One of the things that surprised me most when I had two month sabbatical in South Africa was the depth of respect that there was for Nelson Mandela, although he was no longer president. I spoke about this in a sermon preached in Newcastle today and which can be found here http://wp.me/p1XwC3-kY
I wish to add just two more points.
Talking one day with some former members of the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), I asked them what had persuaded them to lay down their arms. They answered, ‘It was Madiba. He asked us the question, “Who gets killed in war today?” When we realised that the answer was ‘civilians’, we knew we must find another path.’
The second is that as I have been absorbing all the reflections about Mandela’s life, his years in jail – many of them in a tiny cell on Robben Island – have been much on my mind, and I have been wondering what was going on inside him during those years. What was the process of making such a great-souled person?
The phrase that keeps coming back to me doesn’t answer it , but it gives it some context. It comes from the early era of desert monasticism. In particular the words of Abba Moses of Scetis: ‘Go to your cell and your cell will teach you everything’.
Who knows what wisdom we would learn, what courage we would take, what spirituality we would discover, if we only took that advice.
The deepest learning, perhaps, comes when we are cast into loneliness and left to wrestle with our demons and discover in the struggle the more excellent way.