The days are growing short at the end of a what has been a dark year. The election here in the U.S. moves us forward into a new phase, but now we have to wonder: what will that phase be? And, who more importantly, who will we be in it?
The calls for unity feel like a balm after so much anger and contempt. “This is the time to heal in America,” said Joe Biden, in his acceptance speech as President-elect. “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify.” The question, though, is whether there is any center around which we can rally. Threads of a liberal consensus hang all around, but they simply are no longer strong enough to knit together the body politic. Reminders to “be kind,” or a the hope for a quiet life with just enough creature comforts and just enough distraction are understandable. But they are simply not enough.
Many of those of us who have thought a lot about the past, and the complex ways that human life expands and contracts and changes, feel convinced: we are at the end of something. What is next, though, remains very unclear.
So, what then?
There is only one way forward now: a relentless commitment to build a broad culture of life on the ground of radical love.
I won’t propose labels, so much as commitments that could ground this form of life together. I believe we are called at the moment to several crucial tasks.
We are called to turn our eyes to the vulnerable, and face squarely a world in which so many cannot breathe. We must ask why this is, and listen carefully, and seek responses together—at the national level sometimes, but likely more often in our own towns and neighborhoods. If the asking or the responding causes to be labeled communist (or socialist any other label), so be it.
As we dare to open our eyes and hearts to the many forms of exhaustion and pain around us, we must cultivate a practice of compassion, both individual and corporate, that includes a commitment to justice.
We are called to face squarely the spiritual poverty that upholds this system. Anxiety and loneliness have made us greedy and curved in on ourselves. In this shared spiritual poverty, our system benefits no one in the ultimate sense, but diminishes and deforms us all.
We are called to ask not only about governmental policies, but our own lives. We must hold our own possessions lightly, and ask how it is that we can live for the common good.
Although we will debate various policies that might address suffering, we must recommit to a simple, nonnegotiable principle: we will hold human life sacred. Civilians are not “collateral damage”; state killing is never required; unborn children are to be cherished.
To these ends, we must make common cause wherever we can, with whomever we can. And in every case, without exception, our task is to love: that is, is to will the good of the other without condition.
We are called to ground ourselves in the nourishment of worship, sacrifice, feasting, solitude, and rest.
We are called to speak unapologetically of the character of life lived in the holy presence of God: humility, gratitude, compassion, and joy.
The days are growing shorter. Hope is now an act of resistance. But if we are willing to repent and turn from our wicked ways, God can renew us, can bring light into our darkness, and can even make us, together, to shine like the sun.
Suggested reading [More to come]:
The New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7
We Should All Be Feminists, Adichie
Mr. Truman’s Degree, Anscombe
The Fire Next Time, Baldwin
We Are Called to Be a Movement, Barber
Resisting Throwaway Culture, Camosy
The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, Day
Introduction to the Devout Life, de Sales
The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois
The Gift of Black Folk, Du Bois
Love’s Labor, Kittay
Might from the Margins, Edwards
Nickeled and Dimed, Ehrenreich
On Poverty, John Chrysostom
Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis
Laudato Si’, Pope Francis
From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America, Hinton
Wisdom’s Friendly Heart: Augustinian Hope for Skeptics and Conspiracy Theorists, Hockenberry
Tools For Conviviality, Illich
A New Way: The Spirituality of Unity, Lubich
The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen
Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace, Ruddick
Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis
Babette’s Feast (1987)
Life is Beautiful (1998)
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005)
Joyeux Noël (2005)