Last month an Associated Press poll found that 85 percent of registered voters described Americans as greatly divided in their values. And only 15 percent felt that democracy in the US is working.
I long ago stopped paying much attention to polls, but that one sure reflects just how difficult and divisive this time is in our lives and the life of this nation. For the last four years we have seen senior government officials degrade people of color, women, entire cities like Chicago and Baltimore, and attack the free press. The foreign service has all but been dismantled, protections for the environment dashed, and this country’s global security weakened.
And instead of being a uniting force, the COVID-19 virus has been used as yet another wedge to divide the American people. Every single issue, every event and non-event, every real or imagined difference between and among us has been used as a way to try and divide us into ever-smaller groups.
It’s against this harrowing backdrop that we’ve watched the election results trickle in, unsure what numbers to trust, unsure of the impact of voter intimidation and suppression on the eventual outcome, unsure if the outcome of the electoral college will affirm the will of the people. As you know, the services here at the UU Church of Silver Spring are pre-recorded, and as of today’s recording the results of the election are still unclear. I suppose it’s possible we will know more by the time this service is broadcast, but from what I understand a lot can happen between now and the electoral college vote. Rather than the decisive answer we were all hoping for, it seems Election Day has cracked open yet another level of uncertainty into our government and our lives.
And most of us are really tired. Tired of not being able to gather together in the flesh and hug each other when we’re concerned about our democracy, our community, our future. Tired of skimming the news in a constant state of dread, wondering how our government will endanger or embarrass us next. Tired of this system that we know is broken just getting worse and worse, serving the whims of a few rich and powerful people rather than the life and death needs of the many.
It’s tempting right now to just tune it all out, pull the covers up over our heads, and lick our wounds. And maybe some of us need to do those things for a while. The losses and trauma we’ve experienced in this pandemic alone are reason enough to take time off to rest and recharge, if you can. Some of us may need to curl up by the fire and lose ourselves in a novel, get all of that winter-prep yard work done we’ve been putting off, or watch every single episode in a row of the Great British Baking show.
It’s also true that some of us don’t have the luxury to relax right now. Some of us don’t have access to all that we need, let alone creature comforts we might want. Some among us feel like we don’t have the bandwidth to do for freedom and justice as much as we feel we should. Some among us must keep on keeping on anyway, making a way out of no way, trying our best to stay kind, parenting while working while supervising virtual school, without enough time or space to feel like we’re doing any of it particularly well.
Wherever you are in your life, wherever you are emotionally right now, I hope the truth I’m about to share feels like good news. Because the truth in the midst of the mess right now is that our work for justice and freedom is the work of a lifetime. It is a marathon, not a sprint. There are going to be times when we are in exactly the right place and the right time to offer a whole lot. Sometimes we will be the people who are in the position to take the risk, to flood the streets, to apply direct pressure where it needs to go. And there will be times when the best thing we can do for the movement is to care for ourselves, care for our children, and make it through the day ahead of us. There will be times when we carry the baton, and times when we must pass it to another person so we can rest while the race continues.
I know it’s felt as if Election Day took forever to get here. And now that it has come and gone the resolution we hoped it would bring is still far off in the distance. Dominant culture in this country teaches us to value resolution, to move from one bullet point to the next, onward and upward toward greater and greater success and wealth and progress forever. But that’s just not the way reality seems to work. And I think this is part of what’s so spiritually challenging in these times. Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron puts it well when she says:
We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.
As the late Congressman John Lewis has written, storms come and go, and then come back again. But it is the people clasping hands who won’t leave the house who keep it from blowing down all around us.
The storm we’re in is a bad one. A whole lot of important things have fallen apart. So much has been lost, so many people have died. And somehow, even though we may not be able to chart how, I believe we will get from here to there, I believe things will come together again. And along the way, through the busyness and the overwhelm and the loneliness of these uncertain days, the healing will come from letting there be room for all of it. Room for the grief and the relief, room for the misery and the joy, room for the faith and the disbelief, room for the despair and the hope.
E. B. White once famously wrote, “I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” If we are to heal ourselves and be part of the healing of this county, we must to the best of our ability make time and space for both.
Because these are painful times, but we are not our pain.
Because we have been disappointed in some pretty huge ways, but we are not our disappointment.
Because the injustice all around us raises anger in many of our hearts, but we are not our anger.
Because the immensity of the task ahead can make us feel despair, but we are not our despair.
Because alongside the reality of our pain and disappointment there is also joy and hope. Joy that comes in the morning after even the hardest nights. Hope that has guided generations of justice makers before us, many of whom faced much bleaker odds than we do now. Alongside the reality of our anger and despair there is also peace and there is great love. Peace among us, here and now, peace among the millions who worked hard this week to promote a free and fair election. And love. Love that is patient and kind. Love that binds us, one to another. Love that is willing to risk a whole lot so others can have what they need. Love that is bigger and wider and stronger than any wedge someone might try to use to separate us from one another.
In the days ahead, may we know the healing that comes from making room for it all – room for grief and relief, misery and joy. May we know ourselves to be agents of joy and hope, peace and love. Because while trouble may lurk at every turn, it is love that calls us on. Amen.