In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, six writers affiliated with the Collegeville Institute share their reflections.
Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
As a writer I protect a contemplative space—my hours at the desk, the open blank page—where daily I practice listening. I write in service of the Story, which is how I understand God at work in the world: a life-giving, justice-seeking, creative force that needs human participation to become fully manifest. I pray that the story emerging on the page is one humble way both God and myself are becoming in the world.
Such small, creative moments are trustworthy. When faced with horrific events—a threatened environment, a resurgence of white supremacy, the mainstreaming of open misogyny, institutionally sanctioned discrimination—writers have the skills to stop, listen, and create. The writing process asks transformation of the writer as a prerequisite for the transformation of readers, which is why literature is an agent of change. The slowness of our art forces perspective. Its aesthetic nature requires beauty. Writers can “take the wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here,” as Annie Dillard wrote. Those who are vulnerable now (people, institutions, the climate) need us story-makers to bring this new cultural landscape onto the page.
We need to really see what’s going on here, we need to feel it fully, and also know this reality to be part of a larger, trustworthy story that’s always unfolding and is rife with meaning. Only then can we “at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”
There’s a scene in Hoosiers where the team from tiny, rural Hickory High scopes out the giant and intimidating basketball stadium where they’ll play the state championship game. Coach Dale holds a measuring tape from the free throw line to the backboard, and again to the rim. He tells the team: “I think you’ll find it’s the exact same measurements as our gym back at Hickory.”
I was happy this morning at home to see our coffeemaker had reliably brewed the coffee. The sun had risen. Another day was here.
Sufficiently wired from yet more coffee, I went to the church with that Hoosiers clip in mind. The office was still there. The sanctuary is just as we left it Sunday: fresh candles at the altar, a cross, pews where God has been praised for over 100 years, a stack of chord charts for the band in the first pew. All the measurements and implements were the same.
Today I know that even while some rejoice, or reluctantly greet the election results as the best available option, many in our country are mourning, confused, and frustrated.
However you feel, this is a good day to take care of yourself, and for us to take care of our loved ones and each other. Be liberal with hugs!
I stand by what I preached Sunday, which I preach again now to myself, if you’d like to listen in:
Whatever happens on Tuesday, whatever rebuilding is ahead of us, our country right now needs more of God’s presence. We little temples need to get to work in bringing the holiness of God, the power of God, the joy of God, and the goodness of God to would-be worshipers. I truly believe we can hear the same words spoken to Esther that we cannot remain silent “at such a time as this.” Maybe also like Esther, we have come to our position—as bearers of God’s presence—for such a time as this.
“Do not fear,” God says, “for I am with you.”
Might this be a kairos moment for the church? We have much soul-searching, rebuilding and national identity negotiation ahead of us. What would it look like if the church somehow took up the mantle and led the way? What if we re-doubled our efforts to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God? (Micah 6:8) What if we re-committed ourselves to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, corporate repentance, and social action?
If that kind of talk feels overly moralizing or too soon for you, I hope you feel free to take your time and feel what you need to feel right now. If the full vision of God’s shalom “seems to tarry,” Habakkuk said, “wait for it.” And, empowered by the Lord, he would also have us work for it: “The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”
Last week my friend and colleague from Winnipeg, Cathy Campbell, joined me at prayer at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, and at the end of evening prayer she leaned over and said, “It is such a strong container.”
And it is. The community is not perfect, and on any given day you know that some of the monks are feeling distracted or troubled by something or just plain tired, yet together their prayer is indeed a strong container. And some days it can feel like it is the only thing keeping the world from springing apart.
As I sat in a sea of monks chanting Psalms about wretchedness and refuge, I felt a thousand miles away from the election. Peace. Calm. They have done this for thousands of years, like clockwork, and will continue despite the elections…Perspective. I think I need to go again today.
My children have been asking questions in the wake of the election, their anxieties, fears, and questions are on the surface. They are but a taste of the bitter drink that so many other parents and children infinitely more vulnerable and marginal than us, have been forced to drink over and over in the cups of sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia, hatred, and violence that have been leveraged to be able to toast the newest “winner” and all the “winners” like him who have paved his way.
On the way to school today I reminded our kids that we are Jesus people which means we are Advent people. So we sang the Advent candle hymn we sing during that season of preparation in the Christian year. There are five candles we light along the month-long journey making ready our hearts and lives for the incarnate Light of the world. One for Peace, one for Hope, one for Joy, one for Love, and the last is the Christ candle. Together they illuminate each meal we share around our kitchen table and help us welcome the Prince of Peace at Christmas. A tiny baby meant to heal, forgive, transform, and give life.
During this morning’s commute our kids named each candle’s theme and we sang some more. Then they got out at three different schools to face the world they navigate each day – the same places where they hear things that lead to anxieties and fears like the one we were asked about first thing this morning.
To all those who are grieving and afraid and greatly troubled today, know that there are many who are with you in the struggle for love and humanity and equality. The numbers tell us there are actually more people committed to that vision of America and the world than are not. I cannot speak for all of them or any others necessarily but I can tell you that we are with you and the Light at the end of the tunnel is no less real today than yesterday even if it seems farther away for now.
Here is my commitment: To continue to teach students the value of choosing words wisely, of building stories that seek to help others, of telling new stories rooted in compassion and kindness, to reach out a hand in gentleness and redefine power.
Tonight so many are afraid. The cracks have widened. If this election only continues to separate us, then the elite and moneyed people who benefit from setting American citizens against one another, will have won. It is time for us to roll up our sleeves and do good work. Take some time for silence and stillness–read some poems, go for a walk, spend time in prayer or meditation. I will see you in the trenches. In the morning our work continues.