John Le Carre's fictional spy, George Smiley, while being hugely successful defending England from her enemies, struggles in his private life with a dysfunctional marriage. At one point while replaying a recent argument in his head (as many of us do), he recalls retorting to his wife: "just because I'm wrong, doesn't mean you’re right". It seems to me that in many cases, the inverse of this is also true: our being right doesn't necessarily make someone else wrong.
As we head into another presidential campaign cycle (yikes, I can’t believe its that time already!) we can already see an acrimonious national discourse further deteriorate. And while I won’t comment on any of the candidates on either side, it’s worthwhile reflecting on our reaction to the messages with which we are being bombarded. How do we sift through the noise? Are we already so overwhelmed, angry, polarized, fearful, that we have stopped listening? Are we like the two disciples in Luke’s gospel after the crucifixion, on the road to Emmaus, just looking to physically go somewhere else? So how might we stay engaged without contributing to the vitriol and becoming part of the problem?
Recently I heard a metaphor that was used by a Syrian monk some 2000 years ago. He said our spiritual lives could be described as being like a chariot wheel. God is the center, and all of us are the spokes: Christians, Muslims, Prisoners, LGBT, Republicans, Immigrants, Democrats, the smelly homeless guy, that unpopular person in the office……. and so on. And the closer we can be to the center, to God, the more we can see we are really one. The more we can see or seek out whatever “truth” there might be in that other person.
However, the further we move along each spoke, away from the center, the more distance grows between us. The easier it becomes to objectify, even vilify or attack one another. So the challenge becomes, how do we stay close to our common center?
While the disciples going to Emmaus were fortunate enough to have Jesus in person explain things in the local language and “set their hearts burning within them”, we probably need to take a different route. The language God most often uses today, and has since time began, is Silence. A Silence that is not just or even necessarily, an absence of noise (though no words are needed), but an interior Silence so we can turn our hearts to God, who knows and understands all of our trials and tribulations, and to listen for His loving guidance.
Recently in one of his homilies, Msgr. Andreano said that we need to realize that we are all, first and foremost, citizens of the Kingdom of God, and that this is our primary citizenship. All other loyalties are secondary. It is in this context, or against this backdrop, that we need to listen first to God, before listening to these various people who are looking for our votes.
So yes, we will continue to hear messages with which we might really disagree and which make us angry. And yes, passionate debate can be a good way to explore all sides of an issue. But when we find ourselves getting progressively more upset with angry words ready to burble out of our mouths, it might be time to take a step back. To seek out that Silence in our prayer lives. Many times in the gospels we see Jesus taking time out to go and pray. He understood very clearly that for Him to do His father’s work, He needed to be grounded in the Father. Without prayer He couldn’t fulfill His ministry here on earth and do that for which He was sent. And guess what, neither can we.