The majority of Lent—the spiritual season of penance, reflection, and humility—this year has occurred in the months of February and March. This is all very appropriate, for the bulk of the circus that is the 2016 presidential primaries—the political season of punishment, resentment, and embarrassment—has also taken place in this time period. And I find this all rather depressingly funny.
During Lent, the Christian world is called to repent and sin no more. This sinning no more encompasses the task of penance and necessitates a certain self-denial. The most commonly associated concept is a Lenten sacrifice. It is done so we might be reminded that all things, good as they may be, are second and perhaps obstacles to our relationship with God. Self-denial, though, is not always characterized by such explicit offerings. Self-denial to its root is a spiritual rejection of an isolated life. Myself necessitates me. Me alone is not qualified to order my life justly and piously. Instead, my life must be mastered by that which masters best, which is of course the divine law, love. Beautiful.
During these primaries, the American electorate is called to endorse and vote. Voting, however,, requires nothing more than checking off a name on the ballot. It demands no criteria of evaluation, no critical-thinking, and certainly no basis in truth. Instead of sacrificing our misconceptions and hatred, we are actually inundated with messages of mostly fear and violence. We are reminded that everyone around us is second and even an obstacle to ourselves. It’s not always so blunt though. We get whispers of, “Only you matter. Don’t let anyone tell you right and wrong. Listen to me, I’ll take care of you. I’ll protect you.” It doesn’t matter which candidate is speaking, for it all boils down to that core message. It’s an anti-love campaign. It is a punishment of those who threaten us. My life must be mastered by no one, except those who order us to be mastered by no one. Contradictory.
I am aware of my actions and conscience at no other time more than Lent. It is a period of intense reflection of my character, and my standing as a human person. The consequences of eternal life and death stare at me most starkly, in which I can see my soul either in chains or caring arms. I am in constant doubt, contemplating what in my life must be amended. Ironically, though, it is also when I am most frustrated with God, bordering on rebellion. My burden should light, the yoke easy! And it’s not, dammit.. The frustration is the result of a paradox. When we desire and expect an easy burden, we are actually seeking to avoid it, making the burden, in turn, much more difficult. Every Lent I become aware of the paradox, and I find that if the task is invited, it isn’t so difficult. Because just as lifting weights makes us stronger, carrying the cross gives us spiritual strength. Lent is a real period of supernatural regeneration. Isn’t that refreshing?
I am aware of my opinions and political affiliation at no other time more than primaries. It is a time of intense debate with my fellow citizens, where we fight over the future standing of the nation. The consequences of reward and destruction are seemingly before us in such dramatic and apocalyptic fashion. And yet, it is also a time in which I seriously question my sanity in politics. With all the nonsense and noise, I can’t hear myself think. I wonder what am I doing in politics, what value does this have? My purpose should be clear, my intent decisive! And it’s not, dammit. The truth must be chosen, the good triumphant.The frustration is the result of a moral deadlock. When we fight so savagely over concepts of good and bad, we end up blurring the lines between the two, turning everyone into monsters. Every primary I become aware of this deadlock, and I find myself never knowing which way is right. I find it easiest to not think about it, and simply go about my business as needed for the win. But just as lifting weights poorly can gradually weaken your body, performing my duties agnostically weakens my resolve to stay in politics. Primaries is a real period of resentment for yourself. Isn’t that depressing?
For me pride is a real danger. It is the battle I fight constantly, in which my inner thoughts tempt me with superiority and elitism. From the fruitful branch of self-confidences arises a mimicking weed of arrogance. It is a stubborn plant, which this world has armored with thorns to thwart those who would challenge it; deep roots to dishearten those who would reason with it; and a sprawling system to mock those who would ignore it. These armors put up their greatest fight in Lent, challenging its call to holiness by my very surety of self-righteousness. In the end, though, through the superabundance of grace, love, and a stern confession, my pride is lessened. With my fear of the Lord increased, I regain a piety that secures my place in God’s plan without the consequence of smugness. This is my great help.
In politics, losing is a real danger. The battle between candidates is constant, in which I am threatened by possibility of an unwelcome majority. From the benefit of freedom to associate and speak comes the vicious right to ridicule and discard. This is not so much a stubborn weed as it is a poisonous berry we gluttonously consume. We do not care to differentiate between that which is healthy and ill for us. We pick more berries off our bushes than our opponents so that we can beat them at the death-pie contest. And the primaries are a big contest, calling upon the bakers to do their worst. In the end, we are left with nothing but ourselves killed by our own inhumanity, our own insecurity. The superabundance of disgust and animosity gives us an exacerbated need to lash out. With fear of others increased, we are left with nothing but intolerance. This is our great suicide.
At the end of 40 days in the desert comes the greatest suffering, the crucifixion. My spirit is whipped by my sins and my soul crushed by my guilt. I am hung upon the cross of my temptation, and I surrender myself over to something more. Just as Christ rose to release us from our death, we will rise, awoken to a new life of Godliness.
I pray at the end of these nightmarish months on the campaign trail comes a great suffering. One which reveals to us our pettiness, and chokes us by the very ballot we vote with. May we hang by the choices we make, and live in the intolerable reality we fashion for ourselves My only hope is that when it is all finished we will have learned our lesson for the next season. My worry is that God will not bother to raise us up from the grave we freely chose to dig. Thankfully, God is merciful, even if we don’t deserve it.
Happy Easter, happy voting.