Brothers and Sisters: Teddy Kennedy’s Religion

(“Brothers and Sisters” is the weekly prayer-and-share diary on Daily Kos where community members share their burdens and needs, and support one another. I am the host for tonight’s edition, and have posted it here first. If you want to read the comments in the Daily Kos version, check it out here. Enjoy! — Bruce)

I have found myself quite moved this week, as I have read and listened to the news coverage of Senator Kennedy. His accomplishments in the Senate are, of course, legendary, in terms of both longevity and productivity. His connection to Camelot and the Kennedy dynasty have been much discussed. But, while I am grateful for all of that, and for his unwavering devotion to liberal causes and ideals, those are not the details that move me.

No, it is his religion and religious actions that have, more than once, moved me to tears this week. What’s that? You don’t recall reading very much about Teddy Kennedy’s religion? Make the jump, and let us consider together the religious practice of Edward M. Kennedy.

One of today’s lections is from the epistle of James — that “right strawy epistle” that Martin Luther sometimes struggled with. It gives us, I think, one of the bases for Kennedy’s practice of his religion:

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Repeatedly throughout the week, we have heard story after story of how Ted Kennedy served others. Not just through legislation, through which he served thousands; but through repeated acts of kindness, and humility, and service, and love. We learned just yesterday that the Senator had read every week to students at an elementary school, helped a family get through immigration with their newly-adopted son in time for Thanksgiving, helped a man get Red Sox tickets for his dying father, and even sat with the great columnist Mary McGrory after she had been stricken by a stroke and sang Irish ballads to her.

My life has been enriched and inspired to learn these things about Edward Kennedy, to realize that here was a man who chose to leave behind bitterness, and regret, and grief, and what-ifs, and focused his life on one thing: service. Service to the many, but also service to the one. Without press releases, without photo ops, without asking for anything in return — service simply in the cause of our shared humanity.

One verse from the James passage is carved into the stone above the main doors of our church’s sanctuary: Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. As part of the service this morning, our pastor had us all turn (the main doors are in the back) and look at the verse, and say it aloud together. As we did, I couldn’t help but think of Ted Kennedy, and his embodiment of that verse.

Most of us will never have the opportunity to affect the lives of thousands through the legislation we write, or the company we found, or the book we publish. But all of us can follow the late Senator in living out that verse, in living lives of service and caring. I, for one, am going to try to do more, to use whatever time I am given to care for others, to be a doer of the word and not just a hearer. Thank you, Senator Kennedy, for living your religion through service and love, and for inspiring us to do the same.

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