Hindus at prayer on the Ganges, 1983.
A Facebook friend puzzled over my last post, wondering if it implied a kind of us-vs-them outlook. What I intended was assurance to those of us apprehensive about the Trump-Pence inauguration, including possible Trump voters, who may themselves now face loss of health care coverage, rising prices, diminished Social Security and Medicare benefits, reduced personal safety, and international insecurity.
That’s not to mention immigrants, refugees, women, minorities, and the environment who may suffer as a result of everything from current executive orders to future Supreme Court decisions.
To me, these are not simple “political” issues, but more vitally, moral and spiritual concerns.
I find myself praying for President Trump more intently and regularly than any previous president. And I am praying for the electorate and the electoral process that put him in office.
I am praying for our healing, and I am praying that our demons will be cast out. It’s easy to point to our leadership in Washington as possessed by ideologies or ideologues at odds with our American dreams, but demonic possession, as cultural anthropologist René Girard has pointed out, is as communal as it is individual. It takes a village to make a person crazed with fear, prejudice, self-absorption, and self-certainty.
It’s easy to judge another; harder to judge ourselves. In my first parish after seminary, on Holocaust Remembrance Sunday, I gave a sermon entitled, “The Holocaust of Our Minds and Hearts.” The gist of my talk was that we can easily point to historical expressions of hatred, violence, and prejudice, but we are less inclined to examine our own minds and hearts. Within us there is another Auschwitz and another Selma: a place where we curse, confine, scourge and crucify those different from ourselves.
Those who deny the Holocaust or the cruelties of slavery or the indignities suffered by women over the ages or the inequities of class are likely those most fearful of confronting the Holocausts in their own minds and hearts. That’s something the LGBT movement surfaced as we recognized those most opposed to us were fearful of their own sexuality and gender expectations.
Though, with the poet Robert Frost, “there is something in [us] that doesn’t like a wall,” we build our own walls to exclude those of different cultures, faiths, races, gender, gender identity, and sexuality. The contemporary examples of this ghettoization are our social networks, which often serve as echo chambers for our limited perspectives.
Our better natures—God’s own image—often keep such feelings in check, and our spirituality may redeem and transform misguided passion, making it instead work for justice and peace, sisterhood and brotherhood. That’s what conversion is all about. But conversion is not a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience: it is a constant effort of the will to align with God’s will that we love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we find ways to love strangers, even enemies.
The demons of anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, nationalism, nativisim, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, and more, need to be cast out. Like the Gerasene demoniac, their names are Legion.
Another response to my post suggested a “yes, and” to its spirit, which I never intended to exclude. We are not only to be comforted that “this too shall pass” or that God or Jesus are with us “in the mess” (to quote Evelyn Underhill)—we must be challenged. We must be challenged to speak up, not to silence others, but to encourage others to tell us what’s on their minds and hearts, what are their needs, fears, hopes, and dreams.
We are also challenged to actively resist the demons and temptations of our time, in ourselves, our communities, our nations. Naming them in others will put them on the defensive; confessing them in ourselves may lead to conversation, if not conversion.
And we must put our bodies, voices, resources, and votes in the direction that our better selves urge us to go.
This is what I’m praying for these days, in myself, in others, and in our leaders.
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