A poem has been rattling around in my head and heart since I read it in The Christian Century magazine back in November of 2017. It is called “Election,” by Jeanne Murray Walker, who has been clearly rocked by the last presidential election and its various aftermaths.
I share this poem, not because I want to make any kind of political statement, but to lift up her final point, which is a profoundly religious one: Love is the hard path we must take, if we are to bring light into the world.
Here is a slightly abridged version of her poem:
Votes piled up like wrecked
cars until I realized no path would open
last night and I said: He’s not my President,
as if I were a country unto myself.
I crave peace, I say, as I begin to hate.
I got up this morning trying to keep words
hinged to truth, trying to keep
despair on a leash like an
obedient pit bull.
I sign up at our women’s
prison to teach the ladies how to
... write a way out of their cold
cells, into some truth they know
but can’t yet say.
And then, human
and needy, I drive to stock up
on milk, bread, chocolate,
past the Friends’ Meeting House: their
sign: Let us see what love will do.
Whatever our political persuasions, have we not all found ourselves feeling alone in a world that feels like it is heading for disintegration of so many things that we hold dear? Wherever we are on whatever spectrums, have we not all wrestled with the temptation to hate and despair? Has not each of us found ourselves surrounded with forces that seem hateful, willfully destructive, and have we not felt rage and the wish to harm something or someone?
And yet, in our hearts, we know that these totally human feelings take us away from our spiritual center. Whatever our faith or absence thereof, we know that nurturing a closed, resentful, self-righteous heart is not good for us, nor for the world we hope to make better.
I take the beginnings of hope from a very early line in Murray’s poem: “as if I were a country unto myself.” She makes some fun of how seriously we take ourselves, even adds a touch of humor. A little humility (could it be we are not the center of everything?!), is a good start, brightened by self-effacing humor. We can all use it.
Then there’s simply discipline. She is a writer, and she is disciplining herself to keep her words reflecting truth that is larger than despair, truth that opens her, not closes her down in bitterness. I find it so easy, when my strong, strong emotions are aroused, to let myself loose into my interior “truths” — how hard, but how much better, to discipline myself to the larger picture, to consider things I don’t want to consider.
Finally, there is — among the mundane human comforts like chocolate — the possibility of love. The poet clearly has not gotten to a light-filled place of love, that heart-opening spirit that can lift us into better places. But then, neither have the Quakers. They say, Let us see what love will do — they do not say, “We have this love thing figured out.” Doing our best to love our neighbor as our self —whoever that neighbor may be — is one of the hardest things on earth.
But, what a vocation, to live toward love, no matter how beaten down we feel by circumstances. I am so far from achieving this open and smiling spiritual place, but I can remind myself, over and over: Let us see what love will do.
Rev. Elizabeth Greene is Minister Emerita of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.