewalk to make way for a white person who might be walking toward them.
Years later, Tutu wrote in his autobiography, “I wondered what kind of man this was and what kind of church he represented. And when I found out, I decided that I wanted to be a priest like him.”
When Huddleston lifted his hat and greeted Mrs. Tutu, he did so to Christ himself. (Matt 25:40) Desmond Tutu saw and understood that. And so the seed was planted that led him ultimately to the Nobel Prize for Peace and to an encomium as “exuberant apostle of racial justice.”
And not just racial justice, but as an advocate and outspoken champion of all marginalized and persecuted groups, including gay people and lesbians on a continent where speaking out for gay people is highly unpopular.
See Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion.
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: Promise for the coming generations: Malala Yousoufzai, UNESCO’s Irina Bokova and Desmond Tutu attend the one-year anniversary of the U.N. Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) co-organized by the Global Education First Initiative’s Secretariat and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), New York, 25 September 2013. Photo by United Nations Information Centres on Flickr.
Queries for Contemplation
What in this story of Desmond Tutu’s experience as a child speaks to issues of racism and justice in our time?
A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice
In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register