Balance seems a knife-edge in today’s political world, splitting an equally deep fall into the bottomless canyons of scapegoating and demonizing on one side, and of ignoring the truth on the other. From what I can see, the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday took place in part at the urging of the President, and a clear statement that this kind of behavior is not permitted must be made. People died. People broke good laws. People aided and abetted. The vast majority of them were white males. The question has been well asked: If the crowd had been mostly people of color, what would the fall-out have been? I dare say it would have been a very different story. Truth must be told. A lot of fingers are pointing to the top.
But both demonizing and scapegoating one person on one hand, or on the other, not being thoroughly truthful about our state of affairs, are escapes from the real issue—that we as a people are capable of this kind of violence. Collectively we established the white race as superior in the history of these United States, especially male whites. Collectively we are inching toward a reckoning with that original sin in the light of our ideal of equality for all before the law. Collectively we must acknowledge that we have a long way to go. Collectively we must recognize that there is still a pernicious gap between word and deed, between ideal and real.
I read a piece recently from a retired Episcopal bishop calling us to pray for Donald Trump. Perhaps as a liberal, this is my best discipline—to pray for the ones I would consider enemies, and especially the ones who would style me as theirs. Maybe then I can see them and myself truthfully, and I can recognize and face all the ways I have contributed to the gap. Maybe then, out of a deep love for the ones who differ from me, and a love for the country that idealizes equality, I can move toward justice and peace.
Yesterday I was out in a field at dawn. Thick fog lay over the land. Snow Geese honked their way 50 yards above me, passing as dark shadows in the haze. Swans glided in out of nowhere, like 747’s landing. The air was still. Over the course of three hours the fog slowly burnt away from the top down. Finally, a wedge of Snow Geese passed over, much higher this time. Their gleaming white plumage sparkled down at me. Now that the Solstice is passed, days are lengthening, and light is gaining ascendancy. Like the burning off of the fog, days will gain on nights for six months before the process reverses itself once more, turning the world around again.
A third pharmaceutical company announced their new vaccine against COVID-19 is about to be submitted for approval. More than a million people in the US have been vaccinated. The hope is that by the long days of Summer, the darkness of this disease will die back with the night, new strains notwithstanding. Some see a change in administration in Washington as bringing a similar promise. I count myself among them. Perhaps most significantly, the racial reckoning that this nation must face shows signs of beginning in earnest. I marked the day in the Summer when a poll registered a full 60% of the US population as backing the popular Black Lives Matter movement. It’s still 40% too low, but it’s over half—a significant marker. Though our children will most surely judge us on our failings, maybe we can go down as having moved in some significant way toward the shining light of the ideal of equality envisioned by the framers of this nation.
To do so, we must join together in ways we have not in decades. The light of clear thinking must show the vast difference between divisiveness and decisiveness. It must uncover again the value of the faithful opponent and the respect they are due. The light of the divine gift of existence that burns in every human being must be allowed to shine equally for all, as a more fundamental truth than the moral quality of their actions.
I welcome the light.
Today is the shortest day and the longest night of 2020 for the northern hemisphere. It snowed here for the first time since last winter. It always seems a bit strange to me that this marks the beginning of winter, and it’s called “midwinter.” The astronomical beginning of winter doesn’t coincide with the experience of wintery weather. Of course, due to seasonal lag, the coldest days are ahead of us, but they will be longer than today. According to Wikipedia, this is lag is caused by the large amount of water that holds heat in the fall and takes a while to heat up in the Spring. No wonder astronomers want to tack the beginning of winter down to a specific hour on a specific day and let us experience whatever we are going to experience.
But on the other hand, the Solstice doesn’t feel any wintery-er than the day before or after (except today when a front blew through.) It’s a progression of getting darker and colder, and then getting brighter and warmer. This day we mark the shift, the turning point on the curve. Mid-winter: first day of winter. Progression: demarcation. Movement: stillness. Yin: yang. Open: closed. The dynamic tension of existence.
Growing up in Ecuador, when we were in the city we enjoyed watching TV. There were only three channels available at the time, and we discovered cartoons. They were characters created by Disney and dubbed in Spanish. The networks called them dibujos animados (animated pictures.) Monday morning the clouds over Little Mountain were animated, like pictures, sliding across the sky, forming and reforming, darkening and lightening. It was as if the sky were alive.
Maybe it is. We define life in terms of our own experience—carbon based, with an organized body, in animated interaction with our environment. The word, animate, however, comes from the Latin root from which we also get animas, animal, and in Spanish, words for energy, motivation and in an archaic form, one’s very soul. Animas means to be in dynamic flux, to be alive. The opposite is death.
Animation is meaningless without a context. A ping pong ball can fly through a vacuum with no walls as far as it wants and one cannot track its progress unless it is seen up against something. Our animation is meaningless outside the context of our living, both social and physical. We derive our identities from our communities, and we derive the basis of our very life from the rest of creation. Animation is a collective thing. We live and move and have our being in community. To destroy the community is to destroy oneself.
But there is another deeper level that includes and transcends all the rest. The mystics all talk about a place of peace, the center of the dance where the dancers are still, at the very core and center of our being and of all existence. This is the place where frenetic animation finds rest. It’s not that animation as such has ceased, it has just come into communion with the largest and deepest context of all, the mystery of being where animation and death are held in dynamic unity. Some of us call that “God.”
No wonder the archaic Spanish word for soul: ánimo.
Picture credit: Paul Moore
On my way back into town this evening there was a flag flying at half-mast. 79 years ago the United States decided to join in the armed conflict engulfing Europe and the far east after Japanese war planes bombed Pearl Harbor on this day. There is a yearly remembrance ceremony in Hawaii, and it has been a tradition that survivors and veterans attend. This year, due to COVID-19, none were present for the first time, seeming to accentuate the darkening of the solar, social and economic days we live in. The darkness advances. Running from it is futile. There is no way but forward. One may as well embrace it.
And of course, embracing it is always the wisest path, for darkness never lasts. Time is a spiral that brings us back to the same orientations, yet at different places, year after year, life after life, eon after eon. Wisdom comes from looking across the arcs to similar times, recognizing the differences as well as the sameness, and seeing the larger flow.
And so, a nation hurled into a conflict it did not want to join, well remembers the day. The view across the arc would warn us against totalitarian tendencies in our own government as quickly as it would comfort us that such systems usually fall by their own weight. However, nothing is guaranteed. Inaction is as foolish as impetuousness.
Walk instead like the marine who leads the ceremony in Hawaii, with measured steps informed by time and practice, tempered by a constant willingness to humbly question, beholden to no one by fear or force. This is the wisdom of darkness.
I went to the eye doctor today and after dilating my pupils and running all the tests needed, I left the building without the customary pair of plastic sunshades for my eyes. It’s raining in the Pacific Northwest. The cloud cover is such that it’s hard to tell just when dusk will set in without looking at one’s watch. The move to night will not be a harsh change. Darkness is upon us.
The darkness deepens as I note that the increase of COVID-19 cases in this county jumped by almost 50 over the weekend. Out of a total population of only 125K, that’s a lot. We’re getting the third-wave tsunami along with everyone else. My cousin is still struggling with lingering after-effects, and my 87-year-old aunt is in the middle of her battle. Darkness is upon us.
It goes even deeper when we look across the nation and see the deep cleft between coasts and midlands, rural and urban, left and right. When I hear the most strident voices it seems as if we live on two separate universes that share only a common geography. I know where I stand, left-of-center, but sometimes my relationships make me feel like I’m straddling an impossible abyss, stretched to the breaking point. Darkness is upon us.
In the spiritual traditions of the world darkness has two faces. The descent feels like death; it is really the acceptance of something already dead, a yielding, a surrender into the unknown. They all teach, however, that the tomb finally reveals itself as a womb. As surely as there was light, there will be light again. We cannot know what it will be like. We can only act with wisdom and compassion in the darkness. Those two virtues are the left and right stepping stones through.
With that knowledge, I can enter the darkness. “…all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”1
1 Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love (Kindle Location 614). Kindle Edition.
The cessation of hostilities in the War to End All Wars, WWI, came on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Originally called “Armistice Day,” now we call it Veterans Day, a move that broadens its reach beyond that moment in western history. A quote from the webpage of the Veterans Affairs reads:
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”
The page ends with this statement of the purpose of the day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.1
I have known a lot of veterans. Their willingness to put themselves in the path of danger is a heroism that echoes the ideal of love that Jesus expressed when he described the highest love as the willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s friend. (John 15:13.) The tragic truth that the War to End All Wars was followed by an even more extensive world war in just a couple of decades makes their individual heroism all that greater. There is an African saying that goes, “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” The nobility of nations often falls far short of that of the veterans that pay the price. They are due our gratitude—and our tireless work to get to the place where indeed, armed conflict is not necessary to settle our differences. That requires nobility at the highest levels of authority, leaders known for the quality of their character before their policies, people who are willing themselves to set aside their egos—even lay down their lives for the people of the world.
Maybe the world’s great leaders could learn a lot from their veterans.
I invite you to listen to this song:
Maybe this election season has made the rippling effects of the choices we make starkly clear. The threats of action after the elections on both sides show not just how deeply each position is held, but how far apart they seem. Each side has claimed to be fighting for America’s soul, but the picture of what that soul looks like is starkly different. Are there two Americas, one predicated on economics and the other on social justice?
I don’t think so. I think economics are important to us all. I think social justice is important to us all, even though what each person thinks is socially just may be quite different. I think humanity and honesty and integrity and family are important to us all. I think getting along and being able to make a respectable living and doing right by our children is common to us all. The choices we make have repercussions. However, we will probably not go to hell in a handbasket forever if the wrong side wins. I would bet a lot of money that neither of these men will be in power in 20 years.
Now is the time to look to the very last ripples. What shore do they wash up on? Is it not the shore of our common humanity? If so, then let’s reach for it now. Let’s find common ground across as wide a spectrum as we can, and make common cause for the common good, where “common” means us all and not just some, and “good” means more than just dollars in the bank.
He took an ever-tightening arc toward his target, pumping his wings harder and harder until he hit it precisely, grasping it with his talons as if it were prey. Mantling over it with his wings and tail, he turned as if to keep it out of my sight. The lure, a leather bag with sand in it, was the target of his attentions. The sheer focus, the instant calculation of flight, and the obvious energy it gave him made Aelrod, my 4-yuear-old Harris Hawk, absolutely stunning! I took a moment to feed my soul on the show of the sheer power of his being.
I had stepped out of falconry for a couple of years while I finished a doctorate and moved from New Mexico to the Pacific Northwest, but now I look forward to outings with this magnificent friend. He flies completely free when we are out, choosing at every beat of his wings to work with me rather than without me. My job is to give him opportunities to do what he is made to do, and his job is to fill my soul with deep joy. If he doesn’t have fresh raw meat to eat, he will die. If I don’t have him to watch, something inside me withers. The fact that he is so un-human makes this partnership especially poignant. Community is a broad idea.
There you have it: working together for a common good, combining strength with strength, taking joy in what we do and in one another, finding one another somehow indispensable, and ever widening the circles of this interdependence—are not these the elements of any future we could hope for?
Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/ebor-10853241/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=5157985″>Paul Edney</a> from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=5157985″>Pixabay</a>