There’s been a lot of conversation about exactly how folks — especially church folks — are feeling about this dreadful election season.
Anger, resentment, disappointment, offense, shock — the list goes on.
I’ve certainly felt each of those at some point over the last 18 months, but the prevailing response that I’ve felt, and have sensed from my congregation, is something different.
More than anything, the response I’ve witnessed and have felt myself has been sadness. I believe we are grieving loss.
Some are grieving the loss of faith in our political system. They’ve observed just how broken it has become, how little their voice and vote appears to matter, and how the stench of avarice seems to waft over the whole process.
Others are grieving the loss of a political party they thought they knew and that represented them and their values, as least as much as any single party could. They’re grieving that this party is no longer who they thought it was, and even worse, perhaps hasn’t been for some time.
And others still are grieving the loss of who they thought we were as a people. It has been well documented that this election has revealed, in sometimes devastating ways, just how polarized we have become. Just how divided we are along lines of race, gender, class, education and geography. What’s more, it’s clear that none of these are new developments, but are divisions that have been simmering just beneath the surface for decades, if not generations, and only now have come fully to the surface. And these are not just divisions that have been revealed, but attitudes and outlooks. When it comes to race, bigotry that had been banished behind closed doors — a real triumph of the civil rights era — has been taken mainstream once again.
Of course, I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said ad nauseam by countless other pundits much more versed in the system than I. But for me, naming the trauma of this season for what I believe it really is has been helpful. I believe we’re grieving as a nation and as a people, and this has informed my hopes and my prayers for what will begin, and who we will be tomorrow.
My prayer is that regardless of the outcome of any of the various elections, but of course that for president in particular, the healing process will begin. As for what this might look like, I’ve been meditating on a well-known parable of Jesus from Luke that we don’t often associate with grief, but is deeply instructive. My hope is that like the prodigal son, who sitting there soaked in literal hogwash, “comes to himself,” we too will remember who we are and make our way home.
And yet, I also hope that we will also find within ourselves the older brother from the parable. He was the one who stayed home, but had nonetheless wandered from his father’s heart. His own heart hardened with cynicism, he finds himself confronted with an opportunity to make things new again. We’re not told if he takes it or not. I pray that we will.
And finally, I hope that we will find within ourselves the father from this story. Yes, the father who offers unconditional love to both sons, who couldn’t seem to be more different. But even more, the father who realized that both his sons were lost in different ways. And when he realized this, did everything he could to bring them back into the fold. The father who knew that keeping family together is hard and costly, but essential. The father who knew that all is not well in the house until everyone is home safe, everyone knows they are valued, and everyone knows who they are and why they belong.
This is my prayer for who we will be tomorrow, when the election is (hopefully) over, and we will be forced to decide what comes next: That we will name our grief, and allow the helming process to begin. Not aiming to become someone or something new, but remembering, and in some cases discovering, who we have been all along.