“Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring and limiting life are evil,” wrote Albert Schweitzer.
Schweitzer was a “polymath,” a person of wide-ranging knowledge. He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence for Life,” the eighth Frenchman to be awarded that prize. He was born in Alsace in the then German empire to a family which for generations had been devoted to religion, music and education. His father and maternal grandfather were ministers, both talented organists. He first studied music but then pursued theology and became a priest.
Still feeling the need to do more to alleviate suffering, he turned to the study of medicine. He and his wife, who was a nurse, built and ran a hospital at the mission station Lambarene in Gabon (then French Equatorial Africa) on the west coast of central Africa. Though supplies and equipment were rudimentary, Africans flocked to Schweitzer’s hospital.
When World War I broke out, the German born Schweitzers were sent to an internment camp but later returned to serve the hospital they had established. However, Schweitzer would often return to Europe where he would give organ concerts and lectures on culture and ethics to raise funds to support the hospital. When he won the Nobel Prize, he used the money to build a leprosarium for the treatment of lepers in Africa.
Reverence seems in short supply these days so Schweitzer’s model is even more remarkable. In addition to his contributions through music, his pastoring and his medicine, he was one of the first to promote the ethical treatment of animals and was a strong opponent of nuclear weapons.
Consider how you demonstrate reverence in your life and reflect on these words of this revered man: “By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life, we become good, deep and alive.”
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: An addendum to this story:
One morning in 1905 Schweitzer, then a charismatic and successful writer, cleric, musician, and lecturer with brilliant future prospects, experienced a profound religious revelation calling him to renounce worldly success and devote himself to the betterment of humankind. At age 30, Schweitzer answered the call of The Society Of The Evangelist Missions of Paris, who were looking for a medical doctor. He later wrote that the parable of Dives [rich man] and Lazarus had spoken to him. Europeans were “Dives,” Africans were “Lazarus;” Dives had medical knowledge which he took for granted, while Lazarus suffered from illness and pain but has no doctors to help him. He planned to spread the Gospel by the example of his Christian labor of healing, instead of through the evangelical process of preaching, and believed that this service should be acceptable within any branch of Christian teaching. (from thenewworldencyclopedia.org ).