Here in Glasgow many of us campaigned for his release outside the South African Consulate, wrote letters hoping that the address, Nelson Mandela Place, would be a source of embarrassment to the Consul, greeted him when he came to Glasgow to accept in person the freedom of the city granted to him while still in prison. Glasgow and its citizens took Nelson Mandela to its heart as did many people throughout the world.
Recently I blogged about iconic figures and Mandela was certainly one of those. I will never forget the person who told me that it had been a privilege to live at the same time as Nelson Mandela. This was a moment of enlightenment for me. I realised that there are great men and women, including figures like Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, whose lives change the very nature and structure of humanity. They are indeed saviour figures. We are different because of them. They show us what we can be, they open a way for us to follow, they offer us the possibility of doing likewise.
Like last week I was struck by the appropriateness of the scripture readings at church services this second week of Advent. In the reading from the prophet Isaiah Christians will have heard of one on whom" the Spirit of the Lord rests, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and power ........ he does not judge by appearances, he gives no verdict on hearsay, but judges the wretched with integrity, and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land". And the result of this is that " the wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion feed together ........ the cow and the bear make friends". In the life of Nelson Mandela the world has seen the fulfilment of this prophecy, even if only for a moment. But that moment can inspire us to work to make this vision a reality. What a wonderful legacy that would be.
Nelson Mandela was renowned for his spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation but also for his firm and uncompromising commitment to justice and to truth. I read recently that, in the spiritual life, as the selfish ego decreases, the pragmatic ego grows strong. I think Mandela had a strong pragmatic ego which had sacrificed self and personal gain for a wisdom that had a touch of genius about it. And this wisdom was got at a price - 27 long years in jail. Like many saints in the Christian, Buddhist and Hindu traditions he had been forced into a situation where he had to look into his own heart and mind and came out of it transformed, sure of his values. Perhaps if a period of retreat were essential for all politicians we might be more aware of the values that motivate them and trust them to act from those values rather than self-interest. The world would be a much better place for it.