We have recently come through one of the most acrimonious election campaigns that anyone can remember. Supporters and detractors of each candidate have been polarized like never before. Even now that the election is over, angry and/or frightened rants proliferate on websites, blogs, and social media. Accusations are flying, but little real mutual understanding seems forthcoming. Finding common ground in this political climate seems like a difficult, if not impossible, challenge, no matter how many voices call for it. Our vocabularies are so entrenched in our respective agendas and presuppositions that our passionate words aren’t really heard.
Is their hope? Is reconciliation and compassionate understanding even possible? Is there Light in the midst of so many Shadows?
Perhaps more than we think.
One of the most important things that happen in Spiritual Direction is people learn to articulate their personal stories. Those stories include both our heroic life victories as well as our tragic defeats. Telling our stories forces us to embrace the broad arc of our life journeys – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our stories don’t emerge fully-formed, but unfold over time, as we examine, reflect on, and eventually embrace the pivotal events that have made us who we are. Our real stories (not just the elevator-speech versions) emerge only on the waters of our tears, both of joy and sorrow. But as these stories are told, the pain, anger, and defensiveness tend to melt away, leaving us more willing and ready to accept and understand others, just as we now accept and understand ourselves. Humility, vulnerability, and love emerge where they didn’t exist before.
In that story-telling process lie the seeds of hope for our troubled time. It is the personal stories buried beneath our political ideologies that offer us a path that can eventually breach our divisions. Most religious traditions admonish us to “loving your enemies,” but that goal will remain nothing more than an idle fantasy until our “enemies” have faces, names, and stories for us. Until then, debating our political ideologies will get us nowhere. But at the intersections of our stories – in those places where our hearts (not just our minds) meet – that is where a “new creation” can – and will – be born!