I confess. Nasty political news gets to me. It puts my mind in Hell. Yesterday’s NY Times headline reads ‘Trump Gets Terrible — Things can get worse, and with him, they always do.’ Staretz Silouan says Keep your mind in Hell – and despair not!
Yesterday’s paper had a short video of a dog racing toward a mound of leaves and diving in – disappearing into a Mt Edna of leaves! For the moment, Trump is in exile! I try to remember the little things – and big things – that fall outside the ugly frenzy. Hellish news keeps my mind in hell. Other things keep me from despair. After a winning world series night-game, right fielder Mookie Betts skips the celebrations to feed the homeless on the steps of the Boston Public Library.
There’s nastiness, good news, and long-term damage out there. We’re losing the three-legged balance between Congress, the Courts, and The President. Congress abdicates its role as a check on Presidential power, and Presidential power, unfettered, packs the Courts. It’s creeping dictatorship, the love of power, unchecked revenge against enemies, and demonization of non-whites and Dems. He celebrates violence against journalists in Montana. He waits over a week to notice the murder and dismemberment of a US resident in a Saudi Embassy. He calls a woman “Horseface.”
I got this less than cheering message from a friend in Brazil: “A despicable human being is about to become Brazil´s next president. Things are going to get nasty down here… what’s happening to the world? Could you please enlighten me?”
I have no enlightening words.
The Washington Post reports that for three consecutive years the average American life span has gone down from drug overdoses. George Will, in the Washington Post, calls this a “disease of despair.” There are more drug-related deaths now in one year than deaths in the entire 10 yrs. of the Vietnam War.
Loneliness is another killer. We need neighbors, cousins, joy-mates, Grandkids, Otto, and cats. These are survival connections. To maintain them defuses despair. Openness to Creation also defuses despair.
Our Hebrew Bible reminds us that Job found his mind and body rotting in Hell. He suffers affliction after affliction, pain after pain. Then he hears the whirlwind celebrate Creation. He’s overwhelmed. His complaints ‘melt away.’ He had been in Hell, yet at last, despairs not.
The King James has Job say, “I abhor myself.” But why would he loath himself? He’s done nothing wrong, And God knows it. He refuses to “curse God and die.” He yields in amazement to the glories of Creation. He “melts away.”
Steven Mitchell finds the theme this masterpiece of world literature to be “. . . nothing less than human suffering and the transcendence of it; it pulses with moral energy, moral outrage, and deep spiritual insight.” The insight is that despair is not the last word. “I melt away” is a permissible rendering of the Hebrew, and it captures Job’s amazement at the glory of Creation.
When we think of creation stories, we think of Genesis, but the Lord’s words in the whirlwind or storm give a Creation that to my ear is more vivid than Genesis. Job’s Lord lays the cornerstone of Creation — “while the morning stars burst out singing / and the angels shout for joy!” Job hears singing, shouting and covers his mouth. He melts away.
I can remember worse times – the sixties. That doesn’t make the present OK, but it shows we’ve survived, up to now, even worse. I ducked down in a VW van to hide a Black friend as we drove to Mississippi. Viola Liuzzo, a church activist from Detroit, had been murdered by the Ku Klux Clan.
There were daily Vietnam body counts on the TV news, and many assassinations — Martin Luther King, two Kennedy’s, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, the Oakland, California, school superintendent. Patty Hearst was kidnapped. The civil rights workers Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman were murdered. There were deaths at Kent State. Detroit, Los Angeles, and other cities were on fire.
So far we’ve been spared assassinations, though twelve pipe bombs have been found aimed at Obama, Clinton, CNN, Brennan, Biden, and others. We’ve been spared lethal, exploding pipe bombs, murders, and burning cities – so far. The president jokes over his disruptions.
Yet even in the violent 60’s the mosaic of experience presented more than Hell. We celebrated the Beatles, and the inspirations of Martin Luther King. There was the rolling surf of the Sonoma Coast and Casco Bay, strangely indifferent to politics. Music, poetry and quiet kindness are indifferent to politics, as is a dog diving head first to disappear into a Mt. Edna of soft leaves.
I’m not advocating quietism, or burying heads in the sand. Our good pastor leapt to a table in defense of the Berrigan Brothers in the ‘60s. I applaud. I look for quiet moments that remind us of who we are beyond outrage, exhaustion, and despair. I seek hope and quiet as substitutes for fury and desperation. A bit like tai chi, action can be rooted in meditative quiet.
We are mosaics, bits of hell, bits of despair, bits of hope. We walk, see, inwardly wail, and day-dream. We sense ways of taking up with the world and being happy to be of the world. Serenity and hope can elude us but we seek it. We keep our minds in Hell and despair not. Job’s despair is defeated with morning light. He melts away.
We are mosaics of moods and responses, mosaics of outrage and relief, shoutings, fears, and tremblings. And we embrace things that are precious — laughing kids and leaping dogs. Serenity – melting away – doesn’t shrink moral space. We melt away in music or star gazing without losing a moral compass, or a sense of the invincibly precious. Whatever the hell, despair not.
Mary Oliver writes: “When it’s over, I want to say: All my life I was a bride, Married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, Taking the world into my arms.”
Isaiah is more exuberant. “I will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst forth into song, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
Be married to amazement. Protest. But also let yourself melt. Embrace the invincibly precious. Take up the world in your arms.