Two weeks ago in this space, while still processing Election 2012, I wrote of my relief at the outcome, not because I approved of it, but because it provided a bit of needed clarity. Faced with a challenger whose most daring political strategy was to cultivate vagueness in his relentless pursuit of all things beige, and an incumbent gleefully willing to launch a daily barrage of splattering, oozing color bombs heedless of what or whom they hit–or whether their tints were environmentally toxic or even true–the voters chose “sound and fury” over “nothing.”
Experiencing unprecedented economic, spiritual, and constitutional challenges, Americans re-elected both a president of questionable competence and many of the same artless, priorities-challenged politicians who have already proved themselves unequal to the task of creative, co-operative leadership. They thereby declared their comfort with troubling “new normals” in an age of transition.
For many, and for me, the election signaled the crossing of a Rubicon of sorts: twin-towering notions of Exceptionalism and Indispensability toppled for less conspicuous walk-ups of Isolationism and Nanny Statism; the running out of a clock, all illusions lain aside.
As might be imagined, the column generated an unusual amount of email and social media action, some of it jeering at the hilarity of my “apocalyptic pronouncements,” some grousing but in agreement, and some wondering, “so, what now? What do you mean by ‘playing strictly for God’ and how do we begin?”
We begin, I think, by giving simple thanks to God for the election—without conditions or sly assumptions that we know anything or are somehow colluding with Providence. That sounds counterintuitive, I know, but whenever I think a circumstance precludes gratitude, I remember the story of two sisters offering prayerful thanks for the fleas that infested their barracks in a Nazi concentration camp. They were certainly distressed by their circumstances but recalling 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (“In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”) they gave praise nonetheless, trusting that God’s hand was astir. They later learned that the fleas had afforded their barracks a relative freedom, unmatched at the camp, because the flea-phobic guards would stay away.
So, we first give thanks. We thank God for the re-election of a man whose commitment to our religious freedom, and to other commonly accepted notions, seems dubious to us. In our expression of gratitude, we open ourselves for the reception of joy, which can only be accessed through our willingness to give thanks, even when under duress, but then can permeate our beings.
Then, we pray for his salvation, as for our own, because that is the best prayer we can make for anyone. We daily consign him, and all of our secular “leadership”, completely to the Lord, in perfect trust; this releases us from the grip of resentment and anger (which the evil one nurtures until it becomes self-poisoning hatred) and thereby makes us free.
Prayer is a most subversive freedom. In making these two small ones daily, we begin our work from a place of joyful emancipation.
We will need it, because the work itself will be difficult: It will involve learning what is contained in the words “thy kingdom come” and “thy will be done” and then conforming ourselves to that understanding. In other words, we will have to surrender our old ideas of earthly greatness for what is truly exceptional and indispensable: the building up of the Kingdom of God in the midst of the secular, and delusive, territories belonging to the prince of the world. We will have to become, ourselves, the reality we want to see. Or, as theologian Timothy Muldoon phrases it, “The Lord of the visible and invisible is calling to us through the voice of our most authentic selves with the words “discover your real self. Then give it away.”
It is a call that is almost outside of our imagining unless we can find ways to shrink it in scope, and make it seem a little less frightening, and a little more doable. Something like that was managed, recently in England, where Luke Smith challenged two women to enact the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). Providing them with a small amount of cash they would have to replace, Smith told them to create a banquet based on the bounty of God, culled from ordinary people who were informed of a need, and responded. Twelve hours later, over a hundred people were fed, in a festive atmosphere, and over £600 had been raised for a local charity serving the homeless and destitute.
There was plenty for everyone, and with more, besides. There was “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over . . . ” (Luke 6:38)
It was a timely event, one showing us a way to begin.
Henri Nouwan wrote,
First Christ takes us as we are.
He blesses us.
Then He breaks us.
And gives us to the world to bless.
A thing I have learned in life, and have tried to teach my children, is that the most difficult part of any task, be it writing a book or pursuing a course of study, is to simply “begin as you mean to continue”—to start the process of doing, in order to achieve being. If secular illusions are to be tumbled amid the building up of the Kingdom, let us get started where we are, today; in our families, and then in our neighborhoods and parishes and our schools. Let us begin, finally, to understand the true meaning of apocalypse by becoming it—not destruction and mayhem but revelation, as in the revelation of Christ to each other—in these strange and transitional days.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.
Moses, the Gipper and the End of America
Tim Muldoon on giving ourselves away
The Last-Minute Banquet
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