I woke this morning later than usual, because I stayed up later than usual hoping for a decisive and early close to the election. Upon waking, I knew I had to do three things: get a cup of coffee–the first sacrament of every day–take a shower, and dress in my habit.
Whenever anyone asks a friend of mine why she became a priest, she tells them that she needs more supervision than most Christians. I know just what she means. And I think that’s where the urge to wear my habit today came from. It’s not a feast day. Probably no one else in my community will be wearing his habit. And yet, I need the reminder today, of all days, that I am, first and last, a monk.
I’m a monk for many reasons, but not the least of them is that, like my friend the priest, I need a great deal of supervision. If I really got this whole Christian thing, if the Gospel, my baptismal covenant, and the monastic rules we follow here at Holy Cross were really patterned into my life, I don’t think I’d need to wear a habit. I’d be so steeped in my submission to God that I would be aware, constantly, that I am a temple of the Holy One and that every breath I take is a gift from God.
But I am not that steeped in the Christian life. No sooner do I have a moment of real surrender to God than I take it all back and start planning out the way the world or my community or my interior life should be and how I–usually single handedly–can make it so. The habit doesn’t prevent my slipping into willfulness, but it does give me more pause than a t-shirt and jeans, at least on good days.
While there is still the possibility that some sense of sanity, balance, and care for the common good can return to our national life, I–the I who isn’t wearing a habit–don’t like the trend of last night’s election results. I wanted and still want a full, overwhelming repudiation of the last four years. I want the American people to say as loudly as they can that racism is wrong and must be healed; that we celebrate women and queer people; that the earth is the only home we will ever have as well as the sacred theatre of our redemption and that we should take care of it.
We the people did not say any of those things last night. Nearly half of all voters either actively support racism, homophobia, misogyny, and environmental devastation or are willing passively to tolerate those forces for whatever they perceive as beneficial to them. And that’s not even to mention the hundreds of thousands of our neighbors, friends, and family who have died during the pandemic.
I want to live in a country where we decisively and completely resist evil. Instead I live in a world very much like the world that Jesus lived in. I live in a world dominated by the powerful and the rich who manipulate racial hatred, stoke fear of the outsider, and threaten violence in order to maintain their domination. And, like Jesus, I live in a world where the religious authorities have largely aligned themselves with power rather than with the life of God.
None of this surprises me this morning. What does surprise me is that I do not feel afraid.
When I saw the numbers of people who voted to continue the last four years of violence, bullying, and racism a distinct and powerful calm settled on me. This is what it means to be a Christian today. Frankly, this is what it has always meant to be a Christian: to be at odds with the powers of the world who seek only to subvert the reign of God for their own glory and their own power. Real Christianity–and yes, I do realize I’m toeing the dangerous line of self-righteousness here–is now and has always been a hidden path. Narrow, indeed, is the way that leads to life, and few there are who find it.
The way is narrow, because it is the way of Jesus and it always leads to the Cross. It is the way of powerlessness, surrender, self-emptying, and humility. It is the way of identification with the poor and marginal, the way of self-confrontation and contrition, the way that leaves us broken down and broken open so that God can live in and through us.
Hope does not rejoice because it gets its way. That kind of hope is not really hope at all. It is self-inflated fantasy. Hope is placed solely on God and God’s way. Hope is the surrender to God’s will in all moments, trusting that God is bringing all things to their perfection. A person baptized into that kind of hope can allow herself to be crucified with Christ so that Christ can live in her, whatever the outward signs of success or failure.
This morning I came across the following passage in Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:
Those of whom God demands the most perfect hope must look closely at their sins. This is to say that they must let God shine His lamp suddenly upon the darkest corners of their souls–not that they themselves must search out what they do not understand. Too much searching conceals the thing we really ought to find. Nor is it certain that we have any urgent obligation to find sin in ourselves. How much sin is kept hidden from us by God Himself, in His mercy? After which He hides it from Himself!Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Doubleday, 1989, p. 23.
Hope–real, Christian hope, that is–is a calling from God. And those whom God calls, God also equips. That isn’t to say that we have no work to do. As Merton rightly points out, the calling to hope demands that we pay more particular attention to our shortcomings and our sins; that we deepen and expand our times of prayer; and that we enter more fully into an asceticism and simplicity born of gratitude. Any attempt at the spiritual life of humility and surrender to God requires that we confront our arrogance, our assurance of our own judgment, and our frustration at not getting what we want when we want it.
And yet, we must be careful, too, to recognize that God always uses sinful, imperfect, and incomplete human beings to do God’s work in the world. To take the stance of hope is to plant oneself firmly in the narrow way of salvation. Such a decision requires a good dose of willfulness to begin it, and eventually the trust in God to let go the willfulness that got one on the road to begin with.
I continue to pray that God will spare us four more years of the nightmare we’ve been living. And yet, today I am willing to accept and even embrace the reality of the world before me. Today I am trusting, with the help of the profession cross around my neck, that God is equipping her saints for the work of this time and this place. Today I am trusting that, even with my own self-righteousness hanging from my shoulders–my certainty that I even know what “real Christianity” looks like–that God can make me into one of her saints, too, if God so wills.
None of knows what the road ahead will look like. But we needn’t walk it alone.
[With many thanks to John Decker for the beautiful feature image on this post.]