January 7, 2018
Most years of late I have found myself writing a reflection on the turning of the year. More often than not it takes the form of a spiritual musing, with a religious flavor to it. This is much less than surprising, I suppose, since June of this year will mark thirty-five years since my classmates and myself were ordained priests by Humberto Cardinal Medeiros at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.
But this year . . . what to say? This year there has been a week’s delay, at least, in any musings on the passage of 2017 into 2018. There is no sense in me, either, that a reflection on this year’s arrival should touch at all upon my own life or what ‘resolutions’ might be appropriate to the new year.
Why? That’s the question I have been carrying. Carrying into prayer. Carrying into pastoral visits. Carrying into conversations with family and friends. Carrying into dreams, or rather into nightmares.
The answer seems to be along these lines.
Never before through the decades and passages of my living,
not in my childhood, watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news announce each week how many had been murdered in that week’s dark efforts in Southeast Asia;
not in my early teens rushing home from school to watch Senator Sam Ervin’s hearings reveal the depths of Nixonian drama in and around Watergate;
not in the dreadful antics of the Bill Clinton White House in the Monica Lewinsky affair;
and not in the innumerable other revelations, in and out of government, of the foibles of human beings and the truth of the teaching on Original Sin, which I have been unlucky enough to witness leave their mark on the years of my living;
never through it all do I recall feeling as oppressive a dark cloud hanging over daily life as I have since the morning of November 9, 2016.
Our own daily lives, our work and our vacations, our friendships and our pains, always take place within the larger context of the world around us, what I sometimes call ‘the big world.’ Sometimes that context is experienced as hopeful and life-giving, as carrying light into darkness. Sometimes, much less so.
But never in my experience of living has the larger context within which we live and move appeared so grim, as consistently grim as the set of the mouth of Donald Trump. Never before in my life has that larger context loomed so heavy, leaning down deep into every day, every event, every conversation like a heavy weight to bear, like noxious smoke poisoning the atmosphere, like winter’s darkness implacable and ongoing. Never before, I affirm again, reminding you that this is stated by a guy who watched the evening news daily as a kid and who chose the Watergate Committee hearings over extracurricular activities in high school. I have actively engaged and watched the big world and have enjoyed noting its relation to the world of everyday life.
But the feel of the present time, though others have sought and found words to express it, I cannot do justice to in any word or set of words I know. This is a time of lament. Wait, perhaps that is the word.
Lament, and here is a corner to turn, is one of the many genres of literature found in the Scriptures. To cite but one place it is so, there are deep lamentations within the 150 psalms. For me as a believer, these not only furnish both permission and encouragement to cry out in the agony of the present time, they do something more as well, something that provides a window toward a yet larger context.
These scriptural cries of burdened hearts not only put before God tough situations within which God’s people struggled to survive. More than a few times, they also include complaints directly aimed at God, more or less saying, “When are you going to kick into gear, dear God, and respond to this mess as only you can do?” Given who the community of faith proclaimed God to be, it was a fair question. But one thing more: the simple fact that the lament ended at God’s doorstep stated clearly that the final context within which all things happened was the presence and the desire and the ways of the God who ultimately could not be denied. Pace my atheist friends, this is still and always our ultimate context.
So yes, here I am, ending up back among things spiritual and religious. I guess it was inevitable. But while I take this arrival place as a sign of hope in the midst of developing tragedy, I do not take it as a refuge. Beyond the context of life as it is now, that I see as darkness, there is a brighter horizon. But that horizon is not an escape route. It is, rather, a call to action, to practical and measurable action. Many are arriving at that call, by several routes, and that is little wonder.
I saw 2017 expire in a heap and give birth to a whining brat of a new year. There is one thing that can begin to mature the new year and that one thing would only begin by the end of the Trump misadministration of the nation.
Official Portrait. Source: White House