Two hundred years ago, British politician William Wilberforce and his band of loyal friends took on the most powerful forces of their day to end the slave trade. His mentor was John Newton, the slave-trader-turned song writer, who wrote the words to the world’s most popular hymn, Amazing Grace.
It has been over 200 years since the abolition of the slave trade, but the work of justice and mercy continues. Over 27 million men, women, and children are still enslaved around the world.
When people think about slavery, they usually think of the traditional chattel slavery that was seen in America’s past. That form does still exist in certain countries, but slavery has evolved, and now most often occurs as:
BONDED LABOR: People become bonded laborers by taking or being tricked into taking a loan. To repay the debt, many are forced to work long hours, often all year long. They receive basic food and shelter as “payment” for their work, but many may never pay off the loan, which can be passed down for generations.
FORCED LABOR: People are illegally recruited by individuals, governments or political parties and forced to work, usually under the threat of violence or other penalties.
TRAFFICKING: The transport and/or trade of women, children and men from one area to another for the purpose of forcing them into conditions of slavery. Human trafficking ranks as the second largest criminal industry globally, second only to drug smuggling, and equal with illegal weapons transactions.
Here are some interesting statistics:
~~there are more slaves now than ever before in human history
~~the cost of a slave has decreased from $40,000 in 1850, to $90 in 2008
~~17,500 slaves are brought into the United States every year slave labor is used to produce much of the goods that we buy
~~in 2003, The New York Times labeled Chicagoland as a national hub for trafficking – most victims are from Latin America and Asia sexual exploitation of minors is lawfully considered human trafficking approximately 325,000 children in the United States are subjected to sexual exploitation every year.
Data and statistics on human trafficking are very limited, because the crime is largely invisible – most of these values likely underestimate actual figures. While the issue of modern slavery is global in scale, many experts believe that it can be brought to an end in 25 years – if we are able to sustain our attention on the issue.
Our awareness of this issue is so very important…. and continued prayers and works are needed to truly end slavery once and for all.
Amazing Grace was written by John Newton [1725-1807] who went to sea at the age of 11 with his father, a commander in the British merchant service. When Newton deserted the service, he was subsequently recaptured and was sold into slavery off the coast of Sierra Leone. As a servant to a slave-trader he suffered brutal persecution before eventually earning himself a share in the slave business. As a slave ship captain Newton later referred to himself as “The Great Blasphemer”, eventually selling over 20,000 slaves into captivity.
One night while steering his ship through a dangerous storm, Newton experienced a great conversion: “On that day the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.” Only God’s Amazing Grace could and would transform a rude and profane slave-trading sailor into a gifted songwriter. Newton never ceased to stand in awe of God’s work in his life. He penned the timeless hymn in 1779…. He is always given credit for the words but most accounts list the music as “unknown” or “early American melody”… Many folks now know the tune of Amazing Grace is most likely a West African Sorrow Chant and was heard by Newton coming up from the belly of his ship as he transported the captured men and women. Eventually he came to mentor William Wilberforce…who led the fight to abolish slavery worldwide.
This brings us to this question: What is Grace, and Why so Amazing??
Here is the story of the “Prodigal Son”.
A man had two sons. And his younger son said to him, My Father, give me the portion which is coming to me from your house. And he divided to them his possessions. And after a few days, his younger son gathered everything that was his share, and went to a far country, and there he wasted his wealth in extravagant living. And when all he had was gone, there was a severe famine in that country: and he began to be in need. So he went and got acquainted with one of the citizens of that country: and he sent him to the field to feed the swine. And he craved to fill his stomach with the husks that the swine were eating; and yet no man would give him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired workers are now in my father’s house who have plenty of bread, and I am here perishing with hunger! I will rise and go to my father and say to him, my father, I have errored before heaven and before you; And I am no longer worthy to be called your son; just make me like one of your hired workers. And he rose up and came to his father. And while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion on him, and he ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And his son said to him, My father, I have errored before heaven and before you, and I am not worthy to be called your son. But his father said to his servants, Bring the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. And bring and kill the fat ox, and let us eat and be merry; For his son was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry. But his elder son was in the field; and as he came near the house, he heard the voice of the singing of many. And he called one of the boys and asked him what it was all about. He said to him, Your brother has come; and your father has killed the fat ox because he received him safe and well. And he became angry and would not go in; so, his father came out and sought him. But he said to his father, Behold, how many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your commandment; and yet you never gave me even a kid that I might make merry with my friends. But for this son of yours, after he had wasted your wealth with harlots and come back, you have killed the fat ox. His father said to him, my son, you are always with me and everything which is mine is yours. It was right for us to make merry and rejoice; for this your brother was dead and has come to life; and was lost and is found.
The “mystical/metaphysical” interpretation of the Bible story is …The Father in heaven had two evolving attributes on the higher planes,…mind and emotion. This is a symbol of the evolution of the soul in its emotion-nature [younger son] and its mental –nature [elder son]. Unto each of these he apportions his substance; that is, he endows them with that wherewith each shall accomplish his work of self-development on the respective planes on which they function. The endowment of the “younger son” having been effected shortly afterwards… the evolution of the emotions commenced. The soul descended to the lower planes, where it seemed…. to the ego… he was divided from the parental influence, but which really was yet at work… unseen above him. The “extravagant living” means simply complete absorption in worldly affairs and the things of desire and the senses. The parable proceeds to show how THE EMOTION-NATURE BLINDLY GAINS EXPERIENCE leading to dissatisfaction and a yearning for that which is higher. The soul then turns to go towards its eternal home and the Father responds with blessing. The mind is then stirred to progress, and finally both the mind and emotions are merged in the Divine.
This part is so very important in this story: “And when he came TO HIMSELF, [worked through the emotional state and realized who he was] he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will rise and go to my father, [taking action] and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you, and am no longer worthy to be called your son; just make me like one of the hired workers.” [there he expresses humility]. BUT—WHILE HE WAS YET AT A DISTANCE HIS FATHER SAW HIM AND HAD COMPASSION, AND RAN AND FELL ON HIS NECK, KISSING HIM.
THIS IS THE GRACE OF GOD……..
No matter what we’ve done….The Prodigal Son or John Newton… grace is available to us. Even a “wretch” or the more gentle “soul” like me.
Each time we sing this hymn we join with millions of souls throughout the world who sing these same words …and strengthen the hope not only for ourselves but for all humanity.
For ourselves we sing this with great thanksgiving and joy in our personal realization…. and with hope for all souls everywhere to realize that “the blood in our veins is derived from the same ‘Almighty Creator Parent’ and we are all traveling on the broad level of time from whose borne no traveler returns”.
We are all children of the Almighty Creator! At this time in history NOW more than ever before …may we join with millions of others throughout the world and, like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Dali Lama, Gandhi, may we all have a vision that all souls everywhere will walk hand in hand as kindred souls.
I believe that the way to make this happen is when we have total realization of the Amazing Grace of our Creator…..Let us and all Spiritual Warriors everywhere—“RISE UP” and “come to ourselves”… and RECOGNIZE like the Prodigal Son, that the time is NOW!