Sunday, November 25, 2012

Staying Grateful

I had the good fortune last week of seeing my favorite living author, in person, here in Pennsylvania. My younger daughter texted me to say "Hey I just saw that wendell berry will be at villanova today receiving an award at 4 . . .  Want to go with me?"
photo by Guy Mendes, 2012

I’ve been reading Berry for decades, savoring his Port William novels, memorizing parts of his poems, giving volumes of his essays as Christmas presents, quoting him in this blog. My son, living in DC, has seen him in person twice, and once invited me to travel down for a major Berry event, but the timing didn't work and since Berry is now 78, with a preference for staying in one place, I thought it unlikely I’d ever have the privilege of seeing him.

So – "want to go with me?"

I fired back an answer: "You betcha. Tell me where and when!"

Just a few hours later we gathered, my daughter, her boyfriend, and a friend who manages a local community farm, and off we went through suburban rush-hour traffic to hear the voice of rural Kentucky.

We found parking, found the Villanova University Connelly Center, found our way to the well-lit meeting room just as Berry was introduced and took his place at the podium. The room was full, but we slipped into four seats together, slid off our coats, felt our pulses slow as Berry eased into a short essay: “The Fifty Year Farm Bill,” published in The Atlantic that same day.

Berry speaks slowly, with a self-deprecating good humor and a soft Kentucky drawl, but his insights are sharp, and deeply critical of much that passes for current wisdom:
Industrial agriculture characteristically proceeds by single solutions to single problems: If you want the most money from your land this year, grow the crops for which the market price is highest. Though the ground is sloping, kill the standing vegetation and use a no-till planter. For weed control, plant an herbicide-resistant crop variety and use more herbicide.
But even officially approved industrial technologies do not alter reality. The supposed soil saving of no-till farming applies to annual crops during the growing season, but the weather continues through the fall and winter and early spring. Rain continues. Snow falls. The ground freezes and thaws. A dead sod or dead weeds or the dead residue of annual crops is not an adequate ground cover. If this usage continues year after year on sloping land, and especially following soybeans, the soil will erode; it will do so increasingly. And this will be erosion of ground already poisoned with herbicides and other chemicals. Moreover, even with the use of no-till and minimum-till technologies, an estimated half of the applied nitrogen fertilizer runs off into the Mississippi River and finally the dead zone of the Gulf of Mexico. Thus an enormous economic loss to farmers becomes an enormous ecological loss as well.
Berry moved from his critique of current agricultural practice to a story written in remembrance of the Civil War: "The Girl in the Window",  published in the Winter 2010 issue of The Threepenny Review, and recently gathered with other of Berry stories in A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership.  In his fiction, as in his essays and poetry, Berry captures the joy and sorrow of what it is to be human, the contradictions of beauty and brutality, the timeless moments that shape who we are and who we become.

Listening to Berry read his own work, I found myself thinking about integrity: his determination to be consistent across time, to live what he says, to say what he lives. And I found myself thankful for his resonating message, stated quietly, calmly, across decades, across genres:  there are rules and laws impervious to our egocentric longings, and we thrive, as individuals, families, communities, when we live within those boundaries. Berry restated this most recently in his National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture in April, (the event I wanted to attend, but didn’t),  “It All Turns on Affection”:
“We cannot know the whole truth, which belongs to God alone, but our task nevertheless is to seek to know what is true. And if we offend gravely enough against what we know to be true, as by failing badly enough to deal affectionately and responsibly with our land and our neighbors, truth will retaliate with ugliness, poverty, and disease. The crisis of this line of thought is the realization that we are at once limited and unendingly responsible for what we know and do.”
Berry has done his best to demonstrate what it means to be responsible for what he knows and does. He has farmed, for years, the same small farm in Port Royal, the town where his family has farmed since before the Civil War. He has been a faithful husband and father, grandfather, now great-grandfather, and a life-long Baptist in regular attendance at his local Baptist church. He’s been engaged in non-violent civil disobedience since the sixties against nuclear power plants, mountain-top removal, most recently against the proposed XL pipeline. He has spoken out against unjust and unwise wars, against abortion, against the death penalty:
As I am made deeply uncomfortable by the taking of a human life before birth, I am also made deeply uncomfortable by the taking of a human life after birth. . . .Probably we have no choice against illegal killing, which continues to happen against the wishes of nearly everybody. But it is possible, morally and rationally, to choose to withhold one’s approval from legal killing, and I so choose.   (Port Royal, KY; January 23, 2009)
After Berry finished reading his story, he entertained questions from the audience. “By contract, I’ll listen to your questions. But I’m not promising to answer them.”

The questions themselves weren't memorable, but the answers showed Berry’s ability to hear what's said, then flip the question on its head to see what might be of interest.

The last question seemed like a throwaway: "Where and with whom will you spend Thanksgiving? And what are you most thankful for this year, and why?"

With a gentle smile, Berry said "That’s four questions!: then courteously sidestepped them all:
"This business of identifying one thing to be thankful for. Gratitude is a complicated thing. Everything is connected. If you’re thankful that a dear one has recovered from a serious illness, well then, you need to be thankful that you HAVE a dear one." 
I doubt my quotation is exact, but it's a familiar Berry theme: everything is connected. The health of the land leads to the health of the people; the strength of the family depends on the strength of the community. We all belong to one another, to the past, to the future, to the economic and agricultural systems that bind us to each other. Healthy systems yield healthy people; disordered systems lead to increasingly disordered hearts, minds, bodies.

Wendell Berry, more than anyone else I can think of, has looked deeply into the disordered systems of our current culture and has described as carefully as he can the implications for marriages, children, identity, food, farming, faith, trade, our economy, our environment. Yet seeing what he sees, knowing what he knows, he persists in gratitude for the beauty of the world, the kindness of friends and family, the rich goodness beyond what human minds can understand or acknowledge.

He ended his answer, and his session, with this: “My great hope is I have enough sense to be grateful to the end."

I've been carrying his thoughts with me through this Thanksgiving weekend, thinking about what it means not just to be grateful, but to stay grateful.

Those thoughts were clarified the day after Thanksgiving, as four generations gathered to celebrate my in-laws' sixtieth anniversary. In their own ways they, like Wendell Berry, have modeled a gentle, generous life lived within the boundaries of marriage, faith, and family. As their children and grandchildren shared memories, the mood turned to one of thanksgiving: for the security of an ordered family life, for the courageous witness of a faithful, determined marriage, for the freedom of learning together what it means to grow in wisdom and grace.

I’m grateful for my mother and father-in-law, for family gatherings, for shared memories, for lives woven together over decades of games and laughter and far too much pie, for marriage, for friendship, for examples of faithfulness and forgiveness and quiet service to the common good.

And I’m grateful for Wendell Berry’s work and the vision he offers of healthy, nurturing communities, and thankful for the ability to read, to think, for teachers who pointed me toward the joys of thought, books, conversation, thankful for friends and family who share ideas, recommend new authors, pass on books they've found of value, thankful for the blogging community that helps keep the conversations going, that helps to deepen the discourse far past what’s possible in sound bites or passing comments, thankful for stories shared over coffee, questions dissected over leisurely lunches, the ongoing exploration of what it means to be human, faithful, engaged, generously involved.

I could go on – and will, in my own thoughts, prayers, journal, conversations.

And what good fortune do you have to share?

What are you thankful for this week?

And how will you stay grateful?

Learn by little the desire for all things
which perhaps is not desire at all
but undying love which perhaps
is not love at all but gratitude
for the being of things which perhaps
is not gratitude at all
but the maker’s joy in what is made,
the joy in which we come to rest. 
  (Wendell Berry, from ‘Leavings’2005) 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


This fall I attended two day-long conferences on healing, forgiveness, and the work of reconciliation.

Scribbled in my notes: “Gratitude is the key to wholeness.”
Jesus Heals a Leper, Rembrandt, sketch, 1665

The text prompting that note: Luke 17:11-19. Jesus healed ten lepers; nine ran off rejoicing, and one, a Samaritan, returned to give thanks.
"Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?'
"Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'"
They had all been cured of their leprosy. But one, the one who returned with praise and gratitude, received a deeper healing: “Your faith has made you well.”

I've been puzzling over this idea of gratitude and deeper wholeness for several months now. A friend gave me Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, and I've been struck by how Voskamp's determination to be thankful led her from deep depression into a life of joy, and how gratitude gradually undid the damage of a childhood locked in silent grief.

I've experienced much of this myself. I grew up in a household beset with grievance: “If only” was a frequent refrain. I watched how “If only” can blossom into bitterness and resentment, rage, hatred, violence. Grievance feeds grievance, until every incident, every word, is part of a narrative of injustice and deprivation.

I've seen the same story play out in households I've been close to. Abandonment, resentment, jealousy, rage: once the dial is set to grievance, the story plays out toward a predictably disturbing end.

On a larger stage the story is the same. The language of this past week, for those expecting a different end to our national election, is full of blame, bitterness, anger, hints of retribution.

Is gratitude possible when the default mode is grievance? Is it possible to learn gratitude as a spiritual discipline that can reshape our hearts and open the way to emotional health?

It seems the first step toward gratitude is to let go: let go of our own ideas of how the story was to go, let go of the “If onlys”, the sense of blame, the certainty that our way would have been best, that we've been denied the only happy ending.

It occurs to me that repentance is the one way out. I’m reminded of a sermon years ago that cut through a sense of angry entitlement I was struggling with: "Sin is wanting my own way more than God's."

We were in the middle of a move, at an impasse about what kind of house to buy, and I was sure beyond doubt I was right. And furious that the solution I had in mind was out of reach.

And then, in church the morning the decision needed to be made, the rector of Truro Church, John Howe, said "Sin is wanting my own way more than God's," and I saw my anger and bitter determination for what it was: sin. Wanting my way. Inability to listen to any voice outside my own.

Repentance was the turning point, as it has been many times since then. I set aside the single family house I had in mind, the fenced back yard, the garden, and agreed to the brick townhouse in the planned community, just miles from my husband's new job. I didn't know then what I found out quickly: it was a community with a strong network of caring families, with lots of kids, a babysitting co-op, acres of open space for kids to play, paths and fields and pools and playgrounds in greater abundance than anywhere else I've ever seen. Provision far beyond expectation, a lasting blessing in my  life and in the lives of our three children.

Christ in Gethsemane, Michael D. O'brien, Canada
My repentance allowed me to hear more clearly what Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane: “Not my will, but yours, be done.”

That repentance led the way to gratitude. The first step was giving up my own narrow view of what would be best, but gratitude takes more than giving up of grievance, more than repenting for holding so fiercely to having things my way.

It takes awareness, attention, grateful acceptance of what's been given.

I wrote several weeks ago about the Ignatian prayer of examen. One of the steps in that daily practice is looking back on the day and giving thanks for where God's hand has been visible.

But what would happen if that kind of attention became part of the ongoing focus of each day? Not just for a few minutes before bed, or a few minutes over coffee the next morning, but throughout the day.

Voskamp's Thousand Gifts moves in that direction:
"I want to see beauty. In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep." 
G. K, Chesteron, a master of the art of gratitude, wrote in an early notebook:
"You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink."
How do we learn that kind of gratitude? How do we teach it?

Is gratitude a gift? A habit of the heart?

When our children were small, we’d talk at bedtime about the day:
What did you learn today?
What was a thing of beauty?
What are you thankful for?
Then we’d sing a simple song my grandmother taught me:
"Father, we thank thee, for the night
And for the blessed morning light,
For health and strength, and tender care,
And all that makes the day so fair.”
Simple stuff.

But pausing to say thank you can refocus the heart. A 2008 study by Jeffrey Froh, assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University in New York, found that middle school students asked to list up to five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks “experienced a jump in optimism and overall well-being . . .  Furthermore, they were more satisfied with school even three weeks later  

Ann Voskamp found that keeping a notebook of “gifts” forced her to pay atention, to see things she would not have seen.
“I am a hunter of beauty and I move slow and I keep the eyes wide, every fiber of every muscle sensing all wonder and this is the thrill of the hunt and I could be an expert on the life full, the beauty meat that lurks in every moment.
I hunger to taste life.
Northern Harrier in Flight, Dan Pancamo,
Wikimedia Commons, 2010
 A hunter of beauty . . . What a great idea.

I think of that as I prowl the fields by Church Farm pond, watching for the northern harrier low across the dry, brown corn stubble, listening to the sweet call of the white-throated sparrow hidden in the overgrown thickets that edge the wetland pond.

I think of it again as I watch my granddaughter greeting wolf cubs at the Upper Schuykill Valley Park. “I’m telling you, I love this farm!” And I agree: the farm, the wolf pups, the red foxes watching, ears alert, the red-tail hawk spiraling overhead, the lively little face, the firm little hand, the exuberant declaration.

But beauty takes lots of forms:

Jim and friends at the Pottstown recycling center, engaging my two pre-teen assistants in loading the foam crusher, in sorting batteries, in pointing us toward the peacock strutting its stuff on the office roof.

A new acquaintance, over guacamole and flautas de puerco, sharing the story of God’s miraculous grace flowing through her life.

In another notebook, Chesterton wrote: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

I think I would agree.

And one more Chesterton quote:
Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
This post is part of the November Synchroblog: The Spiritual Practice of Gratitude.  Other posts: 
Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Dance of Democracy

This past Tuesday I went to poll-monitor with Common Cause in a local university polling place that was a contentious site in the 2008 election. Some voters had waited four, five, even six hours. Those most eager to see students vote had expressed concern about possible mismanagement of lines and voter registration books.

I showed up at 6:45 AM, put on my Voter Protection badge, and introduced myself to others gathering to help make democracy work. We cautiously negotiated turf: candidate’s tables there, poll watchers here, all more than the mandated ten feet from the official polling place door down the hall. The line of waiting voters snaked down one hall, past elevator doors, through a lobby and lounge, down another hall.

The building custodian paused to say there had been a line since six. “I showed up here and there was folks sitting by that door. Already. And then more. By six-thirty the line was already over there.”

The poll opened promptly at seven. Announcements made: “You do not need photo ID, but since we don’t know what the law will be for the next election, you may be asked to show ID. It’s not required unless this is your first time voting here.”

I had volunteered because of concerns about photo ID laws and ongoing  miscommunication from state officials. I take voting seriously, as you know if you’ve been reading my recent posts. I’m moved by the history of women who suffered for the right tovote, and saddened at how little we remember of their courage.

And I’m moved by more recent history: I was eight the summer college students Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were killed by a Ku Klux Klan lynch mob in Meridian, Mississippi, for daring to register black voters. I’ve had the privilege of hearing first-hand the stories of African-Americans who grew up in the grip of segregation, and know people not much older than I am who were the first in their families to vote.  

So there I was, fueled by my daughter’s homemade muffins and an online training session about voter ID law, election staffing, ways to recognize voter intimidation, hotlines to call for any and every question.

I had come expecting to be outside. Standing by the double doors, I could feel the morning chill as men and women dressed for work hurried in, moving fast toward the end of the line. Two men in suits came in, inspected the crowd, shrugged and hurried off to work. A young woman saw the line and smiled: “Four years ago I waited six hours – outside – in the rain. This is nothing.”

My Common Cause colleague and I timed the wait, tracking a distinctive hat as it traveled down the line, disappeared into the voting room at the end of a long hall, then reemerged toward the exit door. Forty-five minutes. No cause for alarm.

The business crowd disappeared and students took their place. First time voters: “Do I need my registration card?” “I didn’t get a card in the mail.” “I registered in Philly. Can I vote here?”

An election official made periodic announcements: “You do not need photo ID. Unless you’re a first time voter.”

I waited for clarification, then offered it myself: “It doesn’t need to be photo ID.” We had information cards explaining the confusing rules.

Packs of students: “Did you vote?” “I will after class.”  “Did you vote?” “I thought they’d give us a sticker!”

Young moms with kids in tow. Election official: “If you see someone whose kid is about to lose it, bring them to the front of the line so they can vote before they leave.”

Older citizens. A set of frail friends: “That line is long for someone 96!” I pushed my way through the line to ask the election official: “Yes, anyone who looks like they can’t stand in line can come to the front. We want them to vote.”

The day settled into routine. Students who weren’t sure of their polling place: my colleague checked his Your Vote app. “Yes, you vote here.” “No, head to the polling site across campus.” “Looks like you’re registered in Pittsburgh. Sorry!”

People emerged from the polling place, smiling.

A woman in line read a text message out loud: “The election official here says I can only bring one child into the voting booth with me. By law. How wrong is that?”

Wrong. I passed on our hot-line phone number: 1-800-OUR VOTE. “They have volunteer lawyers on call. If she calls and tells them her polling place, they’ll call the election official there and ask them to clarify.” 

Through the course of the day, I had time to talk with the others positioned outside the polling place door. The Republican ward chair (or precinct committeeman?) was amused anyone would think his precinct needed observers. “We play nice here.”

His Democratic counterpart was not as amused. She complained at the way the lines were handled four years ago, determined to see things go more smoothly.

Hours after noon, I went out to find some lunch, and came back with a truck-stand falafel and a can of Dr. Pepper. The custodian was taking his break on a couch in the lounge, watching the students come to vote, so I sat down beside him and we chatted while I munched.

“I was here four years ago,” he said. “When we elected President Obama. They were trying to keep the students from voting. But they stood in line anyway.”

He seemed proud: proud to be part of this polling place, proud to be part of this unfolding story.
“And will you go vote?” I knew he’d been at work since six, an hour before the polls opened.

“You know it! When I get off I’ll drive home to Coatesville and go vote. You know it.”

The Republican ward representative had come to join us, resting his feet for a few minutes after standing most of the day. The three of us talked about what we’d do that evening, then the conversation meandered: Where we lived. Where we were from. How long we’d been playing the specific roles we were playing.

“But I know how you roll!” The Republican seemed please with himself.  “Yes – you!” He nodded at me. “What did Pinochio turn into when he went to Pleasure Island?”

I was baffled. Pinochio? “A real boy?”

“No! He became a donkey!”


“You know. A donkey! A Democrat! You’re a Democrat!”

Ah. So he thought he had me pegged.

“Well, really – no. I’m not. I’m a registered independent. And have been. And will be. My ballot this year will be mixed, as usual.”

"So who do you want to win?" 

“What I want,” I said, “is for democracy to work. And I want to make sure the quiet voices in the middle can be heard.”

“Because the solutions are going to come from the quiet voices in the middle.  People who know how to listen.  I want to make sure everyone gets to vote, and I want to make sure the loud voices don’t drown out the rest of us.”

It occurs to me that democracy is like a dance. Step one way, then another. One person moves backward, the other forward. Balance shifts; direction changes. When one person insists on moving only one way, the dance is done. Ugliness ensues. When we move in harmony, in the bright, light tension of a well-executed dance, we all thrive. All of us.

We want the same things. Republican grandson of immigrant Italians, Democrat great-grandson of former slaves, Independent grey-haired mash-up of Mediterranean, Scandinavian, Old World, New World, farmers, builders, preachers, dreamers, wanderers . . . 

We want the same things. We hope the same things. Opportunity for our sons and daughters, provision for our nearing old age, clean air and water, safe roads and bridges, peace in our homes, our communities, our world. 

We sat there, me sipping the last of my Dr. Pepper, enjoying a warm, sun-filled public space and that sense of being part of something large. Fellow citizens, fellow workers, content to play our separate parts in this dance we call democracy.

A few days before the election, I came across the poem written for the 2008 inauguration:
Praise Song for the Day, by Elizabeth Alexander. It speaks of the noise that surrounds us, and the importance of words: "whispered or declaimed, words to consider, reconsider.”

This election has been full of words: some wise, many not. Some heard, many unheard. Not all the words said have been considered, by the person saying them, or the person hearing. But at least we’re free to speak. To listen, or not listen. Free to vote, to choose, to take a part in the process, wherever that process leads. 
“Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?”

This is the last in a continuing series about faith and politics: 
What's Your Platform? Join the conversation.  Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Election Eve Examen

In my years of youth ministry, coordinating retreats, missions, other events, I found it helpful to do needed practical, logistical preparation, then allow time for a deeper spiritual preparation. In that context, and in others, I’ve used aspects of the Ignatian “prayer ofexamen”, developed by Ignatius of Loyola, early 16th century Basque knight, hermit, priest, and founder of the Jesuits. His model of prayer invites reflection and humility: an awareness of how easily we mistake our own thoughts for God’s direction, how easily trapped we are by our own unexamined habits or unacknowledged agendas. The prayer of examen offers a chance to step back, review, rethink. As I prepare for Tuesday’s election, I find myself setting aside research on issues and candidates, and moving toward an Election Eve Examen.

Step one: Slow down, be still, and take time to acknowledge God’s presence.

“Be still and know that I am God,” the psalmist says. The Hebrew word for “be still” – rapha - means “be weak,” “let go,” “release.”  It’s easy to be anxious, angry, doubtful, to hold on to resentments, outrage, frustration. God invites us to let that go, to draw close to him as a troubled child draws near a loving parent, trusting our anxieties and fears into kind, strong, caring hands. As this past week's dramatic "Frankenstorm" reminded me, we are not in charge, much as we like to imagine otherwise. 
We bring before You, O God:
The troubles and perils of people and nations,
The sighings of the sick,
The sorrows of the bereaved,
The necessities of strangers,
The helplessness of the weak,
The despondency of the weary,
The failing powers of any age.
May each of us draw as near to You
As You are near to each of us.
            (Anselm of Canterbury, ca 1100)
Step two: Give thanks.

In the Ignatian model, the prayer of examen is done at the end of the day, or even twice a day, with a review of the preceding hours and thanks for the gifts of the day. But this can be expanded. As I look back on the election season, I can give thanks for the current situation, the upcoming opportunity, the challenge and mission ahead. Frustrated as I've been by much of our political discourse, I can give thanks that we're free to speak, write, gather. Unenthusiastic though I am at the choices I'm offered, I can give thanks for the chance to vote, the rights I enjoy through no accomplishment of my own:
Almighty God, giver of all good things: We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land. They restore us, though we often destroy them. 
We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They make us rich, though we often exploit them.  
We thank you for the men and women who  have made this country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall short of them. 
We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we have often hidden from its light. 
We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless again and again. 
(Book of Common Prayer) 
The Evening Prayer, Pierre Edouard Freer,
France, 1857
Step 3: Ask for wisdom, insight, and truth.

I realized at sixteen that I could convince myself of anything I wanted. I could rationalize any decision, argue hotly for any opinion. As I noted several weeks ago, we are easily held captive by our own assumptions, our own "confirmation bias." In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul acknowledged: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (I Corinthians 13). I think I know myself but in moments of quiet reflection I'm reminded how deep my self-deception can go, how easily I can overlook my own failings, while quick to identify the shortcomings of others. 

It takes time, courage, humility, and grace, to see where we’ve been in the wrong, to be willing to change where change is needed.  We can miss the truth when it’s standing right in front of us – and sometimes the more spiritually wise we think we are, the harder it is to hear voices that don’t agree with our own. Jesus promised "When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth," (John 16:13) but that truth is only available as we acknowledge our inadequacy, our willfulness, our pride, our self-delusion. King David himself asked God to dig deep and show him what he couldn’t see himself: 
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139
Step 4: Review.

Look back through actions, attitudes, motives and emotions with honesty, patience, and humility. This is the longest, hardest part of the examen, but the more time spent, the greater the reward. It's a great practice to do this every day, but as I prepare for Tuesday's election, I look over the whole political season, and my own heart as I've tried to engage, and disengage:
  • Where did I speak without listening?
  • Where did I judge without compassion?
  • Where was I motivated by anger, anxiety, pride, impatience?
  • Where did I disengage out of fear, discouragement, laziness, lack of love?
  • What did I repeat, not sure that it was true?
  • What did I believe, not bothering to think it through?
  • When did I side with mockers?
  • What habits held me captive?
  • Who did I harm?
  • Who did I help?
  • Where did I sense God inviting me to something different, but ignored the invitation?
  • Where did I see a way I could serve another, but chose to serve myself instead?
  • Where did I participate in disrespect of leaders, disrespect of others?
  • Where was compassion visible?
  • Where was wisdom lacking?
The goal isn't to pile on guilt, or to drown in self-accusation. The goal is to see more clearly, and to grow in understanding of ourselves, the world, the way of love.

Step Five: Reconcile and Resolve.

Old Man Praying, Edvard Munch,
1902 Norway
For me, confession is a freeing move toward change, an acknowledgement of failure and a willingness to leave my blindness behind and start in a new direction. I like the Episcopal practice of kneeling in confession. It's an outward expression of humility, reflecting an inward desire to move away from pride:
Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
We have not been true to the mind of Christ.
We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:
the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
Our self-indulgent appetites and ways,
and our exploitation of other people,
Our anger at our own frustration,
and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts,
and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
Our negligence in prayer and worship,
and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering,
 and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
For all false judgments,
for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors,
 and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
For our waste and pollution of your creation,
 and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord. (Book of Common Prayer) 
I like to sit in my repentance, lingering over each admission. I'm not perfect. Far from it. It helps to see that clearly: to see how far I am from who I want to be, to admit how very far I have to go.

True repentance, and real reconciliation, lead to resolve: a determination to go forward in a new way. We need wisdom to see what that way might look like. The old way is easy, modeled for us by loud and angry voices, lived out in familiar reactions to old wounds, ancient wrongs. 

The new way is much harder. I find myself turning again to Isaiah 58, and the call to a deeper, more genuine form of faithfulness. My resolve is to live deep into the kind of fast God calls for, and to join with others of God’s people in loosening the chains of injustice, sharing food with the hungry, becoming well-watered gardens, repairers of broken walls, restorers of streets with dwellings. I pray my vote will be part of that work. I pray my prayer will be an even greater part. And I pray my life, day to day, year by year, will show the outward form of faith that God has chosen:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
 “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. 
This is the last in a continuing series about faith and politics: What's Your Platform? Join the conversation.  Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments.