The Common Good

Dr. Dorothy Height's Funeral: Lifting Her to Heaven

Under the sweeping arches of the Washington National Cathedral, we celebrated the life of Dr. Dorothy Height, and lifted her to heaven, which immediately became an even better place. But after almost a century of Ms. Height making this country and world a more just, equal, and hopeful place, the rest of us are now going to have to step up down here. She was 98 years old when she died this week, and her accomplishments and awards are utterly extraordinary; but even more extraordinary was her indomitable spirit, which will live on in the legions of people she inspired.

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God was smiling because of Dorothy Height in the sunshine that graced the nation's capital yesterday, and it seemed the whole civil rights movement was on hand. I was sitting next to one of the many clergy who were there and constituted the spiritual backbone of the freedom movement. He recalled the many times he had been with Ms. Height, who as a woman, pushed her way into the inner circle of the male-dominated highest circles of the movement. He told me that he once asked her how she had done so much and how the movement had succeeded. She replied, "We knew what was wrong. We knew what was right. We talked to God, and he fixed it."

When the Howard University Choir began the strains of "Precious Lord," the tears in the cathedral began to flow, including mine. BeBe Winans sang, "Well, you just stand when there's nothing left to do. You just stand. Watch the Lord see you through. After you've done all you can, you just stand." Dorothy kept standing even after she could only get around in a wheel chair; and all of us stood with arms in the air as BeBe sang, as if reaching out to her in heaven to help us the rest of keep on standing.

So powerful was this woman that the readings of the biblical texts at her funeral were changed to say "she" when it read "he." She changed lots of things like that during her life. When her 88-year-old "young" nephew slowly walked to the pulpit to talk about how his Auntie inspired him and everybody else, you knew that she had lived a long and full life. Another friend recalled that at 92, Ms. Height said she had never stopped learning. She loved flowers, beautiful colors, and the magnificent hats that she wore like a crown. President Barack Obama delivered the "Tribute" and called her "Queen Esther to this Moses generation," who had an "unambiguous record of righteous work" in a "life that changed this country for the better."

One of her mentors recalled her advice to "keep fighting, and never take yourself out of the game." And she never did. Maya Angelou finished by reading Dorothy Height's favorite psalm, Psalm 139, which reads, "Lord, you have searched me and known me," and ends, "lead me in the way that is everlasting." And she led us all.

Rev. Sam Lloyd, dean of the cathedral, said, "Take your rest, Sister Dorothy." And God said "Amen."

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.

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