My world shifted yesterday when I heard the presidential election results. Through Vietnam, the killings of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, Watergate, even, yes, 9/11, I never felt the fear that I do now. It is not Trump that I am afraid of; it is the millions of people amongst whom I live, who feel that he represents their needs and desires. How can I be safe or content living in such a starkly-divided country?
First, I have given myself time to grieve. It feels like the death rattle of the democracy I hold dear, and like any death close to me, I have tried to be gentle with myself this week. I cried, I slept, I prayed and reflected, I ate a little chocolate. I let some friends know that I support them during this time when they feel vulnerable because they are Muslim, gay, female, black, or simply liberal. But best of all, a local television reporter asked me to be interviewed as a faith leader on how we go forward from here. I found that being forced to give a cogent response was very therapeutic for me. Since local news must reduce long statements to a few seconds of sound bites, I am sharing here the rest of what I said.
First, I follow a Pagan religion which is based on ancient Egypt, where the concept of maat, embodied as the goddess Maat, was the bedrock that kept Egyptian society in place for more than 4,000 years – just a bit longer than our fledgling American democracy. Maat basically means balance, truth and justice. It feels as if America is wildly out of balance right now. Pundits shout over each other on CNN, Fox News figures unabashedly “report” stories which are not true, and NPR struggles daily to be a voice for all without being accused of so-called “liberal bias.” Some candidates campaigned by promising to gridlock anything their opposing party might try to accomplish in the next Congress, without thought to the lives counting on both parties to collaborate.
So I prayed to Maat on the morning after the election. I asked why, and what do I do now? Her face was stony and severe, and I felt the difficult nature of her impartiality. She is neither angry nor compassionately disposed, but rather she is steadfast, a compass for those of us who feel lost at the moment. I realized that in the coming years she will teach us hard lessons – all of us, liberal and conservative alike, and it is unlikely to be painless.
Years of dogged interfaith involvement has convinced me that the most important skill my society needs at this time is the ability to hold respectful conversation with others with whom I may have absolutely nothing in common. Often, friends from other religions will smile and state, “We all believe the same thing but have different words for it,” and I stubbornly say, No, we do not, and we are different, but that is a beautiful thing. It’s what makes America so beautiful and strong – not the ways we are the same, but the ways we can come together in our differences.
But this election challenges my ability to do the very thing I’ve been preaching for so long. I told the reporter that this new world challenges me to go even further. I wonder how I will do it. I know that simply making time to be with others different from me – listening, sharing a meal, talking, listening some more, repeating this over and over again – is how we have made gains against racism, sexism and xenophobia in my lifetime. We are so sharply divided at the moment that we must need to do more listening and talking with each other.
How might that turn out? We know that sometime in the dim past, Egypt was divided into the Upper and Lower kingdoms. They were famously united following an epic battle between Horus and Set, Horus representing light, right and might, Set representing dark, power and cunning. Interestingly, Egyptians did not dislodge Set from their pantheon of deities. Instead, they found an appropriate role for him which drew on his unique strengths in a way that contributed to the overall good. I long for an America which can appreciate what all our factions bring to the table, as long as it is grounded in both compassion and sound thinking.
In ancient Egyptian iconography we find a famous image of Horus and Set uniting the two kingdoms even as they pull against each other. This dynamic of creative tension keeping affairs in balance is the very basis of our democracy with its separation of powers. We will never stop pulling against each other, but between us is the reality that we create together. If one destroys the other, both fall.
As I continued to pray, I remembered some of the great peace-workers of my time: Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and then so many thousands more who are unnamed and usually un-remembered. They did not waver in their personal calling to do good despite wars, unrest and troubles all around them. Asked by the reporter what I would do now, I said that I would re-dedicate myself to my calling to serve others and make the world better. I’ve made it through several hurricanes already, and I have a good compass.