|The sun always rises. Geoff Livingston/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0|
How bizarre to see the Capitol building draped with bunting, festooned with flags, sumptuously arranged for dignitaries and celebrities alike, when exactly two weeks ago its windows were shattered and offices were infiltrated as a mob stormed its walls in an insurrection attempt encouraged by our 45th president. How bizarre, these two weeks later, to watch the customary pageantry play out despite formidable logistical odds, in another installment of the expected peaceful transfer of power that former president Ronald Reagan described as "commonplace and miraculous."
... We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace and the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice.—Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate, from her inaugural poem The Hill We Climb
How we choose to interpret the compelling image of the Capitol dome cleaned and decorated after a violent attack might be seen as a ideological Rorschach test. On one hand, we could view it as a powerful symbol of America's resilience and fortitude, and the endurance of lofty democratic ideals, which have shaped and continue to shape America. On the other hand, we could see it as a powerful symbol of our country's harmful habits of saying "This is not who we are" in times of immoral crisis and electing to reframe ourselves through a myopic, rose-colored lens, papering over the very real, destructive, and present forces that have shaped and continue to shape America.
I'd argue, however, that the answer lies in the middle, or rather, in the tension of both interpretations being true. As Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said in his remarks during the Inauguration swearing-in ceremony, "We are more than we have been and less than we can be." President Biden echoed this sentiment in his inaugural address, saying, "We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility. Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. And much to gain."
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: that even as we grieved, we grew, even as we hurt, we hoped, that even as we tired, we tried, that we’ll forever be tied together victorious, not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.
—Gorman, The Hill We Climb
All these states of being are valid. They are, well, true. Yet some people will hear in these truths an indictment or a threat. They will not hear the call to humility, the plea for compassion, or the spirit of possibility and potential. Such interpretation—inevitable given the fractured nature of discourse in our country—aggrieves me because it lacks not only empathy, but imagination.
We need to move toward policies, dialogue, and shared values that, yes, restore the strength and validity of facts, but that also embrace truths (plural)—the messy, complicated, nuanced realities that every American, each community, and our entire nation live out every day. And here's the key that not all of us has grasped yet: It's not really up to our elected officials. It's up to us as citizens and fellow humans to share our truths and seek to understand those of others.
Important note: I am not speaking of 'unity.' This buzzword is teetering on the threshold of dog whistle for those in our country who wish to maintain the systems of white supremacy and thus their power. As poet Amanda Gorman put it, "We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be." So what shall be? And how shall we discover the answer if we are putting first only our own interests?
Catholic priest Fr. Leo J. O'Donovan said in his invocation prayer, "There is a power in each and every one of us that lives by turning to every other one of us, a thrust of the spirit to cherish and care and stand by others, and above all those most in need. It is called love, and its path is to give ever more of itself."
Love. Love! A word I have not heard or seen exhibited from our nation's highest office in four years. What might a nation re-grounded in love achieve? Not perfection; that's unattainable. But in striving for perfection? We just might stumble upon what shall be, and we just might find it soul-opening.
...The new dawn blooms as we free it, for there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.
—Gorman, The Hill We Climb
Prayer #364: "A Thrust of the Spirit"
No peaceful dove here, no cool tongue of fire. Tired of being ignored, the Holy Spirit is jostling through the faceless, aimless crowds that surround me, using her elbows as weapons, until all at once she is pressed against my side.
She seems out of breath after her exertions. I expect her to yell, maybe shake my shoulders, but instead she rests her hands on her knees and inhales, exhales, until her breath is even. Only then does she rise to look me dead in the eye. Only then does she place her hand over my heart, now quickening under her light touch.
"Love," she sighs. "It's always and only ever been Love."
Suddenly my chest sears. I yelp in pain and jump backwards beyond her reach. She doesn't even flinch. Just points to my smoldering shirt and says, "There's more where that came from, if you do it right. Get creative. I'll tell you this, though: The wound is Love; its cure, the same."
I peek at my skin for burns, but see only a slight indent in the shape of her fingertips. When I look up, she has gone. Now it is my turn to leave the crowd—my turn to set my heart aflame.