Arts

The Arts section of Orient Lodge

Elections, Poetry, and Prayer

For the past few months, I’ve been advocating filling social media with poetry as an antidote to much of the vitriol in the U.S. political discourse. Some friends have been sharing poetry. I especially enjoy it when they share their own poems and when the poems are focused on the beauty of the world around us.

A couple weeks ago, the American Psychological Association came out with a survey about election related stress: APA Survey Reveals 2016 Presidential Election Source of Significant Stress for More Than Half of Americans. The press release makes some suggestions about dealing with the stress.

“If the 24-hour news cycle of claims and counterclaims from the candidates is causing you stress, limit your media consumption”. I get most of my news online and I try to read enough to be informed, but not enough to stress out. I try to fill my time with poetry and prayer instead.

“Avoid getting into discussions about the election if you think they have the potential to escalate to conflict.” There are two thoughts I have on this. First, if joining the discussion is unlikely to have an impact, which seems to be the case in most political discussions, just avoid it. However, three are times that you need to speak up, just because the voice needs to be heard.

A quote from Thomas Merton comes to mind:

"Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself."

Indeed, concentrating on “on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself” seems key. Yet it also seems lacking in many of the discussions about the election.

“Stress and anxiety about what might happen is not productive. Channel your concerns to make a positive difference on issues you care about.” I’ve seen people post, things like, “If you check FiveThirtyEight constantly, but aren’t phone banking or door knocking, you’re doing it wrong”. Many of my friends have travelled this weekend to battleground states to get the vote out. Pundits have said that at this point, it is all down to the ground game. The candidate that can get the most people out knocking doors will most likely win. This gives me some reassurance, but that doesn’t always work out to be the case. Door knocking gets people to the polls that might not otherwise make it. It rarely, at least in my experience, especially this late in the game, changes people’s opinions.

“Vote. In a democracy, a citizen’s voice does matter.” If you don’t go out and vote out of your hopes for our country, at least go out and vote as a means of relieving stress.

With this in mind, let me share a poem. My choice has probably been affected by the current political climate. Here’s an annotated version of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

Here are links to various chances to pray with others for our nation and the election
Moral Revival Watch Party - A Call to Action and to Vote at New Haven Peoples Center 37 Howe St. New Haven CT, Sunday, November 6 at 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM EST

Healing the Rift: An Election Eve Vigil for the Well-Being of the Nation” at Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Ave, Hartford, Connecticut 06106on Monday, November 7 at 7 p.m

Election Eve Prayer Service at Church of the Redeemer New Haven Monday, November 7 at 7 PM - 8 PM EST

Prayer Vigil for the Election at Zion Episcopal North Branford Nov 6 at 12 PM to Nov 8 at 7 PM EST

Collect For an Election (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 822)
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ ...

And, a final link, Taize - Stay with me

Nineveh

Sometimes, I feel like I’m supposed to go to Nineveh
but when I get to the ticket office
all they have
are trips to Tarshish.

I stand
confused
in the lonely ticket office
and look at the posters
of exotic destinations.

I don’t want to be thrown overboard
by frightened fishermen
and Nineveh is too far to walk
alone.
I don’t think I even know the way.

So I wait,
looking around for a friendly face
that might help me find my way
or even walk a little while
with me.

Questions

There are questions you need to ask
because the question needs to be asked
even though you know
the answer is no.
You ask
because it will change
the people asked,
and you.

There are questions you need to ask
because it’s part of the process
even though you’re sure
the answer is yes
and when the answer is no
you are devastated
confused
and it changes you
more than you can imagine
and you hope
the people you asked.

There are questions you need to ask
even though there’s no answer
that you can see
and still your soul cries out
“why?”
as you wait for
the promised change.

A Eucharist of Tears

It’s not like
my hip is out of joint
from wrestling
all night long
with an angel.

It’s not like
I’ve had to beg food
from a starving widow
as I flee
the angry priests of Baal.

It’s not like
I’ve hung my harp
on the willow trees
of Babylon.

It’s not like
I’ve seen my Son
hung on a tree.

It’s not like
I’ve been beaten
for seeking freedom
or the right to vote.

It’s not like
I’ve been denied ordination
because of my gender
or orientation.

it’s not like
I’ve fled a war torn city
on a barely floating boat
only to see
my dreams wash ashore,
lifeless.

It’s not like
I am a young woman,
shaking hands,
in the receiving line
at my mother’s wake.

Hope deferred,
hope dashed,
makes all souls sick
and I think of these
my brothers and sisters
who share
the Eucharist of tears
day and night.

I know my friends mean well
when they tell me I am bright
I am a good person
and that God has
a wonderful plan for me.

Yet it sounds a bit
like the young woman’s friends
saying
“Cheer up!
It’s not the end of the world.
You have your whole life ahead of you.”
and I take another helping
of tears.

The Unimaginable Discernment #Hamilton

The yellow and red leaves of autumn are turning brown and falling. I am exhausted. Four years ago, today, my mother died in a car accident during Hurricane Sandy. It was in the final days of my first campaign for State Representative.

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name

Today, I’m running for State Representative again. It is a low key campaign this time. I reluctantly accepted a minor party nomination, with the agreement that I would not have to do much other than allow my name to be on the ballot. This would give voters a choice, the minor party a chance to keep their name on the ballot, and me a few chances to talk about what is happening in the public sphere.

I was reluctant to run because I knew that even with a full-fledged campaign, which is a lot of work, my chances of getting elected were minimal. I am running against the house minority leader.

I was also reluctant because there was something much bigger going on in my life. I was seeking ordination as an Episcopal priest. Yesterday, I hit a major roadblock.

The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down
The Hamiltons move uptown
And learn to live with the unimaginable

My quest for ordination has seemed unlikely from the very beginning. I went off to college forty years ago, intending to study religion and become a minister. Money had always been tight in our family, and it was even tighter since my parents were going through a divorce. A high school classmate I had been fond of was brutally murdered during my freshman year and being off in college in a different state, I did not get the opportunity to mourn with my classmates. I had few friends, little support, and my dreams slowly fell apart. I became a philosophy major, dropped out of school and moved to New York City to write poetry. I supported myself writing computer programs, got married, had kids, and forgot my dreams.

In my brokenness and timidity I gave up my shot.

I worked hard, made a good salary, was involved in church, but slowly ennui crept in. My wife left me. I fell apart.

I remarried and my new wife gave birth to our daughter, my third and youngest. We struggled financially, lost our house in foreclosure, went bankrupt and moved to a small rented house near where my wife grew up.

I spend hours in the garden
I walk alone to the store
And it’s quiet uptown

It’s been quiet in Woodbridge. Slowly, I’ve gotten involved in town politics, made friends, and became involved in church again.

I take the children to church on Sunday
A sign of the cross at the door
And I pray

Slowly, I started writing poetry again. I joined a poetry group and share my poems with them and online. I went to a conference on poetry in the church and had deeply religious experience. I felt, more powerfully than anything else in my religious life so far, that God was calling me to ministry, to the ordained priesthood in the Episcopal Church, and I began my journey of discernment.

From the beginning it has seemed unlikely, unimaginable. How could a fifty seven year old college drop-out impoverished son of a Scotsman become a priest in the Episcopal Church? We are doing okay now, living pay check to paycheck with little savings, but the only way it could happen would be if God clears the way.

He is working through the unimaginable
His hair has gone grey. He passes every day
They say he walks the length of the city

Can you imagine?

Yesterday, I hit a major roadblock. It appears as if the way has not yet been made clear, and I must find a different path or destination. It has been a rough day. I’ve slept. I’ve written. I’ve walked. I’ve been to the dump. I’ve paused to remember my mother and still I don’t understand.

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable

Election Day is coming up. Afterwards will be the Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. Advent will come and then Christmas and Epiphany. I will wait. I will listen for God in hopes of getting a new sense of what I am called to. I will confess my sins and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Forgiveness. Can you imagine?
If you see him in the street, walking by her
Side, talking by her side, have pity
They are going through the unimaginable

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