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.

#NaNoWriMo: Day One. Introduction to the Journey

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. All Saints’ Day. #NaNoWriMo. For the past hour, I have been tossing and turning in bed. The past few days have been really hard for me, and I was planning on using NaNoWriMo to work through some of the issues, but things have been coming together in a very exciting way, and so for the past hour, I’ve been eager to start writing.

But before I get too far into my writing, let me provide some of the background. Regular readers of my blog will know that I like to start each month with a blog post beginning “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit”. It harkens to a simple childhood time when that innovation was meant to bring good luck for the coming month. In this case, perhaps good luck for the writing, or good luck for the journey the writing is about.

For those of you that don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it is National Novel Writing Month. Every November, people from around the world, I’m not sure how many, hundreds of thousands sounds about right, sit down to write a first draft of a novel. The goal, fifty thousand words in thirty days. Just sit down and write. No editing, just a first pass. You can always go back and edit later.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo various times in the past. A couple times I’ve ‘won’, that is completed fifty thousand words in thirty days. Other times, I’ve hit roadblocks. Still other times, I haven’t even tried because of too many other things going on in my life.

I had not been planning to do NaNoWriMo this year, because of everything else going on in my life. Yet things took some unexpected turns, so I thought maybe I would try a combination of what I tried, unsuccessfully, a few years ago, with various other ideas kicking around.

The idea: Write a stream of consciousness. semi-automatic, semi-autobiographical memoir and reflection on what I’m learning through all of this. I expect during the coming month, I’ll go into much more detail about what ‘all of this’ is really all about. In fact, I was hoping to use NaNoWriMo as a tool to help me figure out some of that.

However, as I lay in bed, ‘all of this’ started to make a lot of sense, a lot more sense than I was ready for, and the shape of my writing may be shifting a little to reflect this.

To reach fifty thousand words, I need to write between sixteen and seventeen hundred words a day. If the words flow well, that isn’t too bad. They’ve been flowing so far, and over the past fifteen minutes I’ve written between four hundred and five hundred words. At this rate, all I really need is an hour of solid writing a day. However, as I’ve learned from other NaNoWriMo efforts, there isn’t always seventeen hundred words worth of thoughts in my mind when I sit down to write, so some days come up short, or take much longer than they should.

Given the nature of my journey, I am not planning on sharing much of this year’s writing on my blog, at least at first. This introduction is an exception, and there may be other exceptions as well. I do expect to share other parts with a limited group of readers. Let me know if you are interested in reading some of these other parts, but don’t be disappointed or take it personally if I say no.

With all of this out of the way, on to day one of NaNoWriMo. Wish me luck.

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.

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