The third presidential debate is over. Thanks be to God. Both major candidates have made their arguments. Independent and down-ballot candidates have made their case for the presidency, too. American Christians have more than enough information to discern their presidential choice, even if discernment is ongoing and that choice has not yet been made. We’re not impoverished for information; we suffer from a poverty of stillness in a sea of contentious noise.
We’re responsible for the words we hear and read. If your soul is crying out ‘enough!’ it’s probably time to remove yourself from political news and conversations. It’s time to find sanctuary. It’s time to enter ‘the silent land,’ Martin Laird’s name for the quiet presence of God.
When Karl Barth said we ought to read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in another, he couldn’t have anticipated social media. In Barth’s day, news articles were published once a day, not every 15 minutes. Now American have become tethered to news websites throughout the day. Barth didn’t want believers to become lost in the Bible and thereby neglect the needs of the world. But we now live in an age where we can become lost in the world’s hourly news cycle, neglecting the eternal Word of God and the gift of his calming presence.
Entering the Sanctuary of God’s Presence
What voices will you permit your ears to hear in these final 18 days before Election Day? The psalmist prayed to have an ‘open ear’ to the voice of God (Psalm 40.6). If you haven’t been reading the Psalms during this election cycle, now is a good time to start. The psalms give some of our best counsel about the habits of godly leaders (Psalm 72). The psalms remind us that we find strength and confidence in God alone; that we cannot place our ultimate hope in political leaders (Psalm 118, 146). In the hour of personal confusion, the psalmist enters the sanctuary with his anxious questions, emerging with renewed humility and confidence in the Lord’s presence (Psalm 73).
The psalms shine light in dark times of conflict and strife. Distressed and weak, David seeks refuge in the presence of God. In the presence of God he finds “shelter from the strife of tongues” (Psalm 31.20). Sound like a need for Americans right now?
Clinical psychologists report that roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of their clients discuss stress from the election in therapy sessions. If Christians are to be a source of light in the midst of heaviness and darkness, we need to enter the place of stillness and prayer, finding “shelter from the strife of tongues.”
Prayers without Words
Certainly prayer is our calling during this election, but step aside from the political arena for a moment. Let’s think about intercessory prayer in any context for a moment. To pray on behalf of another person, a church, or a nation is a good spiritual discipline. But have you ever noticed how intercessory prayer can become praying your agenda for someone you love? I have. Instead of praying “Thy will be done, Lord,” I can subtly pray “my will be done” in the life of another person. That’s not faithful intercessory prayer; it’s selfish intercessory prayer. It’s a good idea to repent on the spot when you drift into that form of prayer. An intercessor must surrender his will in order to pray with freedom and power.
Sometimes the most needed form of prayer–whether for yourself or for someone else–is silence, praying without words. And silence begins by breathing. One of the most important practices you can undertake in this political season is breathing in the presence of God. I take encouragement from Thomas Merton’s simple description of life and prayer, “What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe.”
When thoughts and words swirl in my head, I can’t hear my heart speaking. Raw emotions obscure the deepest longings of my heart. Anger can blind me from seeing and loving a brother or sister in Christ with whom I disagree. But when God calms my heart, I see my neighbor hidden in Christ. As C.S. Lewis said, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Regardless of whether your neighbor votes for a democrat, republican, liberatarian, or independent makes no difference. Your brother or sister in Christ is holy because God loves them. Silence teaches you that truth better than anything else.
Stillness and Political Witness
Solitude, stillness, and silence are not opposed to political witness. Thomas Merton, Simone Weil, Abraham Heschel, and Henri Nouwen were great examples of contemplation, yet as people of faith, they bore public witness of their political convictions.
Contemplation and action are two energies in Christian witness. Time in solitude and stillness prepare me to become a better and more patient listener–to God and to my neighbor. Time in solitude and stillness prepare me to speak and act with the love of Christ, for to be in the presence of Christ is to encounter his love and peace. As St. Diadochus of Photiki said, “Timely silence is precious, for it is nothing less than the mother of the wisest thoughts.”
A News and Social Media Fast Before Election Day
We are called to attune our hearts to the voice of God, especially in times of great significance. Our hearts cannot hear the voice of God if our eyes read more words about American politics than the words of Scripture.
In these final 18 days before the election, you may find it helpful to take a step back from news and social media, observing a fast of sorts. I know that I’ll be much more sparse with news and social media in the days ahead.
Logging out of Facebook and Twitter may be really good for your soul these next few weeks. It could actually be a very important political decision! Stepping away from news stories may be the first movement to “be still and know that [the Lord] is God.” Step further into the sanctuary of God and there you will see a vision of Christ ruling above all nations.
An Ear for the Saints
As Election Day nears, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the only significant day approaching for Christians. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God first and there’s a holy day approaching before we elect our national leaders. In the mercy of God, Christians will celebrate All Saints Day during the first week of November. We will remember that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” We will thank God for “the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all his saints, who have been the chosen vessels of his grace, and the lights of the world in their generations.” As we prepare our hearts for Election Day, All Saints Day becomes an opportunity to bend our ear to the saints as we seek to bear the light of the world in this generation.
During the most contentious month of this campaign, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4th. Bend your ear to St. Francis’ prayer, a petition he carried in his heart during his own age of conflict:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
There is nothing new under the sun–the wisdom and hope of the saints endures from generation to generation. The sun will rise on November 9th and the United States will have a new president-elect. Regardless of the votes cast on November 8th, we are called to be instruments of Christ’s peace and love in a time of division, strife, and anxiety. We enter the sanctuary of God again and again to experience that peace and love ourselves. So it will be when we meet at the Lord’s Table on Sunday, November 13th and there declare the most important political statement this November: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”